A Mother without a Title
Very little is known about her including her name. Her story begins in Judges 13 verse one:
And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
Barren, that seemed to be her title, and she was in good company. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel all were barren, wives of the patriarchs. But she had no hope that she would lose that title, it seemed to come with a lifetime warranty, so you can imagine her surprise when she saw an angel standing before her telling her that she could expect to have a son. Without even giving her time to react the angel continues to rattle off some instructions to her in verses four and five.
Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
And just like that he is gone, no hello or goodbyes, no additional explanations, nothing. Her response to the message is to find her husband. In verses six and seven we read:
Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name: But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
If you take the time to imagine the scene, it can become quite humorous. Let's retell it just a little:
Manoah is quietly doing his work when his wife arrives, breathless and tells him between deep breaths, a man of God came, and his countenance, Oh, it was like the countenance of an angel of God, terrible, very terrible, but I didn’t ask him where he came from or who he was and he didn’t bother to tell me. BUT he told me that I was going to have a baby, a son. AND he said I could not drink wine or strong drink or eat any unclean thing because the child will be a Nazarite to God from the womb to his death.
This must have been a lot for Manoah to take in, after all, it is not everyday that your wife comes running up to you saying an angel told her she was going to have a son. Whatever his reaction to the message, we do know that he had a request to ask of God. Verse eight:
Then Manoah intreated the Lord, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.
A Desire to Learn
Manoah's response is moving. It is no stretch to say that both he and his wife longed to have a child. Children were so important in their culture, they were their legacy and social security. Manoah did not treat this heavenly news lightly. He desired to learn how he should raise the child, he wanted to do it right, to be a good father and possessed a heart that was teachable. In proverbs 1:5 we read
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
And in Proverbs 9:9 it says:
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
A trademark of a wise person is that they are teachable. They recognize that they don’t have all the answers. They know they can always learn more and are humble enough to ask questions and seek help, like Manoah did. He understood that this child was meant to do something great which is why he needed to know exactly what he and his wife should do. What a great lesson for us as well as a reminder, nothing we have is ours alone, it is from the Lord. Every talent, every possession and even every person in our life, they are all from the Lord and if we want to be good stewards of what He has given to us then we should ask Him how to manage it all.
The gifts we have been given should be used under the direction of the Lord. The possessions He has poured out on us should be used as He guides us. And above all, the people God entrusts to us such as children should be handled with the wisdom He gives. This can also apply to how we treat our parents, siblings and friends, they are all a gift from the Lord and are the only possession we can take to Heaven with us. Relationships matter to the Lord, each person is made in the image of God so we should look to Him for guidance in how we interact with those He has blessed us with. Another lesson we can learn from the Manoahs is this. They had waited a long time for a child and God was giving them a desire of their heart, their first response was to seek the Lord’s wisdom. How many times have we spent years asking God for something but when we receive it we do as we please with it instead of continuing to pray over it?
A Request Granted
Manoah treasured his gift from the Lord and wanted to do his best in raising this child, so he intreated the Lord to send the man of God to them again so they could know what to do. God's sweet response is found in verse nine:
And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her.
God honored his request, remember that in James 1:5 we are told,
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Manoah asked and God responded by sending the angel back, however, it is not to him directly but through is wife again. She quickly makes her back to Manoah as the scene unfold in verses ten through fourteen.
And the woman made haste, and ran, and shewed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day. And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I am. And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him? And the angel of the Lord said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.
Manoah and his wife eagerly took in all that the angel had to say. She was going to be on a special diet all through her pregnancy and while there is a specific reason for this it is an interesting thought that our actions and choices can have an impact on others. The decisions we make rarely affect just us which means we should be more conscious of others when making them. What we say, where we go, even the things that we recommend to others can all influence someone for good or bad. We each have a realm of influence whether we realize it or not. People, both lost and saved, are watching our actions and our reactions. This is another reason to seek the Lord’s wisdom daily, letting Him influence our life so we can be ready to influence others for good.
A Voice of Reason
For Manoah, he had one final request of this messenger and we read that in verse fifteen and sixteen.
And Manoah said unto the angel of the Lord, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee. And the angel of the Lord said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the Lord. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the Lord. And Manoah said unto the angel of the Lord, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?
Though the angel agreed to this request, he did tell Manoah that he would not eat the food nor did he want praise when asked what his name. He didn't want Manoah to honor him. The angel kept the focus where it needed to be, on the Lord. It's easy to get caught up in the desire to be honored by man but we should seek to have the same attitude as the angel of the Lord. He understood that he was merely a messenger sent to do the bidding of the Lord. We are also ambassadors for Christ, His messengers sent to do His work, to spread the gospel, to share His love, and be a light to the world. We should never seek our own glory or praise our own “accomplishments”, because none of it is ours to begin with. God has blessed each of us with a specific gift that was intended to be used for His glory and His honor. May we always remember that and have an attitude of humility, careful to not yield ground to pride.
