by John M. Riddle, England
Any paper describing the glory of godly women in the books of Joshua and Judges could hardly have a more inauspicious start! The first woman we encounter in the books of Joshua and Judges is "Rahab the harlot" Josh.6.17,25. If this were the only information given about her she would certainly be disqualified from inclusion in this volume.
Mercifully, however, the Scriptures emphasise time and time again that it is not where a person comes from that is important, but where they are going. Abraham is a case in point. A study of his life has been well entitled, "From Idolater to Friend of God"1. With this in mind, we can consider Rahab in a fourfold manner.
1Large, J. H. "From Idolator to Friend of God". John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, 1996.
Her Protection of the Spies
At first glance, it seems rather surprising that the two spies found accommodation in "an harlot’s house" Josh.2.1. This, surely, was most unwise and morally dangerous. On the other hand, bearing in mind the nature of their mission, it was probably the safest place to go, since people would be quite accustomed to men coming and going to Rahab’s house. But this must not be taken as any kind of precedent. God’s people must "abstain from all appearance of evil" 1Thess.5.22. It is very wrong for believers to deliberately expose themselves to moral danger. Two things should be noted in this connection:
Rahab’s Protection of the Spies Involved Lies
The inclusion of Rahab in the category of godly women is now even more suspect. Perhaps critics ought to ask themselves what they would have done had they lived in the dark days of the 1939-45 war, and had given sanctuary to Jews fleeing for their lives from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. It has been said that there is no reference to Rahab’s lies in the New Testament and therefore what she did was acceptable, but that particular argument is hardly valid. After all, there is no New Testament reference either to Gideon’s downfall, Jephthah’s treatment of his daughter, or David’s immorality. But all three characters are mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11!
Whatever we may conclude about Rahab in this connection, we must not take her behaviour as acceptable. While God certainly overruled Rahab’s lies, this cannot mean that believers can lie with impunity, or that the end justifies the means. The Lord’s people are to "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour" Eph.4.24,25. It should also be borne in mind that Rahab was not one of God’s people at the time, and in view of her background and livelihood, it would be quite unreasonable to expect the same standard of honesty in her that should be expected from people indwelt by the Holy Spirit!
Rahab’s Protection of the Spies Involved Faith
Rahab was by nature and by practice a "child of wrath" Eph.2.3, and in common with everyone else in Jericho, she had no title to God’s salvation. But she recognised that the two spies represented God’s people Israel and received and protected them for that very reason. The king of Jericho sought their lives, but she acknowledged them as servants of the Lord. The New Testament makes it clear that Rahab acted in faith: "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies in peace" Heb.11.31. The city of Jericho was doomed, but Rahab sought deliverance from coming judgment. The present world is destined for judgment, but there is still salvation for the sinner who will receive the gospel. But like the king of Jericho and his people, the world at large is opposed to the gospel of God’s grace. As in the case of every believer, Rahab had no personal merit. In fact two of the New Testament references stress her immoral character: she was "the harlot Rahab" Heb.11.31, and "Rahab the harlot" Jms.2.25.
The reality of Rahab’s faith was demonstrated by her willingness to befriend and protect the two spies. Unbelieving men and women would never approve works of faith like this. They would regard it as treason! She changed her allegiance and her associations. It should also be pointed out that Rahab, a Gentile, became identified with God’s people, and is therefore a picture of, "Gentile sinners who are permitted to share in the unsearchable riches of Christ".2 "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" Eph.2.19.
2Meyer, F.B. "Joshua". Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1870.
Her Plea to the Spies
The relevant verses, Josh.2.8-13, are most interesting and significant. Rahab’s plea to the spies reveals her recognition that Israel’s God was the "living and true God" 1Thess.1.9: "For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" Josh.2.11. She mentions "the LORD" (Jehovah) four times in vv.9-12. Jehovah was the Name by which God made Himself known to His people, Ex.6.1-5. It was His covenant name. Israel was evidently known amongst the Gentiles, as God’s covenant people, reminding us that the Lord’s people today should be known amongst their friends and acquaintances as God’s people. Sadly, the distinction between regenerate and unregenerate men and women has become so blurred in some cases that it is impossible to distinguish between the two categories.
