An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Twenty-Four


 Judges 13:2-24, NRSV

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’”

Then Manoah entreated the Lord, and said, “O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of theLord.) Then Manoah said to the angel of theLord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” But the angel of theLord said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”

So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the Lord did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If theLord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

Years ago, I wrote a series of readers’ theater versions of several biblical narratives. This one was one of my favorites. The angel comes to the woman, who doesn’t even merit mention of her own name. 

Did you catch that? The angel comes to the woman, not to her husband. And dear Manoah, he just can’t quite wrap his head around this. God is supposed to speak to the man of the house, right?


God speaks to whomever God chooses. And this time, God chose the wife. More than once. And it is the wife who has the spiritual sensitivity to understand what has happened, while her husband is mightily confused.

God chooses women more often than we’ve been led to believe. And this choosing, in this small story, foreshadows another choosing, one we celebrate during this season. When God came to a lowly woman, at least in the eyes of the community in which she lived. But who was, in truth, a person of great stature in the eyes of God.

Gabriel said so.

That Mary — she had to be something, don’t you think?

Thank you for surprising us, Lord. For turning our expectations on their heads, for confounding tradition and habit and human injustice, sometimes in very subtle and subversive ways. Like coming to the unnamed wife. Like coming to the young virgin. Like coming to us in her womb. Oh, thank you.

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  1. Yes, Mary had to be a very special young woman. I marvel at her composure when the archangel Gabriel came to visit. I admire Mary’s faith, to endure the likely reproach she received in Nazareth when news of her pregnancy became known. I’m astounded as I read the Magnificat and wonder how a teenager could articulate such praise, based on so many different scriptures. And what about the strength and perseverance needed for the journey to Bethlehem, perhaps in the ninth month of pregnancy? Indeed, that Mary was SOMETHING!