Read Judges 13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. (Ezekiel 37:1 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 35: Barren. As I am sure you have seen in this series, thus far, I like to shake things up a bit. The heart of this series is about looking at individuals in the Bible and showing them to be just like us: human beings prone to error, yet saved by the grace of God. Yet, from time to time I have decided to show the people of Israel as a whole, to pinpoint how sinful society (which is made up of sinful people) can truly be, with the hope that you, the reader, can reflect on how our society mirrors theirs, as well as the part we individually play in that.
Here is such a time. As we approach the well-known, exciting persona that is Samson, it will prove beneficial for us to pause and look at his parents, Manoah and “his wife.” Once again, we will notice that “his wife” doesn’t really have a name. That is not because she didn’t actually have a name, but because the author didn’t seem to think that “her name” was all that important. On the other hand, Manoah is named, which shows the patriarchal bias at work in this author’s writing.
In that time, and in that culture, the lineage was traced through the man and not the woman. So, as can be seen here, the woman was barely mentioned if not totally left out of the equation. That is not to say that the woman had no place in the family, or that women were looked down up on by their husbands or anything like that. I do not want to overstate things. All that is being said is that the society as a whole did not favor the woman equally and, in terms of lineage, traced the family tree through the father.
What’s more, all societies treasure productivity. From childbearing to work, societies look toward its people to produce in every sort of way. It is what keeps a society thriving and pushing forward. Without production, a society, in time, would die. But societies, unfortunately, put so much pride in those who “produce” that they become neglectful (at best) or damning (at worst) of those they deem to be unproductive. What’s more, societies will hone in on one area lacking productivity over and above all of the productivity going on elsewhere.
Such was the case with Manoah and his wife. It was automatically assumed that if a woman could not get pregnant, it was because she was barren. That was the bias that existed in Manoah’s culture. Despite that truth, both the husband and the wife were left in shame and bewilderment when there was no productivity in childbearing. Society, heavily valuing productivity, would look with scorn and judgment on those who could not produce chidlren, as being under God’s curse and as a shame. Of course, by “society”, I am not just meaning religious leaders, town elders, villagers and/or townsfolk, but also family and extended family.
So, it is not hard to imagine the joy that both Manoah and his wife are feeling when they learn that they will, indeed, conceive and produce a child. They both are willing to do whatever God wants of them, and whatever God wants of the child, in order to thank and praise God for such a glorious blessing. In the end, God would be blessing far more than just two eager parents in the birth of Samson.
While this story seemingly has a happy ending, there is a dark sadness that casts its shadow over it. Instead of being valued and encouraged in the ways they may have contributed aside from childbearing, the society was structured to shun, mock, judge and condemn people who could not have children. Again, when I say society, I do so fully recognizing that societies are made up of individual people. Knowing this, how do we contribute to people getting shunned, mocked, judged, and condemned in our society. In what ways does our society inform our own biases, and how do we allow those socially constructed biases to hurt and destroy others? Honesty is the only way we will be reflective enough to allow God to change us.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Putting societal values over and the love of God and neighbor results in a barren people who possess barren souls.
Lord, open my eyes that I may see. Change my heart, making it more and more like yours. Amen.