But Rahab knew even more. When she said, "The LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath", she used a plural word (Elohim). The same name is used in Gen.1.1, and, according to Thomas Newberry, comes from a Hebrew root meaning ‘to worship or adore’. Quite obviously, Gentile people then knew far more about God than they do now!
It is most interesting to notice the ‘cause and effect’ in vv.9-11: "I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you" v.9; "We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you…and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites" v.10; "neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" v.11. Rahab recognised that Israel’s strength was God-given. This included the following:
She Recognised the Will of God
"I know (she speaks out of personal conviction) that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you" v.9. She knew that Jericho’s days were numbered, and that the last moments of its hour of grace had come. While God did not permit His people to invade Canaan until "the iniquity of the Amorites was full" Gen.15.16, this did not mean that He delayed permanently. While men may say, "Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation", it remains that "the day of the Lord will come" 2Pet.3.4,10. Rahab knew that the conquest of Canaan would be followed by the occupation of Canaan, and it must never be forgotten that God has not reneged on his promise to give Israel full possession of their inheritance.
She Recognised the Power of God
"For we have heard how the LORDdried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed" v.10. It is significant that when Peter is describing the scoffers, he observes, "For this they willingly are ignorant of … the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" 2Pet.3.5,6.
She Recognised the Supremacy of God
"And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you; for the LORDyour God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" v.11. This should be compared with 1Kgs.18.39 and Jer.10.6,10.
In view of this, Rahab makes her request: "Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token" v.12. Rahab cast herself on the kindness and mercy of God. The alternatives were very clear to her: salvation or destruction, v.13. She was not at all presumptuous. "Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD". She did not claim protection as of right. The attitude of the Syrophenician woman is comparable, Mk.7.24-30. Rahab was concerned for her family: "and that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death." How concerned are we about family and friends?
The Promise by the Spies
While there is no need to repeat the details of the promise made by the spies, the faith of Rahab in the promise must not go unnoticed. As instructed, she "bound the scarlet line in the window" of her house "upon the town wall with the words, "According unto your words, so be it" Josh.2.21, of which the New Testament says: "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving, having received the spies in peace" Heb.11.31, J.N.D. She was as safe at the moment she believed as she was when the city fell and she was delivered from destruction. It is worth pointing out that her family must have possessed some measure of faith to join Rahab in her house on the wall!
Her Place in God’s Purpose
"And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho" Josh.6.25. The promise made to Rahab in chapter 2 was fully honoured, and she was delivered, with her family, from the doomed city, illustrating the words of the Lord Jesus, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [judgment]; but is passed from death unto life" Jn.5.24.
But this is not all. Rahab and her family were left "without the camp of Israel" Josh.6.23. That must have been absolutely wonderful for Rahab and her family. But Rahab did not remain there! "And she dwelt in the midst of Israel to this day" Josh.6.25, J.N.D. More followed: she married an Israelite (Salmon), and became the mother of Boaz, whose great-grandson was David. But more even than that: she is named in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, Matt.1.5. As A. McShane3 observes: "Uppermost in her mind must have been the wonder of deliverance and the safety of her friends, but most likely she never thought at this juncture of what a bright future lay ahead of her. Like most at the time of conversion, the terrible danger of being lost and the escaping of hell were the chief concern of their souls. Since then they have learned, just as Rahab later learned, that God had purposes for them far beyond their wildest dreams." What glory to be included in the lineage of Israel’s Messiah!
3McShane, A, "Joshua Possessing the Land". John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, 1994.
These verses deal principally with the claim of the daughters of Zelophehad, one of the great great-grandsons of Manasseh, vv.2,3. Of the six families of Gilead for whom territory was to be provided on the west of Jordan, five were represented by male members, but the sixth family, that of Hepher, had only female representatives in the line of descent. This arose from the fact that Zelophehad, Hepher’s son, had died in the wilderness, leaving only daughters. Full details are given in Num.27.1-11, where the five daughters made their request: "Our father died in the wilderness … Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father." Moses brought the matter to God and received confirmation that the inheritance of Zelophehad should pass to his daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. According to Young’s concordance, their names mean ‘mildness, flattery, magpie, counsel, and delight’. But according to Gesenius they mean ‘disease, motion, partridge, counsel, and pleasantness’; all of which proves that it is not always wise to build spiritual skyscrapers on Hebrew names!
