The annunciation type-scene, after its first appearance in Genesis in the stories of Sarah, Leah, and Rachel, does not occur again in the Pentateuch. Its next appearance is in Judges 13 at the beginning of the Samson stories.
Judges 13 is entirely devoted to an annunciation story. This example of the type is fairly full, though it lacks the element of a rival wife, which has been present in the Genesis examples considered so far (Sarah/Hagar; Rachel/Leah). In the cases of Sarah/Hagar and Rachel/Leah the family in question is that of the line of promise that eventually will lead to Christ. The rival wives and their children, along with the Biblical themes of sibling rivalry and reversal of fortune, remind the reader that although there is a chosen people and family that lead to Christ, God’s favor is not finally for one family only but for all the world. Since Samson and his family are not in the line of promise, being descendants of Dan, not Judah, at least one reason for a rivalry is absent.
The general context for the story is set in 13:1. This single verse succinctly establishes that the reader is at the beginning of the typical Judges cycle of events: Israel, having done evil, is delivered by God into the hands of her enemies; Israel repents and calls for help; God sends a hero or deliverer, who usually is someone unexpected (a woman, a younger son, a left-handed person, an illegitimate child), who saves the people; the deliverer judges Israel for a time, and the Israelites are good so long as the judge lives; the judges dies; Israel backslides; the cycle begins again. In 13:1 the reader learns that Israel again does evil and has been given over to the Philistines for a long time (forty years).
After the general context is set, the domestic scene (element 1) is set with equal succinctness in 13:2. The husband, Manoah, is named. His wife, curiously, is not. Perhaps the lack of name should signal the reader that the woman, who is as active and important in the story as Manoah, is nonetheless only significant as a type. She is ‘barren, and bare not’, and so stands in the line of Biblical women who are delivered from infertility by miraculous conceptions. The woman’s name and individual identity matter less than her representative or typical role.
Three typical elements of the type-scene are absent in this case: there is no rival wife (2); consequently, there is no need to note that the barren wife is loved despite her infertility (3); and, there is no explicit prayer for children from the barren wife (4).
Because these three typical elements are absent the annunciation (5) by ‘the angel of the LORD’ occurs suddenly and dramatically: more suddenly and more dramatically than usual. The reader or hearer of the story, who might expect to hear about a rival wife and to ‘overhear’ a prayer for children from the sad, infertile wife after the initial notice concerning her barren state, instead suddenly receives the annunciation. This sudden jump to the annunciation mirrors the action of the story: annunciations are marvelous, surprising, sudden events.
The annunciation comes primarily to the woman at first and includes both instructions concerning the boy’s upbringing and also a prophecy concerning the his future significance (13:3ff.). The boy is to be a Nazarite, who will deliver Israel from the Philistines. This initial annunciation is conveyed to the reader as a monologue from the angel. The event is then recounted a second time by the woman, when she tells Manoah what the angel said to her (13:6ff.). Then there is a third repetition, this one elicited by Manoah (13:8), who apparently is not satisfied with receiving an annunciation second-hand. Despite Manoah’s desire to be in on the action, the angel appears again to his wife when he is not present (13:9). But this time his wife fetches him (13:10), and another annunciation scene occurs, this time in dialogue form (13:11-14).
When an incident is recounted twice or more in Scripture, it often is instructive to compare and see what is changed in the telling. In the case of this annunciation there are interesting and perhaps significant changes from the angel’s first message to the woman’s repetition of that message to Manoah.
The angel’s initial message to Manoah’s wife is as follows:
Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now therefore beware. I pray thee, and drink not wine nor any 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. (13:3ff.)
In this version, the prophecy of a son is given twice. The son is to be a Nazarite ‘from the womb’, which means that his hair is never to be cut with a razor and that he is to avoid alcohol and unclean food. The purpose of this special dedication evidently is because the boy will deliver Israel: that is, he will be a judge in the series that Judges describes.
When Manoah’s wife recounts this monologue for her husband after the fact, she says,
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. (13:6f.)
The woman, not surprisingly, tells Manoah about the angel. The reticence of the woman and the angel about the name of the angel is typical of Old Testament theophanies (cf. Genesis 32:29) and will be significant later in the chapter. More importantly for present purposes, the woman adds something and drops other things in recounting the angel’s message. The woman repeats the angel’s instructions about food and drink, but omits his instructions about cutting hair. Samson will get into big trouble later because of a woman and haircuts, which may be foreshadowed by this omission at this point.
The woman also omits the angel’s prophecy that the boy will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. This second omission lessens the public significance of the coming birth and turns it into a private, domestic matter.
Finally, the wife adds something to the angel’s message. The angel said that the boy was to be a Nazarite from the womb (13:5), which the woman conveys effectively though in different terms from those used by the angel. But the woman then adds that her son will be a Nazarite ‘to the day of his death’ (13:7). The angel said no such thing. In fact, later Samson’s hair is cut in violation of the Nazarite vow well before his death (16:17ff.). One of the main points of the Samson stories is that sex, love, and passion can make fools of men, particularly when the element of a non-Israelite woman is added to the picture. Samson is a slave of his passions, and his Nazarite vow and his very life are lost because of his passionate folly. His mother fondly imagines that her boy will be perfect. He is not. His character flaw, which becomes clear immediately after the story of his birth (Judges 14), mirrors his mother’s flaw in recalling the angel’s message. The matters of deliverance from the Philistines and the addition about fidelity to death come together in Samson’s actual death (16:19-30), when the return of his Nazarite hair permits him to kill a temple full of Philistines. The angel’s prophecies will be fulfilled, and so will his mother’s addition, but the fulfilment is somewhat bitter and ironic.
The angel’s second message, which is the third version of the annunciation, is close to the second, but it begins with the general warning: ‘Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware.’ (13:13) Samson did not beware enough.
Annunciations (5) often occur in a sacrificial or cultic context (6) and typically produce a strong reaction (7). In the case of Manoah and his wife the strong reaction is a desire to detain the angel for a meal (13:15) and to know his name (13:17). The angel declines to eat (13:16) or reveal his name (13:18). Instead a kid is offered as a thanksgiving to God, and ‘when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, …the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar.’ (13:20) This sacrifice and the wonder it induces constitute two of the typical elements of the annunciation type-scene.
The woman in fact has a son (8), and names him ‘Samson’, meaning ‘serving like the sun’, ‘and the LORD blessed him.’ (13:24) God has already been praised for the annunciation through the sacrifice, and we are told that Manoah and his wife wish to praise the angel when the birth actually occurs (13:17 — such praise is element 9). Finally, Samson’s importance is initially suggested (10) in the final verse of the chapter (13:25).
The conception of Samson, then, is a fairly full example of the annunciation type-scene. The variations from and omissions of some typical elements may plausibly be interpreted as signals of future problems with the hero in question.