Two stories about couple relationships.
First story: Samson’s parents – Manoah and his wife
The Bible is littered with stories and human situations describing relationships. Relationships are the field in which human experiences are conducted and where we ultimately face the tests of our lives. This time I’ll bring two stories that reflect couple relationships. Both couples are ordinary people, not war heroes or Royalty, but through the human message of their story an interesting lesson can be learned.
The first couple is Manoah and his wife, a folk couple from the Dan tribe. The Bible’s author emphasizes the fact that these are common people by not even giving the wife a name and she is referred to as ‘woman’. Still, even the common person, even if he has no special status or authority, wants to see himself as important at least in his wife’s eyes. Is it a legitimate passion? What are the men’s rights and what are his obligations regarding his wife? And on the woman’s side, according to the Bible, what are her duties and rights? How should she behave in such a situation? These questions are about the story at hand.
Manoah’s wife is infertile and we know that in ancient times infertility considered tragic for spouses. One day, the ‘woman’ is visited by a figure that the bible calls “The Angel of the Lord”. He is telling her that she will give birth to a son and that this son will “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13-5). The angel briefly hands her some instructions on how to treat her newborn son, and walks away.
After the encounter, the woman tells her husband everything happened and thus demonstrates the bible-writer’s view of how a woman should treat her husband. Yet even when she fulfills her role in this way, Manoah is not content but wants to see and hear the angel himself. He prays and asks that the man of God will come again to explain them what they need to do regarding the coming son.
The Bible states that God consents to the prayer and the angel comes again. Yet again he chooses to be seen only to the woman when she is alone in the field and not to Manoah. Then again the woman proves her loyalty and submissiveness when she does not discuss any matter with the angel but leaves him to wait and runes to her husband to tell him that the angel have come so he can ask him his questions as he wished. It is worth noting that in the first time when the woman met the angel, she said: “A man of God came to me. His appearance was like the angel of God, exceedingly awesome” (Judges 13-6). Despite the fact that she met such a great and wonderful figure and despite the fact that the angel is personally giving her instructions and a promise for a son, she still leaves him and runs to her husband.
The Bible conveys many of its messages through parallels, comparisons and repetitions of the same subject from different angles. This is one of the means that allows for so much depth, since the number of comparisons and intersections between stories, characters, and events is numerous, and allow layers upon layers of depth. One of the parallels and comparisons that come up when we read the story of Manoah and his wife is to the story of Adam and Eve. Eve also was visited by a supernatural figure – the snake in Eden – while alone in the field and she too been offered some fantastic things. To the barren wife of Manoah a supernatural figure offers a child and Eve was offered to be like God (I will discuss Adam and Eve’s story, in detail, in another post ).
However, between Eve’s reaction to the event and Manoah’s Wife reaction, there is all the difference between blessing and curse. Eve accepted the snake’s offer without consulting with her husband, and the wife of Manoah did. They both couldn’t be absolutely sure what the nature of the supernatural character that appears before them is, though both of them had some solid clues. In any case, to consult with one’s spouse about such a significant matter is always the right thing to do. God has given people partners so that they can complement each other, confer with each other and pray together. For the common prayer is more complete than the prayer of an individual, especially when joint prayer expresses respect, appreciation, devotion and mutual love, as it should be between spouses.
The common prayer with united hearts is beneficial any way but in a couple relationships it has a special meaning. The special meaning is duo to the different spousal roles the Creator gave them to perform. These roles reflect God himself and this is why the couple prayers, if they know how to be faithful to their different marital roles, is so meaningful. To know how to be faithful to one’s marital role, also shows the faithfulness one has to God.
In our story it seems that Manoah does not know how to trust his wife since he does not accept the angel’s words through her (one of the man’s roles according to the bible is to honor and love his wife.) The angel alludes to this problem in his approach by choosing to appear to the woman also in the second time, to say: ‘why don’t you trust your wife? You know her. You know she’s a good and loyal and I put my trust in her by bringing my words to you both through her.’
Yet Mano`ah is not a one-dimensional figure, there are also positive aspects to his behavior. If we will look again to the comparison between him and the first Man, it seems that Manoah, as opposed to Adam, is also doing part of his roles right. He makes sure to stay in the picture regarding the unusual event his wife experienced and doesn’t just take the fruit irresponsibly as Adam did. Manoah prays and ask God for guidance and thus effectively protects his wife and himself from anything unwanted that might happen. (Though, as we saw, he needed to pray also with her and after hearing and respecting what she is saying).
So Manoah does at least part of his role, and I want to suggest that if Adam would have done his role at list as Manoah did, and if Eve had faithfully done her role as Manoah’s wife, probably the fall in Eden would have been avoided.
The man’s role beyond being a leader and protector is also to be a mentor and a teacher to the family. One of the things he needs to teach his wife is that she needs always to consult with him on whatever fundamental thing she faces, so that they can bring it together before God. It is the man’s duty and authority to lead the family, but he must do it with the help of His wife who is appointed by God to be “his helpmate”, not only in practical matters but also and especially in spiritual matters. So Adam appeared to be negligent also in this regard as Eve did not had clear knowledge on what to do in the situation she was in, while with Manoah’s and his wife, things seemed to be clear.
So, we can see that according to the Bible, some kind of delicate balance is required on the part of the men. On the one hand they need to learn from Manoah not to be passive, to seek wisdom, to care and actively look after their wives, to know how to teach and guide them so they will know what to do in one situation or another. On the other hand, they need to be able to trust, to be able to listen, to respect and to accept help from their wives, not to patronize them.
