If you’ve been following my writing you may be aware that I am focusing a good portion of my writing exploring the theology of disability.
The subject of disability and the real-lived experience of the disabled naturally leads us to ask questions such as: What is the purpose of their suffering? Does every disabled individual experience suffering? What is the purpose of suffering in the world for all of humanity?
In order to gain a more comprehensive view of this subject – as I do with any subject I’m researching, I turn to the work of other Christian scholars – current and from different eras.
The writers from the near and ancient past have much to teach us. Male and female scholars, here in the U.S. and around the world from non-denominational and denominational groups with differing doctrinal viewpoints, offer interesting and sometimes unusual insights easily missed from those of us who have only a midwestern-vantage point.
This afternoon I flipped through a book first written by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1939, under the title, Why Does God Allow War? The book I am currently reading is a 1994 republished version of his earlier book on war. It now sports a new title,“Why Does God Allow Suffering?” that markets to a newer audience.
Since the book had been handled before me, and was worn a bit, it fell open to page 49. These words immediately caught my attention: “Now this woman, the mother of Samson, stands out as a glorious example of all that.” (my italics).
I was intrigued by such positive words spoken about a woman, who was seldom, if ever, preached about from the pulpit or focused upon in our Sunday School classes. The chapter that focuses upon Manoah’s wife is an encouragement and a rare gift for women.
Years ago, in May 2019, I wrote an article for my blog in which I argued for men and women to do the work of theologizing together, rather than leaving this critical work in the church to male leaders only. I’ve read several commentaries and listened to plenty of sermons that would have been improved had the author or speaker consulted a mature Christian woman before they put their words to print or uttered from a pulpit!
I dare say our theological stances, doctrinal viewpoints, and the practical applications could be greatly improved if we would commit to including female experiences, listening to female voices, learning from a women’s scriptural knowledge and, yes, trusting that she, a woman, may honestly have a bit of wisdom to share with the male leaders in our churches.
The account of Samson’s parents in Judges 13 helped prove my point. You can read more about my concerns regarding this matter in Listening to Women: How to Correct a Lopsided Theology
Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes a few points about Manoah’s wife who remains unnamed in the Biblical account. I’ll be highlighting some of these points below.
“For, after all, merely to see the greatness of Samson’s mother as a woman, and as a strong character, is to miss what is really significant in the story.” (pg. 40)
Just a little background. An angel had appeared to Manoah’s wife, telling her of Samson’s birth as the one to save Israel from the Philistines. Manoah, according to Judges 13: 22 feared for his life because he had seen God. His wife calmed Manoah’s fear by rightly theologizing about the situation. Here was a man who needed taught by a woman the ways of God!
Lloyd-Jones proceeds, “The striking thing is the faith, the insight, the understanding, the firm grasp of religion which really made her what she was, and which enabled her to shame her husband and to reproach him for his weakness and his fear.” (p. 40, italics are mine).
He makes a remarkable claim: “Manoah should have helped and strengthened his wife. The natural thing would have been for her to look to him. Fortunately for her, she was not dependent upon him, otherwise his collapse would have led to a still greater collapse in her case.” (p.45, italics are mine).
Obviously this is written prior to the extreme response in the church towards the feminist movement. Remember these words were penned in 1939, not 1995! After all, doesn’t Scripture teach that men are ontologically superior to women? Doesn’t Scripture teach that men were created with a bent to leadership and women with a bent to following? Somehow, in my mind at least, this passage in Judges corrects that view.
“But still more important … we are liable to say things, even as Manoah did, things which we will afterwards regret and deplore as long as we live.” (p. 46).
Perhaps this is reason enough to explain why we seldom hear sermons preached on Manoah’s wife. Oh, we hear about Samson’s virility, his sexual encounters with Delilah, of how blinded and defeated, he stood in the pagan temple and by his renewed mighty strength brought the entire temple down upon everyone’s head – including his own. But little do we hear of his mother.
In this next section, Lloyd-Jones flips the view many have of women as the emotional sex. Instead, he sees Manoah’s behaviour as “thoroughly bad … that leads to wretchedness and hopelessness …unhappy and miserable, agitated and alarmed, and full of fears and evil forebodings.” (p. 46). These emotions have usually been applied to women! Here we see how Lloyd-Jones is willing to be honest with what the text is describing. There is no need for one man to cover for another man’s shortcomings! In truth, he calls Manoah out for this ‘bad behaviour’. Would that more men would emulate this in today’s churches.
He claims Manoah’s wife, in a “rather startling and surprising” way used her rational skills, when “she just thought and reasoned” (pg. 47, his italics).
But Manoah, on the other hand, in the midst of a crisis, is a man, like men today who “when facing a crisis is “stunned and to allow [them]selves to be stampeded.” (p. 48).
Clearly, Lloyd-Jones would agree husbands and wives share in a mutual relationship, unlike the hierarchical view where the husband is the head that browbeats the wife into submission, subjecting her to his every whim.
No, here is a man, Manoah, who discovers he needs the insight and intelligence of his wife.
Manoah’s wife, the “mother of Samson, stands out as a glorious example of the opposite of all that.” (p. 49).
This next paragraph stands out to me. Thankfully it was written by a man. I doubt anyone would appreciate a woman analyzing this character in the Biblical text in this way.
“Seeing and observing her husband’s collapse, his fear and his whimpering, and listening to his foreboding of evil and his dark prophecies and his doubtings of the goodness of God, she doesn’t cry or shout, she doesn’t give way to hysteria and finally collapse in a state of unconsciousness, she doesn’t ask irreverent questions or utter complaints against God – she thinks, she reasons, she ponders the matter, and with magnificent logic she arrives at the only conclusion that is really valid.” (p. 49).
Lloyd-Jones gives a respect and honor due to Samson’s mother. The conversations taking place on social media and within our churches could learn a lesson from this story. Even the Biblical writer, during an age where patriarchy reigned, put the spotlight on a woman who was not only brave, but extraordinary and unwilling to keep silent when her words of teaching and council were necessary.
Pages 49-56 offered ways to apply the principles of this narrative about Manoah and his unnamed wife in the church of 1939. It offered principles for the church during 1995, and is yeat now still giving advice to the 21st century church.
Manoah’s wife’s words “are as valid today as when she uttered them!” (p. 50). Her words offer a “wonderful and very picturesque summary and epitome of the whole of the consolatory teaching of the New Testament.”
She knew in her heart that God “is never capricious” (p. 51) and that God is never unjust in HIs dealings with us” (p. 52). This husband’s wife applies “superb logic,” according to Lloyd-Jones because she recognizes “God never contradicts Himself and His own gracious purposes.” (p.54, italics the authors).
Clearly Lloyd-Jones has no issue listening to the teaching and logic from the women of faith in the Old Testament. I wonder if he would agree with today’s teaching that women are to be silent in the church and should not be allowed to teach their husbands or any man for that matter. I doubt it!