The matter was raised again in Numbers chapter 36 by "the chief fathers … of the families of the sons of Joseph". The point then at issue was the possibility that a tribe could lose territory if women like the daughters of Zelophehad married into another tribe. Once again, God clarified the position: "Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry … and every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers" Num.36.6-9. It is then said, delightfully, "Even as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad" Num.36.10-12. Further references are found in Num.26.33, and 1Chr.7.15.
Now the time had come to implement the legislation, and the daughters of Zelophehad received their "inheritance among the brethren of their father, and there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan" Josh.17.5. Each daughter received a son’s portion. Whilst these interesting passages tell us something about the development of Hebrew law, they also yield some very important spiritual lessons.
The Faith of the Five Daughters
They made their claim long before the occupation of Canaan. Quite obviously, they believed implicitly that God would fulfil His promise to give His people their inheritance. They were absolutely certain that they would have land to inherit. Like Abraham, they were "fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform" Rom 4.21. They believed in God Who "cannot lie" Titus 1.2. How much do assemblies need women of faith like this! But all believers, men and women, do well to emulate the daughters of Zelophehad!
The Desire of the Five Daughters
They wanted to enjoy their inheritance in exactly the same way that the men enjoyed their inheritance! They were not prepared to see it pass into other hands. No wonder God said, "The daughters of Zelophehad speak right" Num.27.7. While God has ordained that public ministry belongs to men, this does not mean for one moment that the spiritual life of sisters should not be as healthy and flourishing as the spiritual life of the men. It has often been said, and rightly so, that the spiritual life of many assemblies is enhanced and enriched by the spiritual life of its sisters. Whether brother or sister, we must all be encouraged to possess and enjoy our rich inheritance in Christ. The deep desire of the daughters of Zelophehad in this way is a good example to us all.
The Equality of the Five Daughters
The fact that they inherited in the same way as sons emphasises their equality in status. We must never forget that sisters are not in any way second-class citizens in spiritual matters. Eve was "a help meet" for Adam, Gen.2.18. She complemented him. She was his equal. He was incomplete without her. The different role given to sisters does not mean that they are in any way less important or inferior to men.
The Restriction on the Five Daughters
We have no reason to believe that they did not gladly accept the Divine ruling that they should be married to men of their own tribe. It was certainly not a repressive commandment. As A. McShane observes, "there were bounds set to these daughters, just as there are restrictions put upon sisters, but these did not prevent them entering into the inheritance of their father." We should add that we must be careful not to put restrictions on sisters other than those required by the Word of God.
The fact that daughters in this position were required to marry within their own tribe is rather significant for us. They had to do more than marry a fellow-Israelite: they had to marry the right Israelite, reminding us that it is insufficient for a Christian to marry a fellow-Christian: it must be the right fellow-Christian. That is why Paul says "only in the Lord" 1Cor.7.39. The unequal yoke must be studiously avoided. The oft-quoted verse, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" 2Cor.6.14, occurs in connection with idolatry, but it is certainly applicable to a whole range of relationships, including marriage; too many of God’s people have foundered on the rocks of this ‘unequal yoke’.
On the positive side, the men who married the five daughters of Zelophehad gained their inheritance as well! Young men and those not so young, should be concerned with the spiritual inheritance they are likely to acquire when seeking a partner in life. This is infinitely more important than good looks and fine fashions. It should be remembered that "as a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion" Prov.11.22. The daughters of Zelophehad were certainly not in this category!
Kirjath-sepher, renamed Debir, was taken, not by Caleb, but by Othniel. "And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjath-sepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife" Josh.15.16,17. Debir had been previously taken during Joshua’s campaign in the south, Josh.10.38,39, but had evidently been reoccupied prior to the allocation of territory to the various tribes.
Since the subject of this book is "The Glory of Godly Women", this is not the time or place to draw particular attention to Othniel, but it is worth mentioning in passing that his name means ‘powerful man of God’ or ‘God is force’, reminding us of the Lord Jesus in at least three ways. Othniel smote a city: Kirjath-sepher meaning ‘the city of books’: compare 1Cor.1.17-25; he won a bride: compare Eph.5.25-27; he gained an inheritance: compare Eph.1.18. Othniel was one of Israel’s "saviours" Neh.9.27: the birth of the Lord Jesus was announced with the words, "a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" Lk.2.11.
