GOD'S BIG LITTLE PEOPLE - MANOAH, AN INQUIRING MIND WANTED TO KNOW
Dear Christian friends,
Schools are getting back in session. The landscape around here changes when schools are in session. The parsonage is just two miles from the church. When school is in session, if I don’t get an early start, it can take close to half an hour to travel to miles. I’m not looking for pity. Most of you travel much farther and longer.
There are so many schools around with lots of buses and traffic. In 1977 when Judy and I moved to Atlanta into GwinnettCounty, there were 78,000 people in the county. Last year, there were 173,000 students in their schools. That’s more than double the entire population of GwinnettCounty in 1977. Gwinnett has the largest school system in the state. It is the 14th largest in the country. Their budget is almost two billion dollars per year. FultonCounty has a school population of 94,000 people. They spend about $9500 per student per year. Education is expensive but it is important.
A student by the name of Luke hinted that we could save a lot of money if more were just packed into one day. When he came home from school one day, he was asked by his mother, “What did you learn today?” “Not enough!” was his reply. “What do you mean ‘not enough?’” His mother asked. “They told me I have to come back tomorrow.”
I don’t want to give the impression that this sermon is a pep talk for all you students as you return to school, but there is another kind of education all need to have. We need to be students of the Lord. We need to sit at his feet. That’s why we chose Manoah to be part of our sermon series about “God’s Big Little People.” Manoah had “An Inquiring Mind that Wanted to Know” more about the Lord.
Manoah was the father of Samson. Samson was the twelfth of the twelve judges mentioned in the book of Judges. The period of Judges fills in the time from Moses to the time of King Saul, the first king in Israel. It covers the years 1380 BC to 1050 BC.
As Israel was living in the land God had promised them, there was a kind of sickening cycle that was true in Israel. It had four stages. There was apostasy (a falling away from the LORD), followed by an oppression by some enemy God allowed to oppress Israel, followed by period of crying out in repentance, followed by a God sent judge who led them against the oppressive enemy. While it is a monotonous cycle, it is a picture of what happens in our relationship with the Almighty. There is a constant up and down.
Who are some of the judges? There were major judges like Ehud, Othniel, Deborah, Gideon and Samson. I hope they sound familiar. There were minor judges like Shamgar, Tola and Jair. Perhaps they are not so familiar.
Israel was in the middle of some serious oppression by the Philistines. They were a constant thorn in the flesh. This lasted forty years. God decided it was time to free Israel. Our Scripture introduces us to Manoah and his wife. They were a godly couple but had no children. Kind of a familiar scenario. They were like other biblical couples - Sarah and Abraham, Hannah and Elkannah, Rachel and Jacob, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Kind of a special fraternity, all of whom God would bless with a child who became a nation changer.
The story here sounds eerily similar to a lady whom we know; her name was Mary. The angel of the LORD appeared and said to Manoah’s wife, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son… whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb.”
Manoah’s wife could not wait to tell her husband. To Manoah’s credit he believed her. After all it seemed a kind of wild story! An angel of God? A most unexpected pregnancy? That doesn’t happen every day. But we see a humble Manoah and in his wife who took this red letter event with deepest humility and personal concern. God was giving them a special child. How do we raise this gift from you, LORD? Help me to be a godly father! Help me to be a godly mother! Help us to be good parents to raise him like you want him to be raised. “Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” Instruct us, Lord, to do this right!
How the world needs more couples like Manoah and his wife! Excited, because God entrusts parents with children to raise; humbled because…well…because God entrusts parents with children to raise.
When our kids were babies, Judy and I had a copy ofDr. Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. That book helped raise a number of generations of babies. I remember reading it and how Dr. Spock was spot when it came to what to expect babies to do at different stages in their development. Dr. Spock, however, became rather extreme the older he got to be. He was a central figure in the New Left movement. He was constantly protesting and serving jail terms. He protested Viet Nam war, nuclear power and other things. There was a story where, as a pediatrician, he wore Brooks Brothers suits, but at the age of 75 his wife got him to wear blue jeans so he could look relevant at the protests. One piece of advice, the most important piece of advice that he did not mention in his book, was to make the LORD part of your child’s upbringing. Manoah called on God first to teach him.