Manoah and his wife prepared an offering and the angel though he doesn’t reveal his name, reveals that he is a heavenly being. We read this in verses nineteen through twenty-two.
So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the Lord: and the angel did wonderously; and Manoah and his wife looked on. For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground. But the angel of the Lord did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the Lord. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
It must have been interesting to watch the look on Manoah’s face as the realization sinks in, he has just seen an angle. This was not a regular man of God, this was an angel of the Lord and you probably could have knocked him over with a feather. Of course, he actually fell to the ground all on his own along with his wife. Most of us would probably have had the same reaction, absolute shock and a good bit of terror. Manual seems to almost cry out in a voice of absolute panic, "we shall surely die, because we have seen God". It’s as if he is almost saying, "we are doomed!".
His wife's response is the exact opposite in verse 23:
But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
As you read these words you can hear the calm sound of reason. She is so practical, so factual, "why would God go through so much trouble to tell us we would have a child, accept our burnt offering, give us the instructions only to kill us." While Manoah seems almost unhinged, his sweet wife simply states the facts which made perfect sense. They also reflect an understanding heart of God’s character. She believes what God has told her and knows that God is not double minded. He wouldn’t tell them they would be parents then kill them for seeing an angel. Her perspective of the situation was guided by her knowledge of God. Manoah panicked but his wife remained calm. When we look at our circumstances through our eyes we will become anxious and troubled but when we remember who God is and that He is in control, everything changes. The Psalmist expresses the same confidence in Psalm 4:8
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
Why could he say he will lay down in peace and sleep? Because the Lord makes him to dwell in safety. He could rest because he knew who was in control, who was his shield and protector. We have the same assurances, the same promises, this is what happens when you know God more, when you dwell in His presence, you find rest. Manoah’s wife is a beautiful example of how knowing God influences our perspective and gives us peace. When life gets crazy and our circumstances leave us feeling worried or fearful may we take a moment to be still and shift our focus on the One who never leaves nor forsakes us, the One who promises to be by our side, holding us in His right hand.
A Title Replaced
In the end, Manoah’s wife would join a long list of women who traded their title of barren for another one, Mother which we read in verse 24:
And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.
What a wonderful and exciting day that must have been for both of them. She who had longed to have a child, she who lived in the shadows of other mothers now had her moment of fulfillment, her arms now were full as she cradled her miracle, her gift from the Lord, a son called Samson. God had been preparing her for this moment, all those years of waiting, longing, hoping were not in vain. And God has not forgotten you. We have to trust in the Lord that He knows what is best for us. His timing is always perfect, He is never early and He is never late. There are many out there who have a longing of their own, to be married, to have children, maybe you are even wishing for a spouse or grandchildren for your own child. Be willing to trust the Lord with these longings and desires. He who formed you and your children, knows your every need. The best thing we can do is commit these things to prayer and leave it in His capable, loving hands. Never forget that He wants the best for you and no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.
May we choose to be a people that trust His word, His timing, and above all, believe that He loves us more than anyone else. May we be like Manoah’s wife and walk in the confidence of one who knows their God and we can only do this if we spend time in His word, take the time to quiet our souls and let Him whisper His truths into our hearts.
The Unanswered Letter
"a portrait of love and courage at a time when those qualities were in short supply."
For over six decades a letter was tucked away from the world, it was sent as a desperate and final plea for help in a time when the unimaginable was taking place far from American shores.
You are surely informed about the situation of all jews in Central-Europe and this letter will not astonish you. By pure chance I got your address and as our names are the same I hope that we belong to the same family... we are seized with fright thinking of the moment when our children will leave us and we shall be left here alone. The only possibility to join our children, the dearest we have in this world, is the way to America and I beg you instantly to send us (for me and my wife) an affidavit... I beg you once more: help us follow our children, it is our last and only hope.
The recipients of this letter would, for reasons unknown, choose not to answer the letter, yet they refused to throw it away. When they passed away in the mid-1970s, it was found by their niece who felt it was too important to throw away. As she began to near the end of her life she felt someone needed to know about the letter and that is how it ended up in the hands of journalist, Faris Cassell, a woman who was driven by the question, "What happened to Alfred and Hedwig Berger?"
She would spend nearly twenty years searching for answers, travel across five countries, and talk with people who were complete strangers but would become good friends. The more Faris Cassell dug deeper into the lives of these ordinary people she uncovered an extraordinary story, one of courage, love, and deep faith.