As noted above, Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, was given in marriage to Othniel, after he fulfilled the necessary conditions by smiting Kirjath-sepher. She was a woman who wanted the best things in life. In reply to her father’s question, "What wouldest thou?", she said, "Give me a blessing; for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water" Josh.15.18,19. On a technical note, v.18 can be explained as follows: "And it came to pass, as she came unto him" – that is, to be married to Othniel – "that she moved him" – Othniel – "to ask of her father a field". A.W. Pink4 observes that this was an acknowledgement of her husband’s headship, although Othniel evidently thought it better if she made the request herself! Caleb was a generous father, and Achsah enjoyed warmth and water! She asked for "springs of water", and Caleb gave her "the upper springs, and the nether (lower) springs". Our Father is no less generous. He gives "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" Eph.3.20. The "south land" reminds us of the warmth of His love, and "the springs of water" remind us of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, of Whom the Lord Jesus said, "He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive" Jn.7.37-39. Achsah might have asked for jewels or servants, but her request for water shows that she had the right priorities!
4Pink, A.W. "Gleanings in Joshua". Moody Press, 1964.
The ‘upper springs’ remind us that the Holy Spirit engages our hearts with the Source and Giver of everlasting life. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" Jn.4.14. It is through His ministry that we rise in intelligent appreciation and worship, and say with David, "Let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified" Ps.70.4. The "nether springs" remind us that through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, "rivers of living water" flow out to others in blessing. God has said, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring" Isa.44.3. We must pray that like Achsah’s "field" Josh.15.18, we will enjoy the blessings of the "upper springs, and the nether springs" in our lives. Assemblies need godly women, as well as godly men, in this way.
Strictly speaking, the song of Deborah and Barak should be included under this heading, but that would involve overstepping editorial guidelines! It should be noted that after twenty years under Canaanite oppression, "Israel cried unto the Lord" v.3. It took years of adversity before Israel turned to God. Without doubting the earnestness of their cry, we cannot escape the conclusion that they only called on God in emergencies. This is nothing short of an insult to Him. It is sadly possible for even the Lord’s people to forget all about Him in good times, and only remember Him in bad times. This should never be the case: "Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah" Ps.62.8.
On this occasion, God delivered Israel from the Canaanite oppressors through Deborah and Barak. Deborah was a strong woman, and Barak was a weak man! But Deborah was not the founder of ‘equal rights for women’. She was a most spiritual woman. "And Deborah a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment" vv.4,5. Deborah (meaning ‘like a bee’) was married to Lapidoth (meaning ‘torch’): so activity was married to light. It must have been a well-balanced marriage!
Deborah was both a judge and prophetess. She should be compared with Miriam, Ex.15.20, Huldah, 2Kgs.22.14, Anna, Lk.2.36, and the four daughters of Philip, Acts 2.9. She describes herself as "a mother in Israel" Judg.5.7: "The wayward Jews were her children, and she welcomed them and counselled them".5 Deborah was a remarkable woman of faith, but she was certainly not an opportunist. She made no attempt to step outside the sphere that God had assigned to her. We should note the following:
5Wiersbe, Warren W. "Be Available". Scripture Press, 1994.
The Circumstances of her Ministry
The very fact that she "judged Israel at that time" v.4, was a sad commentary on national life. See Isa.3.12, "As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them". As Wiersbe observes, "For God to give His people a woman judge was to treat them like little children, which is exactly what they were when it came to spiritual things." But we must emphasise that this was no discredit to Deborah. It has been very nicely said that "the failure of the men is met by the faithfulness of the women".
The Character of her Ministry
She was a "prophetess" and a "judge". A prophet, or in this case, a prophetess, was a person who received a message directly from God, and conveyed it to the people. A prophet "stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard His word" Jer.23.18. It was on that basis that Deborah was able to "judge Israel at that time".
The Location of her Ministry
"She dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah … and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment" v.5. Unlike Samuel, she did not go "from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places" 1Sam.7.16. Unlike Ehud, she did not "blow a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim" Judg.3.27, and place herself at the head of the army. In keeping with this Israel "came up to her for judgment" v.5; she did not take the initiative, and go to them. She was quite content to dwell under the palm tree. It was Barak who persuaded her to accompany him. We should also notice that in keeping with the respective roles of men and women in Scripture, it is Barak, not Deborah, who is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11: "Time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae" Heb.11.32. It might be helpful to note that Deborah, Sarah and Rahab are mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 because, in their cases, public service was not in question.
