In Judges 13, Samson’s father Manoah comes across as a complete dunce. His wife tells him that she saw a man of God who resembled an angel, and Manoah wants to feed him and find out his name. The angel essentially tells Manoah (in my paraphrase): “I don’t eat, silly, and my name is too wonderful to share with you. Didn’t you hear what your wife said? I’m an angel! Duh!”
When Manoah offers a sacrifice, the angel ascends into the flames, and Manoah gets scared. “We shall surely die, for we have seen God,” he exclaims. But his wife responds (in my paraphrase): “Manoah, relax! If God had wanted to kill us, he wouldn’t have accepted our sacrifice. Plus, didn’t you hear the angel? God has promised us that we will have a son. We can’t do that if we’re not alive!”
Manoah must be the slow one of the family. And what’s interesting is that Manoah didn’t hear all of the information about Samson. The angel told Samson’s mother that her son would be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines. But neither Samson’s mother nor the angel told Manoah that little detail. Why not? Maybe they thought Manoah was so dense that he’d blab about his son to the Philistines, or to the other Israelites in the Philistines’ hearing. “What’s this you’re saying about a soon deliverance?” the big, tough Pharisees would then say to the helpless Israelites.
The vast majority of commentators treat Manoah as a dolt. In the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Nahman calls him an ignorant man because he followed his wife’s advice (Berachot 61a; Eiruvin 18b). That’s slightly unfair. What was he supposed to do? Act on his own thinking? His wife was the only bright bulb in the family!
Jon Courson tries his best to find something good about Manoah. When Manoah asked his wife to seek further instructions from the man of God, Courson said that’s a lesson to all of us: that we should pray for God’s instructions rather than being hasty in our actions. But when he got to the “We’re all going to die!” scene, even Courson admitted that Manoah is pretty dense!
This whole scene got me thinking about feminist approaches to Scripture. There are at least two ways that feminists read the Bible. One is “the Bible is good because it uplifts women.” The other is “the Bible is bad because it downgrades women.” Carol Delaney is an example of the latter point of view, for she argues in Abraham on Trial that Genesis 22 treats Isaac as the sole property of Abraham, since Abe doesn’t even tell his wife that he’s about to sacrifice their son. Maybe, but Judges 13 presents the opposite scenario, for Samson’s mother doesn’t share everything with Manoah. Plus, she comes across as more spiritually insightful than her husband.
Why does Judges present Manoah as such a dolt? One of my professors has argued that the Book of Judges is comic, and that may be a part of it. Even the ancient Israelites needed entertainment!
But I also think that the text is saying that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Manoah was dense and had to be led around by his wife (which will probably be me when I get married!). Well, Samson was much the same way. Delilah kept asking him for the secret of his strength, and she tried to weaken him on two separate occasions (with ropes and a hair loom–see Judges 15). And Samson thought she wouldn’t cut off his hair once he told her his secret? How gullible can you be? Samson was dense, and he got outsmarted by a woman! He’s a chip off the old block.
In one of my recovery groups, some people were talking about the fourth step, which is kind of like a personal psychological evaluation: you try to dig into why you are the way that you are. A few in the group were tracing their personalities to their fathers. “My dad was an obnoxious loudmouth, like I am.” “My dad was a know-it-all, like me.” “James, was your dad quiet and timid?” Well, he certainly is on the quiet side, but timid? Absolutely not! I got my timidity by stumbling around through life.
But could it be that we mirror our parents in some way, shape, or form? Maybe that should motivate us to be good examples for our kids. Of course, I don’t want my kids to grow up to be timid, so I may wait before I have some!