Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Nazirites and knee-jerks

I’ve tried reading Andrew Murray’s classic With Christ in the School of Prayer at least a couple of times. However, I am still in the remedial group. One of the hardest lessons for me to master is resisting knee-jerk responses to bad news.

I hear about sickness, or sadness, and I want it ended—“Now, please.” That’s not a bad thing; it just may not be the right thing. Because sometimes what we just know in our guts “isn’t right” turns out to be just that, in some weird way.

Manoah and his wife learned this lesson when their son seemed ready to go off the rails. He had come along after years of infertility, when an angel appeared and told them they would have a boy who would deliver his people from oppression (remind you of anyone?).

Instructed to raise him under a strict Nazirite vow, Samson’s parents took their responsibility seriously. We might assume they tried to follow God closely, because they had prayed, “Teach us how to bring up the boy” (Judges 13:8).

So when, as a young man, he came back from a trip and told them he planned to marry a Philistine girl, it’s easy to see why they were appalled at the idea. Intermarrying with the Philistines was one of the very reasons God had given the Israelites over to oppression. And now the planned source of the Israelites’ deliverance is going to do the very thing that got them into this mess? This just can’t be right!

We know that Mom and Dad tried to talk Samson out of the idea. “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people?” they pleaded. “Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” (Judges 14:3). I suspect they probably also whispered a desperate prayer or two.

Yet their seemingly reasonable response was wrong. For they “did not know that this was from the Lord,” the Judges account continues. God was “seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines,” and would end up using what appeared to be Samson’s wrong move to turn His people in the right direction.

Some might dismiss this on the grounds that back in the Old Testament people didn’t have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help them understand what God was up to. But that argument falls flat in the face of the Apostle Peter’s experience. Remember that the poster boy for Pentecostalism flat out told God he wouldn’t follow visionary instructions to eat something that was unclean (Acts 10).

Peter just knew that this couldn’t be from God—until God made it clear it was. Then Peter slapped his head and said (paraphrase), “Duh! Now I realize…” (Acts 10: 34).

All of which at least makes me want to at least pause before praying, sometimes. God abhors sickness and sadness more than I do, but He may be in it in ways I cannot see or understand—or even want to accept.

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