Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”Judges 13:17-22 NIV
He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.
“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”
The angel of the LORD (YHWH) appears several times in the Old Testament. And there is a mystery as to just who this is. Is it simply a special angelic messenger who delivers a message from God? Or is this a physical manifestation of God himself, the pre-incarnate Son? While this passage does not definitively answer that question, it does seem to point to the latter.
The angel of the LORD appeared to the wife of a man named Manoah, telling her she would have a son, Samson, who would deliver Israel from the Philistines. She told her husband, and he asked the LORD to send this messenger to him as well. At this point, they understood him to be a human prophet. The angel appeared to Manoah and gave him the same instruction given earlier to his wife. Manoah offered to prepare a meal for him, but the angel of the LORD instructed him to offer a burnt offering to YHWH instead.
Manoah then asked the angel for his name, still thinking he was a human prophet. And Manoah was told that the name was wonderful or beyond understanding. And then the LORD did an amazing thing. As the fire from the burnt offering ascended toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended with it.
There is a subtle play of words in this passage that is hard to catch in our English translations. The Hebrew word translated as “beyond understanding” is closely related to the word translated as “an amazing thing.” Rather than providing Manoah with his name as requested, he demonstrated who he was by what he did. A demonstration that led Manoah to believe that this messenger was none other than YHWH himself.
I believe that this passage demonstrates well the mystery of God. He is beyond our understanding. He has chosen to reveal himself to us in some small ways. But there is much about him that is too wonderful for us to know. While his greatness is beyond our comprehension, it is worthy of our worship.