I may state here that God made man and woman equal – equal in wisdom, talents, spiritual and practical abilities even though they have different roles. The roles they received in this world (In the next it will be different) are not the essence of the man or the woman, as a bank manager for example, is not a bank manager in his essence (should not be) but rather he play a particular role in this life. With it, the ability to faithfully fill the roles intended for a person is very important because it reflects also his faithfulness to God.
The man’s role is to lead and love his wife; the woman role is to know how to be led, to accept her husband’s leadership. Manoah does not know how to respect and trust the wife he had been given and this is his weakness, yet he is a man of faith and knows how to pray and know how to fulfill his other duties towards his wife, and this is his strength. He arrives at the field where the angel is waiting, following his wife, and addresses the angel approximately with these words: ‘Are you the one who has spoken to the woman before?’ ‘Yes’ replies the angel. ‘Ok then, now you can give me your message. What did you want to say?’ The angel replies succinctly that they will have a child, and also reiterates the prohibition on drinking wine, but does not repeat all the details he gave the woman, only reiterating: “what I have ordered the woman you shall keep.”
In other words: ‘Why don’t you listen to her? Why did you call me for? So I will repeat the same things I told her already? Why don’t you trust her and respect her? Surely she deserves trust and respect?’ But Manoah doesn’t understand and goes on and tries a different angle of approach to break the ice with the angel. Now he is trying to be cool, to be the ‘man’: ‘Come on,’ he suggests from a custodian approach, ‘why don’t you have something to eat with us?’ it turns out that the Israeli male macho is not a twenty-first-century invention but always been. The angel sternly refuses to this invitation: ‘I won’t eat your bread’ he says, ‘if you want to give something, to do something positive, make a sacrifice to God.’ ‘And what is your name?’ asks Manoah in a last attempt to run things his way. still the angel did not cooperate and didn’t give his name.
Yet, as we said, Manoah is also a person with positive qualities and there is quite a bit to learn from him. In the end, he is listening to the angel’s words and makes a sacrifice. Then, thanks to this sacrifice, he and his wife get to see the angel’s glory – they get to discover his divine nature, a nature not seen before. The angel still stands before them, but now they finally realize that He is Jehovah himself, the God of Israel. They fall on their faces and Manoah says to his wife with trepidation: “We are going to die for we have seen God!” (Judges 13-22).
Here again, the woman is revealed to be a true woman of valor, with very healthy common-sense. She explains to her husband that they cannot die, for if the angel wanted them dead, He would not have answered the offering they had made, and He would not tell them they will have a son. A dead couple cannot bring children, isn’t it?
It is in these things we learn that the ‘woman’ has genuine inner confidence, and in her words she shows that she knows her value despite her being humbled towards her husband. For only those who recognize the value of themselves can feel self-confidence and only from such self-confidence they can also respect and trust others, as well as trusting God. From such position a person can faithfully perform the role entrusted to him by the Creator, without feeling inferior or superior, and he can see reality with clarity, simplicity and without getting his ego blocking his view. For fear and the constant need to deal with it or to cover up insecurity, make it difficult for a person to see things clearly, to trust even what his eyes see and to trust those who deserve to be trusted.
Often insecurity causes a person to try to display false confidence, overbearing or insensitivity. Those qualities are demonstrated by Manoah as he tries to demonstrate his mastery and control of the situation but in the moment of truth he is afraid of being killed even though it makes no sense. It is clear that The Angel did not give him his words because a man like him tends to distort things and see them through his fears and insecurities. By contrast, The Angel chooses to be seen to the woman who displays both, quiet confidence and humility.
If so, is the God of Israel is a chauvinist as some people think? That’s not what the Bible shows. God often chooses the weaker one and the one traditionally considered less valuable. He chooses Abel rather than the elder Cain, and then Isaac and Jacob, who are not the eldest. He chose David, the smallest and least impressive of all his brothers. Also, although in the ancient world women were considered less valuable he chose quite a few women to fill key roles, giving his word to women as in this case.
However, is the God of Israel a feminist? Again, the answer is no. He has created the man and the woman for different roles so there are not equal in this regard. They are equal in essence, and the essence of a person is something else. The Woman of Manoah showed something of her good essence and this essence was not at odds with the female role she was careful to play. Manoah showed that he also had a different essence, and because of that essence he failed to fill some of the male role he had been assigned.
Another of the men’s roles, according to the Bible, is to bring the offering and represent his family to God in the work of the sacrifices. This matter is a matter of substance, and because Manoah knows how to perform this role and offer a sacrifice as required – despite the fact that he failed in some other aspects – both spouses are given the revelation of the angel’s glory. The sacrifice is used to cover up people’s sins, and from the moment God forgives a person for his immature attitude or his sins (we are all immature and we are all sinning in one way or another), then the partition is removed and the person receive an epiphany that allow him to see God as He is. Thanks to the sacrifice, the mistakes of Manoah are forgiven and access to God is made possible to Manoah, plus to his family, through him as the family leader.
The second couple I would like to share their story is Elkanah and Hannah, parents of the prophet Samuel. Their story has a similar background to the story of Manoah and his wife, they are also very closely following in terms of the order of the Bible’s text. Still, Elkanah and Hannah’s reaction to the events is different and their relationship is different. In order not to be too long I’ll bring their story soon, in a separate post.