Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Angels appear on and off throughout the Old Testament (and New as well). Sometimes they’re referred to as multiple angels, like the two that visited Lot. History records their appearance:
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground (Genesis 19:1).
Other times it’s a more specific angel; such as the angel that appeared to Joshua and his crew:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies.”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (Joshua 5:13-15).
And then there’s the Angel of the Lord. He shows up several times in the Bible. Here he is in Judges 2:1-2,
The angel of the Lord went up from Gigal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?”
Clearly, since he’s speaking as God, this is a main angel. But who could he be? Gabriel? Michael? The Holy Spirit says that he’s Jesus; let’s check out how his cover gets blown.
Ok, so the woman who would be Samson’s mom was sterile, but God wanted to give her a kid. Scripture explains,
A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son” (Judges 13:2-3).
He went on to explain that the child would be a Nazarite; it means that the child couldn’t drink wine, could only eat clean food, wouldn’t be allowed to touch dead things, and (famously) couldn’t cut his hair. So the woman told her husband about all of this:
Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazarite of God from birth until the day of his death (Judges 13:6-7).
Manoah needed more proof, or maybe just more information than his wife had delivered. So the story continued, “Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born” (Judges 13:8). The angel came back and talked to Manoah and his wife about their coming child (Samson); and Manoah tried to honor him, but was not allowed to. We read in Judges 13:15-16,
Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”
The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord).
Since this guy was intent on leaving (or at least not eating dinner with them), Manoah asked the angel’s name. And the answer he got was really cryptic:
Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”
He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding” (Judges 13:17-18).
…Wait, what? What kind of answer is that? “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.”
This passage has always bothered me. What does he mean by his answer? Is this recorded evidence of arrogant angels? I decided to check other translations and see what they said. What I found was that nobody is really sure about the angel. Some translations have him say his name is “wonderful” and point to Isaiah 9:6,
For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Others throw up their hands and just translate it as “secret” (as in his name is secret). The “wonderful” being used apparently isn’t a wonderful of condition; it is a wonderful of scale. Kind of like when Revelation 15:2-3 says,
And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and say the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the ages.”
Of “great and marvelous,” at least one of those adjectives refers to the magnitude of God’s deeds. So basically the angel said to Manoah, “My name is too awesome (in complexity) for you to understand.” Or, put more simply, “My name? It’s…um…it’s complicated.”
Why is it complicated? Because it’s Jesus. I’m not alone in this understanding. Even Manoah, who’s a fairly practical guy, assumed he had just seen God: “’We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’” (Judges 13:22) So why didn’t Jesus just straight-up tell Manoah? The first reason is that, oddly enough, it’s too simple. Jesus, or his actual Hebrew name, Yeshua (or perhaps Englishified, “Jeshua”) is a variety of “Joshua.” Had the angel introduced himself as “Josh” (or its misspelling, “Jesh”) the scene wouldn’t have felt quite so holy (as Josh was an already well-known name). Secondly, to reveal his name would have been too much information. If the angel identified himself by the name of Jesus, everyone (including Samson’s parents) would have been naming their kid Jesus after this angel of miracles – and everyone was already naming their kids Joshua after the hero of Israel, so if he revealed his name there would be a crap-ton of Joshes and Jeshes by time we got to the New Testament and his name wouldn’t be all that special or interesting. Third, it was too much for Manoah to wrap his brain around. Jesus is the son of God, but he hadn’t been born yet, but he has always existed; as it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Can you imagine the conversation that would have sprung from this sort of revelation?
Manoah: Who are you?
Jesus: I’m the word of God.
Manoah: Like the Holy Spirit?
Jesus: Kind of, but like a real person, but not yet, like a couple thousand years from now.
Manoah: Then how can you be here?
Jesus: It’s…um…complicated. Aw screw it. Josh. My name is Josh.
Manoah: We’ll name or kid Josh too!
And so it would go on and on. No answer really leads anywhere good (or useful for star-struck Manoah). So, rather than wasting time, Jesus just says that his name is nothing Manoah would understand.
There’s a fourth reason too. Remember how some Bibles translate him as saying his name is a secret? This actually has some backing, because Jesus actually has a secret name. We can read about it in Revelation 19:11-13,
I saw heaven standing open and therefore before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
Hmm, Faithful and True, Word of God, and in verse 16, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Only one dude fits those descriptions, and that’s Jesus. So according to this passage, the rider is definitely Jesus, but he also has a name he can’t (or won’t) talk about. So it could be that the name that the angel refused to give was that secret name of Jesus (since we already established that “Jesh” wasn’t gonna cut it).
No matter how we slice it though, what was too wonderful for Manoah to really grasp, Jesus the Christ, we know from his eventual life on earth. Peter reminds us,
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:22-24).
We also know the power that is in Christ’s name; for it is written,
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13).
May the name of the Lord Jesus be on your tongue daily in praise and supplication. A name that Old Testament man wouldn’t have been able to understand or properly use but that you can use to cross from hell to heaven and to open up the storerooms of God when you’re in need. May the name of the Lord be praised!