Manoah didn’t have the Good Book as we do, it was a work in progress. He did, however, ask for this man of God to return to get some answers. We do have God’s book where he reveals himself to us. We are truly blessed. In his book God tells us kids need to begin with godly and repentant parents who seek instruction from the LORD. The best parents are those who seek the LORD themselves and pass it along to their children.
Not only do we need to seek the Lord, but keep seeking the Lord. Manoah did. The longer Manoah could keep this “man from God” around the more he got to know. “Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”
Manoah didn’t want this man to leave. He couldn’t get enough. He invited him to stay for dinner. He wanted this conversation to continue with this “man of God.” It sure contrasts attitudes that are often displayed when people think that an hour a week is enough to spend with the LORD. Where did the idea come from that worship is supposed to last only an hour? Since when did it become all right to even skip that hour two or three or times a month or an entire summer? Since when did it become acceptable to seek the Lord only on Christmas and Easter? Since when did it become acceptable for kids to hit and miss on Sunday School or that Bible class is for Sunday School parents only? Since when did it become all right for kids to say that Sunday School and worship is boring and okay for them not to attend? Since when did it become right to judge Sunday School on the basis of whether it was fun rather than on substance? We need to be more like Manoah who didn’t get enough and wanted more.
With his persistence, God blessed him with a deeper understanding of who the LORD really was and blessed him with his love and forgiveness. “The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord.) Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?” He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” What follows is very interesting and very profound. Manoah would be allowed to see and know things he never knew before.
Since the Angel of the LORD didn’t want dinner, Manoah prepared a kid goat as an offering and offered it upon a rock. “And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground.” But now Manoah and his wife became frightened and Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”
It wasn’t just an angel of the Lord they had visit them, it was the angel of the LORD. What’s the difference? We understand that by what follows: “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” The Angel of the Lord accepted worship from them in the form of sacrifices. This makes it clear that this man was neither an ordinary man or prophet, nor a created angel, but God himself. “We have seen God!”
But there is more. He is God, but was sent from the LORD. We eliminate him being the Father since the Angel of the LORD was sent from the Father. That leaves us with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Let me take you a little farther. Remember Manoah had asked him his name. Actually, I don’t think the translators of the most recent version of the NIV did a good job with this. They translate that his name is “beyond understanding.” Let me give you a little lesson in Hebrew. He calls himself in Hebrew “Peleh.” They translate that word beyond understanding. It means “wonder” or “miracle.” It is exactly the same word that is found in Isaiah 9:6. You know this passage about Jesus and all the names he would be given. His name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Wonderful is the word Hebrew word “Peleh.” Who is the Angel of God who appeared to Manoah and his wife? The same one who is called Wonderful Counselor. This is Jesus, Jesus in the Old Testament.
By all rights Manoah was correct, they should have died. No man can see God and live. But here was Jesus! He came to make us right before God. And that is what he would do when he would come to this earth centuries from then. His mission was not to kill and destroy but to save the lost. Manoah and his wife had that assurance and all who put their faith in Jesus have that assurance. We do too.
In so many ways Manoah’s experience of not letting go of the Angel of the LORD, Jesus, reminds me of Martin Luther’s “Tower Experience.” You know the story of Martin Luther. He was born into the Roman Church and not taught the unconditional and no strings attached grace of God. Salvation depended upon keeping the law. There is a phrase in the Bible that reminded him of that all the time – “the righteousness of God.” He was taught that the righteousness of God was something that God demanded of people, that God demands perfection. Actually that’s right! God does demand righteousness from us, but that’s half the story. The other half is that God provides it in Christ. Christ lived a righteous and perfect life for us. What God demands is also what God supplies in Jesus. By faith it becomes our own. When God revealed that to Luther, he said he "was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise." God revealed this in the heated study in the tower of the Black Cloister monastery in Wittenberg. Thus the tower experience. Manoah and Luther came to the same conclusion because they just wouldn’t let the Lord go.
The Bible the place where the LORD reveals himself to us. That’s why this book should never be too far from us. That’s why this house should never be too far from us. That’s why Bible study and Sunday School should never be too far from us. Remember little Luke who said that he didn’t learn enough in school in one day so they made him come back. We are no different. That’s why we need to come back again and again and again. In his book where he reveals himself, God gives inquiring minds what they need to know.