Torah reading: Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftorah reading: Judges 13:2-25
This week’s Haftorah reading tells the story of the birth of Samson, the prophet of the Lord. Though the text tells us only the name of Samson’s father, Manoah, we find Samson’s mother listed in I Chronicles 4:3 by the name of Hatzlelponi, a descendant of Perez of the tribe of Judah.
At that time the Philistines were oppressing the tribes of Dan and Judah. The people wanted nothing to do with confronting the Philistines and were allowing themselves to be intimidated by their enemy. God was not pleased with their attitude and chose a plan of deliverance which began with a startling revelation to a woman who longed to conceive a child. As the story unfolds her perceptive qualities will stand in sharp contrast to her husband’s more passive character.
An angel of the Lord appears to the woman announcing the arrival of a son and invites her to participate in the lifestyle which her son will adopt for he will be a Nazarite. She is to observe the Nazarite dietary rules during her pregnancy and never cut the child’s hair. The angel tells her: ‘He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.’ Judges 13:5)
Knowing her husband well, Hatzlelponi reports the visitation to Manoah but purposely leaves out those elements that she knows he will object to; namely, a confrontation with the Philistines. She also refrains from telling Manoah that the boy’s hair is never to be cut. Her desire to see God’s plan come to fruition includes protecting the boy from his father’s objections!
Manoah declares that he wants to be included for he was not present when the angel appeared to his wife. The angel returns but appears to Hatzlelponi in the field. It is only after she hurries to find her husband that Manoah finally encounters the angel. It becomes quickly apparent that Manoah is far more interested in finding out the name of the angel, than learning about God’s plan for the people of Dan and Judah. He persists in asking until the angel says his name is ‘unknowable’. He refuses their offer of food and commands the couple instead to present an offering to the Lord. As they do, the angel ascends to heaven in the fire of the offering. Seeing this they fall on their faces on the ground. Manoah is terrified and expects to die. His wife – if you’ll allow me a modern rendition – tells him, ‘You’re not going to die. I’ve seen the angel before and I’m still here!’
So what do we learn from this event?
Samson’s mother is revealed as a woman who accepts the mission God gave her and is devoted to fulfilling it just as it was revealed to her. God’s desire becomes her desire. She is a ‘chosen woman’ as is evident from the visitation of the angel of the Lord, not just once but twice. In her response, she echoes what her ancestors said at Sinai: ‘We will do and we will hear.’ They committed themselves to obey God’s commandments before they heard what they were. In other words, they declared their faith in Him. Hatzlelponi does the same thing. Though she was given certain details, she certainly wasn’t told everything about the life of the son she would bear.
The story of Hatzlelponi is that of a woman who embodies the spirit of willful obedience that was present at Sinai (before the sin of the Golden Calf) in contrast to her husband who haggles with the angel as if he were a merchant in the marketplace.
She also demonstrates kindness and wisdom in the way she deals with her husband’s doubt. She does not berate him but calms him with the words: ‘had the Lord meant to take our lives, He would not have accepted the burnt offering..’ (Judges 13:23)
In the Hebrew, there is further evidence of her connection with the God of Israel: the deliberate inclusion of the Hebrew letter ‘heh’ at the beginning of her name. That is the same letter that was added to Abram to change it to Abraham and to Sarai, to change her name to Sarah. It is not evident in English but in the Hebrew spelling it’s immediately noticeable. It is the favored letter indicating a connection with the Holy One and is consistently used in the names of those who are called, chosen and appointed for a specific task.
There is something else unique about her name for it is related to the name given to Joseph when he was made Prime Minister of Egypt, Tzaphenath-paneah. (Gen. 41:45) Both names come from the same root which means ‘to conceal’ or ‘to encode’.
God took an everyday woman, concealed in her womb a child who would grow up to deliver Israel from the Philistines, and didn’t even have her name mentioned in the context of this amazing event.
Too often we can wrongly think that only the “famous” or the “well-known” can do something significant for God. Not true!
The Lord has a plan for every individual’s life. No one is an accident and no one is unimportant. Our responsibility is to seek Him and find out what His plan is for us, then set about walking it out with all our energy and determination.
What we need to understand is that whatever our destiny, it is important to God and therefore it is not up to us to judge its value. If God calls you important, you are important. He did not call any of us to be ‘human doings’ but ‘human beings’. Your life, whatever form it takes, is what matters the most, not your career. It’s our daily lives with all the opportunities to choose loving kindness as opposed to irritability, integrity as opposed to deceitfulness, etc., that will leave a legacy of godliness to our children and our grandchildren.
People will remember you for the kind of person you are, far more than for the job you did.