The Conviction of her Ministry
"Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go, and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee, to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand" vv.6,7. Here was the "prophetess" exercising her ministry. She conveyed the word of God. It was "thus saith the Lord".
The Encouragement of her Ministry
Deborah encouraged Barak to lead God’s people against the enemy. The Lord had not told her to lead the army against Sisera. Rather, "Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go, and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men … and I will draw unto thee, to the river Kishon, Sisera … and I will deliver him into thine hand." The words "Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded?" may mean that God had already commanded Barak to lead the attack but he had failed to respond. We all need encouragement. ‘Wet blankets’ need not apply! Israel certainly had them at Kadesh-barnea, Deut.1.28. A.M.S. Gooding is so right: "Thank God for such sisters who stand behind and encourage men who are often failing and weak".6
6Gooding, A.M.S. "The Thirteen Judges". Gospel Tract Publications, 1986.
Following the defeat of the Canaanites at "the river of Kishon" Judg.4.13, Barak "pursued after the chariots, and after the host unto Harosheth of the Gentiles" Judg.4.16, but Sisera attempted to get home by another route. Instead of choosing to run directly north through the mountains towards Hazor, he made his way eastward through the Esdraelon Plain, which was easier travelling, with the evident intention of turning north towards Hazor after reaching the Sea of Galilee. The tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, must therefore have been a very welcome sight. He was amongst allies! Judg.4.11, but his ally turned out to be his executioner! When Barak entered the tent "Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples" Judg.4.22. Deborah’s prophecy was fulfilled, Jabin’s power was broken, and Jabin himself was ultimately destroyed, Judg.4.9,23,24.
The defeat of Sisera, who reminds us of the devil (as does Jabin, the king of Canaan, whom Sisera served), is full of interest. His army was defeated by the "edge of the sword" Judg.4.15,16, and the man himself by a woman in a tent who used a hammer to put a "nail in a sure place". Nothing much more needs to be said. The tent reminds us that we are "strangers and pilgrims" 1Pet.1.11. In the words of Samuel Ridout6, "The tent is suggestive of being outside the existing order of things here. Man desires everything to speak of solidarity and permanence, the very opposite to living in a tent."The hammer reminds us of the power of God’s Word, Jer.23.29, and the nail reminds us of the permanent effect of God’s Word, Ezra 9.8; Isa.22.23.
But, above all, the chapter ends as it begins, with a woman. Samuel Ridout puts it nicely: "Let us just notice here the oft-repeated lesson, which meets us all through the book, that the way of power is through weakness, and that God will only use the instrument that is feeble enough to resign itself into His hands." It should be noticed that in Deborah and Barak’s song, Judg.5.1-31, Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned in connection with "the high places of the field", whereas Jael is mentioned in connection with "the tent" Judg.5.18,24. This emphasises that whilst men and women serve God in different spheres, both are equally important. "Those whose lot is cast in the tent, in a very low and narrow sphere of activity, if they serve God in that according to their capacity, shall in no wise lose their reward. Jael in the tent wins as rich a blessing as Barak in the field." 7
7Henry, Matthew. "Matthew Henry’s Commentary", Broad Oak Edition. Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd, 1960. Note: the quotation reads rather strangely ("if they serve God in that according to their capacity") but it has been accurately copied!!
Once again, history repeated itself: "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord". But the usual pattern of subsequent events is not repeated. In the past, Israel’s rebellion and retribution were followed by repentance and recovery. But now there is not even a cry of misery, let alone a cry of penitence. Israel reached rock-bottom under the Philistines. They were dominated by their old enemies, Judg.3.31;10.7, for forty years, which was by far the longest period of captivity in the book of Judges. That was bad enough, but the way in which they just accepted the situation was even worse. When Samson incurred the wrath of the Philistines by smiting them "hip and thigh with a great slaughter", the men of Judah accused him of ‘rocking the boat’: "Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us" Judg.15.11. The "Philistines had dominion over Israel" Judg.14.4, and in the absence of any hostility between them, the Lord was obliged to "seek an occasion" against the Philistines. Enter Samson.
