The Angel of the Lord

Have you ever been asked what you would do if Jesus Himself came for a visit?  Or what you might do if you ran into Him on the street, grocery store, or out and about somewhere?  How about if you car-pooled with Him to work, what would you do or say?  Well, what if such questions weren’t hypothetical?  Are you uneasy yet?

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:3 NASB)

God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. (Judges 13:9 NASB)

Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you.”  The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.  Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?”  But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”  So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on.  For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.  Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. (Judges 13:15-21 NASB)

In previous posts, the case has been made to view the Angel of Yahweh and the Angel of God as “God-Visible”.  In the book of Judges, the Angel of the Yahweh shows up fairly frequently.  Judges 13 is the third time the character appears, and where He is the most frequently mentioned.  And we also have the most impressive suggestion He is Yahweh Himself.

Walking through the account, the Angel of Yahweh appears to the wife of Manoah and announces the birth of Samson in verse 3.  There are several details given of his life, but he is to be one of a rare set of lifetime Nazarites.  The wife goes to the husband who also wants to meet this Announcer, and prays that Yahweh would send Him again.  And He does.

The second appearance of the Angel of God (the author switches from Yahweh to Elohim) to the wife of Manoah happens, and she runs to get her husband.  And then follows an interesting dialogue containing clues about this Character’s divinity.

Manoah wants to prepare a meal, which is fitting in Near Eastern cultural hospitality.  The Angel’s response is that He won’t eat, “…but if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.”  And the author adds, “For Manoah did not know that he was the Angel of Yahweh.”

The second clue comes when Manoah asks the Angel’s name.  The Angel replies that His name is “wonderful”, which is used in just about every version.  The word translated “wonderful” is a rare Hebrew word, “pali” (only used twice).  But this noun is related to the verb in the next verse (19) normally translated “doing wonders”.  This verb is much more common in the Hebrew Scriptures, and, in verse 19, it’s in a form for “causing wonders”.

In verse 19, the writer switches from active verbs to participles, possibly to heighten the intensity of the action.  One of those participles is “causing wonders”, but the author left out the “subject” or person, a grammatical element not part of this verb form.  The choices for subject are Yahweh using proximity (ended the previous phrase), Manoah using the subject of the preceding phrase, or the Angel of Yahweh as the only other character present.

The choice of subject for “causing wonders” directly impacts the theological understanding of who the Angel of Yahweh is.  In verse 20, the author describes the “wonder” performed.  The Angel of Yahweh ascends in the flame of the burnt offering to heaven.  So, if Yahweh performs the wonder, then the Angel was acted upon, and isn’t necessarily Yahweh Himself.  But, if the Angel is the subject, then He performs the wonder in His ascent in the flame, and He becomes the One Causing Wonders.

The author’s intent seems to be clear in the reaction of Manoah and his wife to this wonder.  First, they fall to the ground, and then Manoah realizes that this was the Angel of Yahweh.  In this realization, he believes they will die for they have seen the face of Yahweh.  Clearly the perception of the people in the day of the Judges, and possibly in the day of the author of Judges, is that this character, the Angel of Yahweh, is Yahweh Himself.

The majority of biblical scholars don’t hold this view.  The most common belief is that the Angel of Yahweh is simply another angel announcing the messages.  The view deifying the angel has an element of reading a modern perspective into the text.  It could be that, in ancient near eastern writing and thinking, a message carried were the words of the one sending (see Judges 11:12 where messengers are sent, but Jephthah speaks).  Seen this way, the message from Yahweh does not require the messenger to be Yahweh Himself.

While this appears to have an element of truth to it, the reaction of Manoah and his wife imply otherwise.  They understood the messenger to be Yahweh.  Did the author and his audience?  Even if the author and his audience understood the messenger to be Yahweh, should we?  Is that what God intends for us to believe, or should we simply withhold judgement?  That’s your choice.  I believe the people of the time, the author, and his audience were right, the Angel of Yahweh is Yahweh Himself.

Where I go with this though is to also believe He can appear today.  So, in my view, be careful who you entertain and how you treat them.  Your guest could be divine.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?



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