The Significance of the Narrative Concerning the Annunciation of Samson's Birth (Judg 13)

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The Samson narrative is the only one in Judges that includes the details of the savior's birth (Judg 13). The narrative describes the announcement of the savior's forthcoming birth to his barren mother and her husband Manoah's concern until he realized that the announcement came from God. This essay sets out to clarify the significance of Samson's birth narrative and its role, through an analysis of the characters of Manoah and his wife. On the one hand, the narrative depicts Manoah as an inferior character compared to his wife, while on the other hand it does not focus on Manoah's wife who remains anonymous, but on the husband. Neither does the narrative concentrate on the barren wife's conception, nor on the prediction of salvation. The narrative presents the process of Manoah's recognition of the tidings of the forthcoming birth while leaving his wife's character as secondary, as an example of a person whose attitude to the news is fitting. In contrast to the other biblical narratives on the conception by barren women, our story does not present Samson's parents as especially worthy of the heralded event. The purpose of the narrative is to show the intervention of God on behalf of Manoah and his wife as an act of kindness, rather than a reward for their good deeds and righteousness. This is how the decree that Samson be a nazarite should be comprehended. This is also how the revelation of God to the woman who did nothing to deserve it should be interpreted. The decree is designed to impose on Samson a minimal requirement so that he would be worthy of divine guidance. Similarly one has to understand God's intervention on a national level. In the Samson narrative, the stage of bringing forth a savior is not the answer to the cry of the people of Israel to God, as is the case in all the other narratives in Judges. In the Samson narrative, the nation's salvation also is presented as God's kindness, with no merit on the part of Israel. Once the significance of Samson's birth is clarified, one can understand why in this narrative in particular divine salvation is exclusively dependent on divine kindness rather than on human merit, as in the other narratives in the Book of Judges. The Samson narrative story comes after God announces in chapter 10 that He will no longer save Israel, since the people do not deserve salvation. From this point of view, there is no contradiction in the Samson narrative, for God does not save Israel because the people deserve salvation, but because of divine kindness. The Samson narrative is the beginning of a process as can be seen in Judg 13:5, and it is a transition stage between the period of the Judges and that of the monarchy. In the Book of Samuel, the war against the Philistines will reach its culmination, but then it will be due to merit rather than kindness.
Original languageHebrew
Pages (from-to)21-38
StatePublished - 2005

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