He feels left out, side lined by the sudden change in events. As she stands here now the words catch in his throat. How come this angel has now appeared twice to her, and not him? Why is he not included in this revolution? She tugs at his clothes. Yells, ‘Come on! He’s waiting. He wants to meet you.’ But if that were true he’d have appeared to Manoah in his workshop, not out in the field to his wife. For the second time. Surely God knows they both want a child. Has he done something that puts him beyond heaven’s reach? He can feel his feet start to move as the tugging becomes pulling, then yanking. If he doesn’t step on he’ll fall over, she’s unbalancing him in her eagerness. She starts to run and he has to pick up speed to keep up. There’s a glow in the distance, a figure in white. Taller than most men. Staring off into the distance. For moment a chill runs through Manoah and he slows up. Suppose this is a trap. A pay off. Suppose this promise about a boy is not true, merely a ruse to get him killed? Seeing God is costly. Could take his life. His wife seems to miss this point. She’s still running. Manoah slows to a trot and keeps a safe distance. Eventually, as he approaches, he calls out. ‘Are you the man who appeared to my wife the other day?’ (and not me) he calls. The last few words unspoken in his question. ‘I am,’ the figure replies, and the voice is like the blending of rushing waters. Manoah stops and looks. She’s right. God is in this, somehow he knows it.
‘What are we to do when… when your promise comes true? We need instruction.’ The figure turns and looks, his eyes burnished with clear, pure light, burning into Manoah’s soul, past his doubts and fears, reluctance and hurt. ‘I told your wife already,’ the bright man says. ‘I know,’ Manoah screams inside, ‘but tell me, tell me!’ ‘Your wife must eat the right things,’ the shining figure goes on, ‘avoid alcohol and any foods forbidden by the law.’ Manoah stares, he’s afraid the figure will go now and he’ll still feel as if he’s missed out somehow. ‘Stay!’ he calls suddenly, ‘it isn’t right for you to go without eating. I’ll get a goat.’ The figure shakes his head and Manoah’s heart sinks, but then, as if thinking again, he adds. ‘I won’t eat anything, but you can make an offering to the Lord.’
It takes a while, fetching and carrying, preparing the fire and the grain and the animal, and Manoah keeps checking that the figure has not left them. Offering nervous grins to the man in white whenever he glances back at him. It would be just his luck to bring all this and then find the man gone. Eventually the fire blazes and the meat is ready, but then, as he lifts and lowers the food onto the flames the fire grows in intensity swallowing the offering, and the figure rises up and is sucked into the yellow and orange raging. Manoah and his wife fall back at the wall of heat as the man in white is blown up to the heavens with the rising fire. Manoah stares with his mouth open, long after the offering is burnt up and the figure disappeared. Then, sharply, he drops to his knees and buries his face in the hot earth. ‘We’re gonna die,’ he cries, his words muffled by grit, ‘we saw God! We cannot live. We’re not good enough.’ They wait for a while, bowing low both of them. But eventually his wife lifts her face and brushes dust from her chin. ‘Don’t be daft,’ she says, ‘he wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble of coming here twice and giving all these instructions if this were merely a trap.’ And then suddenly she laughs and slaps her hand on Manoah’s back. He looks at her, his face all dirt and frowning. ‘We’re going to have a boy!’ she says, ‘we’re going to be parents!’ And she leaps up and runs back through the field, not bothering to take him with her this time. Slowly he stands, watching her dancing in the sunlight. ‘He didn’t appear to me twice though,’ he mutters, ‘he came to you.’ And he walks slowly back, a strange mixture of wonder, sadness, frustration and hope swilling in his soul. A baby. He’s going to be a father at long last. Will he make a good one? As he passes through the city gates a sudden surge of confused passion makes him wish he could rip off the gates and knock down the stone work.
Judges 13 vv 2-23
(Inspired by Jeff Lucas’s writing in There Are No Strong People)