I must confess that as soon as I read the back cover of this book I was fascinated. It completely grabbed my attention and curiosity. This couple was so desperate for help that they were willing to beg complete strangers. I will say that this book was a difficult read in many ways, there was so much sorrow and loss yet it was impossible not to be pulled into the world of this family who loved each other with such devotion. As the author begins to walk you through their life, how the couple met, their background, and the relentless effort they put forth to ensure the safety of their children, there was a quote that caught my attention.
"Sunlight over a dark landscape"
I read it over and over again, then I wrote it down though I wish I had noted the page number but the idea was that there were moments woven throughout the story when human courage and compassion shown like the sun in a dark landscape. My mind went to the verses in Matthew five:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
We are meant to be a light not for ourselves or that others will see how great we are, but to point others to Christ. Our world is naturally a dark place, it began in darkness and only when God stepped on the scene did the darkness vanish. He who is Light pushed the darkness into the corner and only His presence eliminates it. We are called to be a light to the world, to be a reflection of God and in so doing we become a piece of sunlight over a dark landscape. Darkness is oppressive and when we spend extended periods of time under its shadow we can become a soul that is discouraged. Sunlight is the direct opposite, we delight to bathe in it's warmth and can instantly feel happier as it surrounds us. How can we make a difference in this world that seems to be nearly swallowed up by the darkness? We begin by going directly to the source of light, our God, and we do this by spending time in His Word because it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. When we meditate on the Word of God its truths and principles will begin to penetrate our soul and influence our behavior. How can we be sunlight over a dark landscape? When we are kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, and speaking words of love. This is how we make a difference in this dark landscape, being the lights that shine forth, reminding people that kindness, mercy, and love still exist in the world because He is kind, merciful, and loving. As Christians, followers of Christ, we have a purpose and part of that includes being someone who shines the SONlight over a dark landscape.
One final thought that I took away from this book was a comment made by the author herself as she pondered how Alfred and his wife Hedwig could celebrate their religious holidays, particularly the one that required them to confess their sins to the Lord while enduring such suffering and loss. It was such a reminder to me on the lost's mentality, that they can't comprehend why anyone could ask for forgiveness for sin when the One they were confessing to was allowing such wrong to go unpunished. What they fail to see is the other side of the coin, that our life here on earth is temporary, it is not all there is, in fact, it is merely a drop in light of eternity. It was a great reminder to me, even though there is so much injustice and corruption going on in our world right now, but that does not mean I get a pass on making sinful choices or yielding to temptations. God is still just and worthy of all the honor and respect I can give Him. When I keep a correct view of eternity in mind, that this life is merely a vapor which will soon be past and a wondrous future awaits all those that call upon His name, I will seek to keep my heart pure through confession of sins. Also, confessing my sins should not be determined by my current circumstances but by the fact that it is needful for me in order to maintain a correct relationship with my Heavenly Father, the One who died to save me.
If you enjoy learning about history, you will enjoy this book. It is very real and you will find yourself pulling for this family that lived nearly ninety years ago, that held onto to hope to the very end.
A life changing decision
She made a simple decision, a response really, that would alter her future forever. She did nothing wrong, she was just doing what anyone else would have done in the same circumstances, but she was unaware that someone else had set something in motion that could not be undone. The entire exchange has been the center of many discussions by pastors for many, many years with differing opinions. We never learn her name, only that she is the daughter of Jephthah, the man who made a vow to the Lord.
While she is first mentioned in Judges 11:34, her story begins with her father in the beginning of the chapter. His introduction is found in verse one:
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
This tells us two things about him, he was a mighty man of valour meaning he was a man’s man, he was no wimp, he possessed a great amount of courage. This verse also says that he was the son of a harlot, this means he was not accepted by anyone, it seems that his father might have accepted him, but when his half brothers grew up they wanted nothing to do with him and forced him to leave. So Jephthah made his own way in the world, he lived in the land of Tob and managed to gather a small band of men. But like many classic stories, those who turned their backs on him, ignoring his very existence, came face to face with some serious trouble that they could not handle so they go running to the one person who has the courage they lack and experience they need, the one they cast aside was the one they now looked to as a military leader. As you might have guessed, Jephthah did bring up the past, making a point to mention that these “brethren” of his had wanted nothing to do with him, in fact he says that they hated him but now they wanted him to be their captain as if they were all the best of friends. After the treatment he has received in the past, it's understandable that he is a bit hesitant to believe them but after they affirm their statement before the Lord, Jephthah agrees to help them.
This need for a guaranteed reward is interesting, and makes you wonder if this was the main driving force behind Jephthah, a man driven from his people, forced to forge his own way without the support of family. Maybe he didn’t want to be used so he bartered for a position of leadership, or maybe he was desperate to be recognized as someone important, to make his family acknowledge him. We can’t know for sure but this could be what played a part in the tragedy that was to shortly take place. As he prepares to do battle he makes a vow before the Lord.
