I have been told that an English teacher once asked his class to punctuate the following expression: “woman without man is nothing”
It seems that men, without fail, punctuated it as follows: “Woman, without man, is nothing.” Some (though not all) women punctuated it as follows: “Woman. Without, man is nothing.
I suspect that there is a great deal of truth in both views. All of us owe our being, at least biologically (and usually psychologically), to both our parents. Certainly the story of ancient Israel was not deemed complete without many examples of women who changed the course of events in that nation. The usual examples I have seen cited are Deborah and Esther. Some of them are even mothers, like Jael, Ruth and Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother, who persuaded David to choose her son to be the next king). I have a couple of examples in mind for this session due to some similarities between them.
The first is only ever identified as “Manoah’s wife,” better known as the mother of Samson (Judges 13-16). What is unusual is that “the angel of the Lord” appears to her to announce that she, though barren, would bear a remarkable son. She was to groom him to be a Nazirite throughout his life.
Two things are remarkable about this story. The first is that Samson remained exactly what he was supposed to be, a Nazirite, until Delilah enticed him into revealing the secret of his strength. (Notice that it was the Philistines who cut his hair, not Samson.) Even sightless and in chains, Samson remains true to his Nazirite calling until his strength returns for his final act that brought down the house.
The second is that the angel of the Lord appears directly to her and ignores her husband (13:2-14). Even when the husband entreats God to send the angel back, he once again goes directly to his wife, who must then fetch him to meet this visitor. The visitor reiterates that all that must be done is what he had already instructed his wife. It is contrary to expectation in a patriarchal society for God to speak directly to a woman! Even worse for God to pretty much ignore the husband when making his will known. (Perhaps God has more respect for women than many religious people think?)
Our second story today involves another woman toward the end of the time of Judges (1 Samuel 1-2). Hannah is also best known as the mother of a famous Israelite, Samuel the Prophet. Her son becomes Isreal’s other well-known Nazirite and perhaps its most famous Judge. This is the man who anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.
Her story differs in that she is a woman faithful to Israel’s God in a faithless age. Even the sons of the High Priest have wandered from from God by her day. Yet she also is barren, probably at enough of an advanced age that her husband has despaired of having children by her and has taken a second wife. This rival wife rubs in her ability to have children mercilessly, much as Abram’s second wife had done to Sarai.
In tears of desperation she throws herself upon God’s grace at one of her annual appearances at the Tabernacle. She asks God for a child, and promises to give that child back into His service. Naturally, the men around her are oblivious. Both her husband and the High Priest misinterpret her problems. God hears, however, and answers her prayer, sending what amounts to a coded message through the priest for her ears alone. (At least it seems like “may the Lord grant your request” is the kind of throw-away line a priest who is not paying attention might use to mollify someone he has inadvertently offended.)
She returns, confident, and sure enough, give birth to Samuel. By the age of three she has prepared him well enough that he continues in his Nazirite role of completely devoted service to the Lord for the remainder of his life. She faithfully returns each year for a visit with a new priestly robe (and probably to see how he is doing). She is so faithful that the priest is inspired to ask for God to bless her even more, and she ends up with five more children than she asked for. (Take that rival wife!) Her first son goes on to supplant a failing priesthood, becomes God’s most distinguished spokesman of his time and Israel’s most successful judge, with few if any personal failings such as those of Saul, David or succeeding kings.
Samuel never seems to have wanted a personal dynasty, riches or fame. He just did what God wanted him to do faithfully. Even his circuit court system of judgment seems to have been similar to what Moses had been doing for Israel. He judged cases fairly, and did the best he could to help his fellow Israelites throw off the yoke of surrounding nations by fostering internal unity in faith.
Once again, here is a woman whose husband is only a peripheral part of the story. In this story, it is the woman’s faith that is rewarded rather than the husband’s. She becomes the “Abraham” of this story, and it is her son who hears God and delivers the people from their foreign oppressors. Here is a mother with much to be proud about.
Even more important is that her story seems to have inspired at least one other young woman to remain faithful to her God as she prepared to bear a son who was prophesied to save his people. Mary’s words in response to her cousin Elizabeth’s prophecy (beginning Luke 1:46) echo the feelings of Hanna (1 Samuel 2) in her own situation. I think that Hannah’s example of faith strengthened young Mary to raise her very special son to be what God meant him to be, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In Genesis 1:27-28 God says that both the man and woman are made in his image. Should it be surprising that he considers mothers to be important, destiny-changing people in His plans?
Society owes everything to you, the mothers and partners of our lives. You form our bodies, then our characters. You are are hearts and often our consciences. “Woman. Without, man is nothing.”