We arrived at the crossroads near the bridge leading to Timnah. It was noon, and the plain stretched out before us as far as the eye could see. Sippore flew high into the sky to spy out the land for us. Looking east toward the ridge, where a portion of the tribe of Dan had settled, we saw a donkey-drawn cart approaching.
“Is that Manoah and Naamah?” Sipporah asked presently, when the cart drew near enough to see who rode in the cart.
I adjusted my Indie hat to shade my eyes from the bright sun. “It is indeed,” I said. “It is plain that we were meant to encounter them and perhaps assist them in some way.”
“Ho, there!” Manoah shouted with a wave. “What are you doing here?” he asked, giving Pegasus a curious look.
“We were just waiting for you,” I replied. “If you do not mind, we would like to accompany you,” I said. “Perhaps we may be of use.”
“We are going past Timnah, but you are welcome to come along,” Manoah said. He looked somewhat embarrassed and upset. Rolling his eyes disapprovingly, he added, “My son has fallen in love with a Philistine woman and insists that I should arrange for him to marry her. I cannot understand why he must marry the daughter of a foreigner—an uncircumcised Philistine, no less! It makes no sense. There are many daughters in Israel who want to marry him. This is ridiculous! But he is headstrong and insists upon having his own way.”
Naamah remained silent.
“God’s thoughts are often hidden to us,” I replied, “and his real purposes are often not evident for many generations. But this I know: your son has been called to be a deliverer and judge in Israel. All such deliverers establish partial patterns which prophesy of the final great Deliverer, which you know as the Messiah. Many judges have already been given to Israel. Samson is one of a long line of anointed ones.”
“I am aware of that,” Manoah said with some impatience, “but how would marrying a Philistine woman prophesy of the coming Messiah? Surely the Messiah would not do this!”
“Why would God use any flawed man or woman to accomplish His purposes?” I replied. “It is a paradox, a divine riddle, that God uses flawed people, most often without their own knowledge, to accomplish His will. Even man’s rebellion has been written into the script and will be used for a good purpose in the end. Man’s opposition is nothing to Him. The fulfillment of His plan does not depend upon the success of flawed men. Was Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land any more than a delay to the appointed time? The Messiah is not only called to deliver Israel, but to deliver the whole earth from its idolatry and lawlessness. The borders of His Kingdom will include all nations, for God has vowed that His glory will fill the whole earth.” 5
“I believe that the day will come,” Manoah said, “that the Messiah will slay all of His enemies, and then Israel’s borders will be extended to include the whole earth.”
“If God were to slay all of His enemies,” I replied, “Israel too would be destroyed. There would be no Israelites to rule the earth. The earth would again become void, and God would have to start over with a new creation. But God has chosen to save the earth, and His arm is not shortened, nor is His hand too weak to accomplish His purpose.”
“But the wrath of Yahweh must be poured out upon idolaters on account of His holiness,” Manoah said.
“That is true,” I responded, “but God is impartial. 6 See how His wrath has been poured out upon Israel as well. Did God not put Israel into captivity many times since the days of Joshua? Was not God’s purpose for judgment to turn the hearts of the people back to Him, even as a father disciplines his children out of love?”
“My father beat me without mercy,” he said bitterly. “Do not talk to me about a father’s love. My brother was driven away by my father’s wrath. I have not seen Bocheru 7 since he went to work on a Sidonian ship many years ago.” 8
“I am sorry to hear that,” I said, “but you are certainly aware that God is not like imperfect fathers. Have you never imagined what a perfect father would be like? Surely you wished many times that your father would be compassionate. That which you longed for in your earthly father is what your heavenly Father is—and more!”
“I suppose I ought not to attribute to God the imperfections of my earthly father,” Manoah admitted.
“We have all had imperfect parents,” I said, “but at some point in our lives, when our father’s time has ended, God Himself must begin to reveal Himself so that all the distortions imprinted on our hearts may be corrected. Then we may begin to learn what true fatherhood is and how we may become better fathers to our own children.”
“Frankly,” Manoah confided, “I have always been a little afraid of my son ever since he began to manifest such supernatural strength, even as a child. I fear that I have not disciplined him enough, and I wonder if my indulgence will prove to be his undoing in the end.”
