God Recognizes the Matriarchy
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.”
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.