God Recognizes the Matriarchy

Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Family, Gender, Gender roles, Gospel, motherhood, Sacred Texts, women, Women in the Scriptures | 8 comments

Last Sunday in Sunday School, we discussed the book of Judges. As a Mormon feminist, my normal instinct is to turn to the Deborah chapters and start chattering away on prophetesses and female judges. However, our teacher started with a different story that turned my world upside down. I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten very far in my Old Testament reading this year and I had never heard of the annunciation experience of Samson’s mother. This was an entirely new story to me!

I’ll give a short summary, but you can read it in full in Judges 13.

Like many Old Testament women, Samson’s (nameless) mother, was barren. An angel came to her and told her she would bear a son and to raise him as a Nazarite. She told her husband, Manoah, about this and he prayed for the angel to come back to them to give them more instruction on Samson’s upbringing. The angel did come again, but still appeared only to Manoah’s wife while she was alone. She asked the angel to wait while she went to get her husband and she gets him. Manoah asks the angel about raising their son and the angel responds that he already told Manoah’s wife everything. Manoah suggests giving an offering to the angel, but the angel says no, but to instead honor the Lord instead. The angel ascends into the flame from the subsequent burnt offering, Manoah realizes the full extent of the angel’s angel-ness at this point and gets scared, and as my copy of the NSRV states in the footnoes, “Manoah’s wife calms him with logical arguments.”

The wife of Manoah, Baldock

The Angel Visits Manoah’s Wife

You’ve all probably read this story and are familiar with it, but it was news to me. Like I said above, I’m behind in my Old Testament reading this year, so I’ve been in Genesis reading about the big patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. In these stories, God talks to the father/husband of the family. Women are counted as property in lists such as the 10 Commandments. 

And then there is this story. God’s messenger speaks to the wife/mother. He gives all instructions to her. When more instructions are asked for, the angel goes back to her and reiterates her authority to that information and instruction.


My mind wandered all over the place. I thought about how Manoah’s wife received an angel and about how the Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys to the ministering of angels. I also thought about how the news of this pregnancy was going to disproportionally affect the woman in this relationship and how God/the angel felt she was the one to go to about this. It’s like a holy version of medical privacy laws.

But mostly I loved that God’s messenger recognized her authority to receive revelation for her family. Even if the writers and editors of the Old Testament didn’t bother including her name, the angel respected and honored her matriarchal power, position, and role.

And I love that.



  1. Thank you for the post. I have never heard this story.

  2. Great points!

    I wonder who edited that section of the OT? Sampson’s mother, Ruth and Naomi, then Hannah– seems like a very progressive writer/editor was assigned to record that section. I am very grateful for whoever that might be.

    • It makes me wonder what stories *didn’t* make it in to canonized scripture because women were key characters.

  3. I wasn’t familiar with this story, either, and I love all of the things that you brought up. Almost every story we have of someone receiving a visit from an angel, the person receiving a visit is male. Alma 32:23 has comforted me in the past:

    And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.

    But, it is very welcome to have specific examples. Bless your Sunday School teacher and bless you.

  4. Wonderful story. In other cases of barren women giving birth, (Sarah, Elizabeth), the angel visited the husbands. It patriarchal societies, it is pretty standard to speak through the male. Makes me wonder why the difference in this case.

  5. This is a good story. I wish more people really read and studied the Old Testament. It is not always as misogynistic as most people think.

    You mentioned the Aaronic Priesthood. Another thing to remember is that neither Sampson or his father held the priesthood.

  6. Yes, God spoke to Samson’s mother. While you are still reading Genesis, though, don’t miss the fact that an angel spoke to Hagar in Genesis 16 and 21, and the Lord speaks to Rebekah in Genesis 25. Women definitely receive direct revelation from the Lord throughout the Old Testament.

  7. Thank you for sharing this story, Libby. It’s new(s) to me too. I suspect this and other significant biblical tales are often overlooked for all the familiar reasons associated with patriarchy. I don’t think God has ever overlooked the matriarchy, but we humans sure have.

    This post makes my heart happy. . . a great way to begin a Sabbath. Thanks again.


  1. God Recognizes the Matriarchy | Well-Behaved Mormon Woman - […] Like many Old Testament women, Samson’s (nameless) mother, was barren. An angel came to her and told her she …

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