“He will fulfill God’s purpose for him,” I replied confidently. “Even in our imperfections, I have found that God has purpose in all things. Even his desire to marry a Philistine woman has purpose, for it reflects the Messiah’s ultimate goal to call all nations as His bride, so that the whole earth is again reconciled to the God of heaven. Yet this preparation includes much judgment, for much needs to be corrected before the Creator’s goal can be reached.”
“Only Israel was married to God at the Mount,” Manoah objected. “The covenant was made only with Israel.”
“A mixed multitude was with Israel when the first covenant was established at the Mount,” I replied. “Nonetheless, that covenant failed to bring Israel into this land. The second covenant in the land of Moab was made with all who were present as well as all who were not present. Did that not include all men from every nation?” 9
We continued down the road in silence, as Manoah pondered my words. Naamah, who had been listening carefully with her eyes lowered, raised her head slightly and cast a glance at us. In her eyes I saw, in a moment of time, years of prayer and questioning, as she sought God for answers. It was a quick look of grateful thanks that at last someone had been able to give her husband counsel and relief from years of over-discipline in the formative years of his childhood.
Manoah finally broke his silence. “I have been uncomfortable driving this cart by myself in Philistine territory, since I am carrying quite a bit of silver for my son’s dowry. I do appreciate your company, in case we meet any potential robbers in this godless country.”
“When we left your house last time,” I observed, “we met Israelite robbers along the road. It seems that Israel is not free of robbers either.”
“Yes, I suppose that is true,” Manoah replied. “Sin knows no borders. Like sheep, we have all gone astray. 10 All the more reason to welcome your company.”
“There are also lions in the area,” Manoah said. “When I first came with Samson to ask Avoda 11 for his daughter to be given to my son, a lion attacked us. This poor donkey was frightened out of his wits and took me for a fast ride until he was exhausted.”
“Can your donkey outrun a lion?” I asked.
“No,” Manoah answered. “Samson immediately jumped off the cart and I saw him run in the direction of the lion’s roar. Of course, I lost sight of him very quickly, but later, when he finally caught up to me, he refused to tell me what happened. Apparently, he chased the lion away. I was relieved, of course, but I am still nervous when I travel this road.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” I replied. “And I suppose your donkey is equally concerned.”
“Yes,” Manoah said. “He remembers it well, for I can see that he has been nervous all day.”
“Well,” I said, “no doubt his mind will be eased, now that we have joined you.”
“You have no idea how glad I am that you joined us!” brayed the donkey. Manoah only heard raucous braying in an unknown tongue, but Sipporah and I understood and laughed aloud.
“We will protect you from harm, Jack,” I assured the donkey, and this time it was Manoah’s turn to laugh as if it were a joke. We continued along the road toward the port of Ashdod, following the Brook Sorek that meandered through the plain toward the Western Sea.
“What is Samson doing these days?” I asked. “We did not see him at the last Sukkoth. Is he well?”
“He spends most of his time training to fight,” Manoah said. “He met a man last year who showed him a way to utilize his strength and to fight in an unusual way. His trainer’s name is strange. He calls himself Naoki.”
“Naoki!” I said with surprise.
“You know of him?” Manoah asked.
“Yes, I know Naoki. “He is a good man, an elder in a town in my country. He is an instructor in the martial arts, and he knows how to conduct hand-to-hand combat with techniques that are unknown to this part of the world. If Samson is learning from Master Naoki, he will be able to use his great strength with even greater skill.”
“I am relieved to hear your endorsement, for I was worried that he might be led astray by another foreigner. Samson has become very disillusioned with Eli and the priests of Shiloh,” Manoah explained. “Though he was elected to replace Abdon as Israel’s judge, I do not think that he can be induced to return to Shiloh to keep the feasts.”
“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”
“Samuel told him how Eli had judged his friends and how Phinehas had unjustly executed the great white horse, even as he had executed Nathan’s father a few years ago. Samson was furious and might have taken vengeance on Phinehas then and there, but Samuel pleaded with him to let God dispense justice. Samson complied, but his anger still burns toward Eli—and especially toward Hophni and Phinehas. He really despises Eli’s sons. As long as Hophni is the acting High Priest, I do not think that Samson will return to Shiloh. He says the High Priest’s entire family are hypocrites and ought to be replaced.”
“It seems,” I said, “that both Samuel and Samson know the truth, but that Samson is unable to handle the truth as well as Samuel. There is much evil in this world, even in those who ought to know better. But God has purpose in all of it, so we should react only to Yahweh’s voice. It is even better to know and understand His plan.”