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
We read the words of a man who seems to be willing to do anything to guarantee a victory, he asked that the Lord without fail, deliver the children of Ammon into his hands. He is craving a victory, a need to win that may be fed by his desire to be accepted by those who cast him aside as nothing. Whatever the reason, Jephthah has made a vow that cannot be broken, one many say was done in haste. Did he think it through? Would it have been better to be specific in what he offered instead of whatever comes out. While many say that the animals may have moved freely in and out of people’s homes back then, there had to be at least the thought that a person may be the first thing to come out but as the old saying goes, act in haste, repent in leisure. It was a vow made in haste that would yield heartwrenching consequences.
Jephthah was granted the victory he desired, a without fail victory delivered to him by the hand of the Lord and it was a great victory, the children of Ammon were completely subdued. Now Jephthah makes his way home, feeling pretty good about his victory, but his triumph quickly turns to tragedy as his eyes watch the first thing that emerges from the doors of his house, his daughter, his only daughter, she had come to meet him, to celebrate his great victory with song and dance. The Bible emphasizes that this was his only child, he didn’t have any other sons or daughters, just her. We read his agony in verse 35
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
He was devastated, his hasty words would now cost him everything, there was no undoing it or going back. For this, Jephthah must be commended, he was a man of honor, a man of his word and it seems that he had instilled this in his daughter as we read her response to her entire future in verse 36
And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
Of course the big question here is, what happens to her? Did her father sacrifice her as a burnt offering? I am going to say right here that I am not sure, I am only going to give a little of my own thoughts mixed with some of the things that I read. First let’s read the remaining verses in Judges 11
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
For myself, personally I don’t believe he killed her, the text never specifies it and God was against human sacrifice and God never contradicts Himself. When He told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel intervened before Abraham could fulfill it so I don’t think she was killed as a burnt offering. However, it seems that she was never to marry which was almost as hard as her life being lost. The continuing of the family was everything and while his family name would not have lived on when she married, his legacy would have, he would have had the chance to have grandchildren that carried a part of him. This was lost, a tragic loss for both father and daughter. She would never be a wife and mother. His daughter may have been dedicated to serving the Lord in the temple, perhaps like Samuel, or I also think of Anna in the New Testament, she served the Lord daily. It is worth pointing out that the text emphasizes her grief over her virginity. She asks her father to give her two months to bewail her virginity, her friends go with her and mourn and when she comes back to her father, he fulfills his vow with the added statement, she knew no man. Both of these statements lean to the fact that she would never marry instead offered as a human sacrifice. I want to share a few lessons that we can learn from this heartbreaking story.
First, be careful of the vows you make. In Deuteronomy 23 verses 21 through 23 we read what God thinks about vows.
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.
23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
To make a vow is a serious thing, that’s why Jephthah said he could not go back on it, he understood the gravity of his words. Notice that God tells us it is not a sin not to vow, but when we do make one it is a sin not to keep it.
Second, be careful of the reason why you make a vow. A vow should never be flippantly made nor should it be to simply get what you want, like a barter. Jephthah made a vow to God for a victory, but was it because he wanted it for his people, did he believe he could manipulate God, was he willing to sacrifice anything to gain a victory in order to prove himself to his half brothers? Or was it a little of everything? I can’t help but wonder. Jephthah was an outcast, no one ever stood up for him. When his half brothers raised a fuss and threw him out there was no one who said it was wrong or that they should not have treated him that way. He was simply tossed aside, left to make out by himself. Maybe he felt that if he could guarantee a win, he would finally be accepted so he bargained with God. Remember how he phrased it to God? If thou shalt without fail, that is a specific request. God is not to be manipulated and we should never behave as if we can offer Him something in exchange for a specific service or deed.
Third, remember that your choices often affect others. Japhthah’s decisions to make a hasty and in many ways foolish vow cost not only him but his daughter. All her dreams of becoming a wife and mother, of having her father’s grandchildren, were gone in an instant. Whenever we make decisions, especially ones on a larger scale, we should weigh our options, count the cost, and seek wisdom.
The story of Japhthath and his daughter is not an easy one to read, it has no happy ending, in reality it ends in tragedy yet there are lessons still found within these verses. Decisions made in haste or even based on emotions rarely turn out well. We are told over and over again to be wise and to seek counsel, surround yourself with good friends, people you can trust, people you can go to when you have a question or pressing matters. Above all, seek the Lord, walk in His ways and ask for His wisdom. The best way is to spend time in the word of God daily. The more you do, the more He will reveal to you.
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I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.