Despite his tepid attitude toward religion and faith, Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci loved to paint angels. When he was only 20 years old, Leonardo finished The Annunciation, begun by his master, Verrocchio. He worked on the angel Gabriel, whose wings some have said are an early prototype for Leonardo’s later sketches of flying machines.
In today’s reading, we have an annunciation scene, which occur throughout Scripture (for other examples, see 1 Samuel 1; Luke 1): An angel announces that a baby will be born. In Judges 13, it becomes clear that this baby, born to Manoah and his wife, is going to be a very special man whom God has set apart for his purposes. He will be a Nazarite.
Curiously, a Nazirite vow, which is explained in Numbers 6, was usually a voluntary vow undertaken for an allotted period of time. It was used to enter a dedicated season of intentional holiness or consecration to God. People who swore a Nazirite vow gave up drinking and eating wine, grape juice, vinegar, or anything related to the grapevine. They also promised not to cut their hair or go near a dead body, even if during the vow a close family member died.
By contrast, the Nazirite vow that will be the binding promise of Samson’s life is not taken by him (or even his parents) but pronounced by God. Moreover, it is not for a specified season of time but for the duration of his life, including the nine months of gestation in his mother’s womb. Clearly, we are meant to understand that it is not any admirable piety on Samson’s part that makes him a Nazirite. Rather, he is chosen and commissioned by God, even stirred by the Holy Spirit to participate in a special work—the salvation of Israel.