The road soon led us to a simple farmhouse on the left. Manoah turned and crossed the stone bridge over the Brook, and we followed him toward the simple house.
A large, light-brown Canaan dog 12 barked its warning, and a man near a small shed stopped his work to greet us.
“It’s okay, Dugma,” 13 the man said. “They are our friends.”
We dismounted, and the dog came up to us to capture our scent and file it in his mental list of friends. “Who are you?” the dog asked. “I see the Creator’s glow upon you. You are not from these parts.”
“No,” I replied in a low voice, “we are not. We are on a heavenly assignment. May we have permission to set foot in your territory?”
“Yes, of course,” Dugma answered. “The Creator’s messengers are always welcome. My territory is His, and I am His servant.”
“Our friends here are Pegasus and Pleiades,” I said, introducing the horses to the dog. “Please be kind enough to keep them company while we talk to your man.”
“I am pleased to meet you,” Dugma said to the horses. “Follow me, and I will show you around.”
“Canaan dogs are very popular among the Philistines,” Pegasus whispered. “They even have dog cemeteries for them after they die.”
“Not now, Pegasus,” I chuckled. “This is not the time.”
“Shalom, Avoda,” said Manoah respectfully.
“Welcome, Manoah,” the man replied. “Who are your friends?”
“This is Anava and his wife Sipporah,” Manoah replied. “They are guests from a far country. Of course, you have met my wife, Naamah.”
“Welcome to my humble home,” Avoda said. “I presume that you came to bring the dowry that we agreed upon.”
“Yes,” Manoah replied, getting off the cart. He pulled out a bag of coins. “It is all here—fifty shekels of silver.” 14
“Then let us go inside and draw up the final documents,” Avoda said. We walked through the door, took off our sandals, and sat down at the table to conduct the legal business. Avoda’s wife and younger daughter quickly brought towels and basins of water to wash our feet, and Avoda himself poured wine for himself and for us.
“Your youngest daughter is very beautiful,” Manoah observed, “but where is Eglah?” 15
“She now works at The Tipsy Tavern in Timnah,” was the reply. He seemed slightly displeased and embarrassed. “She serves food and wine to guests throughout the afternoon, and more wine throughout the evening to guests who are staying at the inn on the upper floor.”
“Is it not dangerous for her to walk home late at night when her work is finished?” I asked.
“She stays at the inn’s servant quarters,” he replied. “We hardly see her anymore. It will be good when she is married, for then she can stay home like a normal woman of good reputation. But here is the betrothal document, effective on the fifteenth day of Thout by our reckoning—Aviv by your calendar. Are you sure that this date suits you for the start of the marriage feast? Do you not have a religious feast in Shiloh during that time?”
“Yes, it is the time of Passover,” Manoah answered. “However, our son does not intend to keep the feasts any longer, for he believes that the High Priest and his sons are corrupt and unjust. He wants to be married during Passover, when the Israelites will be too distracted by religious ceremonies to concern themselves with his marriage.”
“What about you?” Avoda asked. “Keeping religious holidays and rituals must be observed to remain in good standing among the people.”
“I will attend the wedding,” he replied, “for I must honor my son. We have a provision in our law that if we are on a journey outside of our borders, we may keep Passover a month later. 16 Since the wedding will be held here in the land of the Philistines, I am permitted to skip the main feast and to observe it in your month of Phaophi.”
“That is a very convenient law,” Avoda said. “I wish that our priests had thought to make such provision for travel. So if all is in order, then let us sign these contracts and conclude our deal.”
I watched in silence as the two men signed the papyrus scrolls, one for each of them. When the betrothal contract was completed and signed, we finished our cups of wine and prepared to leave.
- Numbers 14:21
- Deuteronomy 10:17
- Bocheru means “Firstborn” in Hebrew.
- Deborah complained, “Why did Dan stay in ships?” (Judges 5:17).
- Deuteronomy 29:1, 10-15
- Isaiah 53:6
- Avoda means “work” in Hebrew. The father of Eglah was a worker.
- Today, the official national breed in Israel
- The first Canaan dog to be bred as the national breed was named Dugma.
- Fifty shekels of silver was the common “price of a dowry.”
- Eglah means “heifer” in Hebrew.
- Numbers 9:9-11