Christmas in Judges

Christmas is almost upon us. This is often the time of year when people turn to the Gospel of Matthew or Luke for the birth story of Christ. This year I would encourage expanding that a bit and exploring Genesis 18 and Judges 13 before diving into Luke. Today I’m going to be looking at Judges 13 and the strange ties to Genesis and Luke.

Before starting I encourage you to give the scripture a read on your own, here. But after giving Judges 13 a read go back and check out Genesis 18, and Judges 6, oh and maybe Leviticus 2-3….you know I think it might be best to re-read the entire Old Testament in preparation for Christmas.

But for now Judges 13 and the others mentioned will give us some interesting insight. The story you find in Judges 13 is a beautiful picture that parallels the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 and that of Mary and Joseph found in Luke 1. Now rather than give you my commentary all at once I would rather walk through it in the way I explored this scripture in my own study.

As we start our story we see that Israel has again slipped into their old ways and been handed over the the philistines for 40 years. This is not an insignificant number. You see 40 is used repeatedly in the Bible as a number that signifies chastisement. In his great work “Number in Scripture” E. W. Bullinger covers this is some significant detail.

Now there are lots of details we could look at here but I find it interesting that this visitor appears twice. First to the mother and then a second time to the father. If you compare the narratives in Luke and Matthew it appears we end up with similar account for Mary’s and Joseph’s miraculous event.

Then we get to verse 15 through 18 where it starts to get weird.

“And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee. And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour? And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?”

wait….what? At least that was my initial thought. Why is this angels name a secret? Then I started my digging. The Hebrew word for “secret” is pili/pali which can be also translated as “wonderful or incomprehensible” the parallel to Isaiah 9:6 stood out.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Not only does Isaiah stand out but it turns out this word and it’s variances are only ever used as a description for the Lord or his work.

The next few verses (19 -22) confirmed what I was beginning to see play out in this scripture,

“So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on. For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground. But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”

The “angel” ascended in the offering! What a amazing picture of the sacrifice that would come over 1000 years later. Never before had I seen this chapter as such a powerful example of Jesus appearing in the old testament. Manoah and his wife falling on their faces and declaring they had seen God sealed the deal for me.

I hope you all find this as fascinating and as affirming as I did.   I proceeded to do a full study of the book and it is very thought provoking in regards to current political situations but all that paled in comparison to the Gospel message contained in the text.

A blast from Gideon’s past

But wait…there is more. Lets travel back in time a bit and look at Judges chapter 6. Here we hear a part of Gideon’s story that is often overlooked when focusing on all that business with the fleeces. In this early chapter of Gideon’s story we find him thrashing wheat in a winepress when the very same “Angel of the Lord” shows up before him. The language in this text clearly uses both “Lord”(as in master) and the direct verbiage for YHWH to refer to this stranger. The stranger gives a command to Gideon, specifically that he has great plans for him and then provides a sign when a sacrifice of a young goat is given(just as we see in Judges 13). And what happens to the sacrifice? You might have guessed….consumed by fire as the stranger vanishes. And all this is just before Gideon is certain he will die because he has “seen the Lord”.

What are we to make of all this? Is it just familiar event’s colliding? Or is it something more? Perhaps the “Angel of the Lord” is a mere man and yet in some strange way is fully God. We could assume from a human perspective these are just cases of mistaken identity since the messenger bares clear power. Yet, to assume that is all this is seems to overlook the fact that this being was directly involved in the act of worship. Either as the priest as it appears in chapter 6 or as the sacrifice itself in chapter 13. We can’t ignore the significance of this and what this whole surprising chain of events is actually implying.

Strange Offerings

In Judges 6 we see that Gideon is thrashing wheat (for making bread) and yet he is doing this in a wine press (which of course is used for making wine). To a New Testament reader this is certainly significant since this is the servings of the last supper and the act of communion. However, this is not the only offering we see take place in the chapters we are exploring today.

First, in Judges 13 we see a meal offered to the “angel” this is not accepted but he encourages a offering to the Lord. In verse 23 we find that actually 2 specific offerings were provided;

But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

A burnt and a grain offering. These 2 types of offerings are documented way back in Leviticus 2 and 3 where we see that grain offerings were to be unleavened bread that was mixed with oil and seasoned with salt. In addition, when this offering was burned it was burned with oil (which was also used for anointing) and frankincense.  As for the burnt offering it could be a number of different animals but it most importantly had to be “without blemish” this is significant as imperfect sacrifices were faulty and would have probably been worse then offering no sacrifice at all. Hmmmm…..so much to consider in these passages.

But to further encourage the significance of these seemingly minor events lets go back to Genesis 18 again and see what Abraham did for his Godly visitor (verses 6-8).

And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Again, we see a burnt and a grain offering. Given the short time given for the cakes to be made I think it is also safe to assume that again we are looking at unleavened bread. And the mention of the “tender and good” calf probably is an indicator of it’s lack of blemish. Fascinating parallels for sure.

Where is Christmas?

All of this is interesting but how does this relate to Christmas? I think we find it relates in a few ways. First, these special births both foreshadow the birth of Jesus. God intervenes directly in human history to alter the course of Abraham’s life and then to alter the course of Israel’s history by providing a judge who would push back against the oppression of the philistines in both his life and sacrificial death. Jesus however, comes to be the promised Messiah to Israel and then to open the door of salvation to the rest of us. In addition, we see significant symbolism throughout the course of these narratives that represent a sinless sacrifice (unleavened bread, blemish free animal) being the true reconciliation between humans and God.

All of this though barely scratches the surface at the beauty and foreshadowing that covers almost every page of the Old Testament. I hope that this brief exploration into just a couple examples will wet your appetite for an even more in depth study on your own this holiday season. Christmas after all is meant to remind us of the gift we have received when God offered his own blemish free sacrifice so that we could be reconciled to Him.

 

 

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