The story of Samson is unique in many ways, and not least by the preparation made before his birth. Virtually the whole of chapter 13 is devoted to his parents, Manoah and his wife. Amongst other things about Manoah’s wife, we should note the following:
She was an Unlikely Choice
That is, by human reckoning. Manoah’s wife "was barren, and bare not. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son … and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" vv.3,5. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for her to have any role at all in delivering Israel from the Philistines, but God delights to override human weakness. Whilst, at first glance, it might seem a little unkind of the angel to remind her of her barrenness, this was only to stress that Divine power would overcome the obstacle. Compare Gen.18.10 and Lk.1.13. Human weakness is not a problem to God. Self-confidence is a barrier to Divine blessing and help.
She was an Obscure Person
In fact she was so obscure that we do not even know her name! It has been pointed out that between Judg.13.2 and Judg.14.9, she is referred to nineteen times as Manoah’s wife, or Samson’s mother, or simply "the woman". Even Manoah refers to her as "the woman"! v.11. While the Scriptures make it clear that God used high-profile men and women at times, he frequently used most unlikely people as well. This emphasises the oft-noted lesson in the book of Judges, which can be expressed in New Testament language: "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are: that no flesh should glory in His presence" 1Cor.1.26-29. Our comparative obscurity is an asset.
She was to be a Careful Person
Her son, Samson, was to be "a Nazarite unto God from the womb" v.5. Numbers chapter 6 now becomes compulsory reading. In summary, the Nazarite (meaning ‘one separated’), who could be either a man or woman, was:
not to eat or drink anything produced by the vine, vv.3,4
not to cut their hair, v.5
not to defile themselves by contact with a dead body, Num.6.3-7.
It is therefore most significant that Samson’s mother was to exhibit similar features to those required by a Nazarite: "Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: for, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come upon his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb" vv.4,5. This reminds us that there should be nothing in us that will prejudice the lives of those that follow. The life-style of Samson’s mother ensured that he would not inherit anything that would be detrimental to his devotion to God. If we want to be succeeded by a generation of Christians who are thoroughly consecrated to God, then we too must be thoroughly consecrated to God.
She was an Intelligent Person
"And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her" v.9. The fact that "the angel of God" did not visit Manoah himself does not imply, as some suggest, that he was "a person of slow mind who stood in his wife’s shadow personally, intellectually, and spiritually". Cyril J. Barber8 observes, "the angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife to show God’s recognition of her worth. She had to bear the stigma of her infertility. She was looked down on because she had not borne her husband children. At that time, it was a common belief that women unable to bear children were being punished by God for committing some terrible sin. By appearing to her the second time, the Lord reaffirmed her dignity and worth."
8Barber, Cyril J. "Judges, A Narrative of God’s Power". Loizeaux Brothers, Inc. 1990.
It should be carefully noticed that Manoah’s wife immediately deferred to her husband, v.10, thereby acknowledging his headship, and that having sought and received guidance from "the angel of the Lord" vv.11-14, Manoah "took a kid with a meat-offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the Lord: and the angel did wondrously" v.19. The explanation follows: "For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar" v.20. It is rather lovely to think that the "angel of the Lord" returned to heaven with the worship and thanksgiving of two grateful people. We can still surround Him with worship and thanksgiving!
Whilst we do not have it in so many words, it does appear that Manoah and his wife had an experience similar to that of Gideon. "And there arose fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight" Judg.6.21. This terrified Gideon, and in a somewhat parallel fashion, Manoah was equally fearful, saying to his wife, "We shall surely die, because we have seen God".
But she was a little more logical than her husband: "If the LORD were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands, neither would He have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these" vv.22,23.
Godly women are not only spiritually intelligent people, but spiritually knowledgeable people as well. Manoah’s wife was fully cognisant of Israel’s unique relationship with God: "If the LORD (Jehovah) were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands." When Peter referred to wives as "weaker vessels" 1Pet.3.7, he certainly did not mean "weak of will, spirit, or intellect … certainly not weaker in any sense beyond the physical make-up". 9
9Nicholson, J.B. "What the Bible Teaches, Vol.5 – 1 Peter". John Ritchie, Ltd. 1987.
Rahab, the daughters of Zelophehad, Achsah, Deborah, Jael, and Manoah’s wife, all had distinctive glories. They were "holy women … who trusted in God" 1Pet.3.5, including Rahab with her inauspicious start in life.