|The Offer of Manoah by Rembrandt|
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. ESVThis is an extensive and drawn out account of the angel of the LORD interacting with Manoah and his wife who is consequently left unnamed. As the painting by Rembrandt reveals there are many ideas about this passage and especially concerning angels. Judges 13 comprises about 25 verses in typical translations so I will not cite the entire portion here. I do recommend it be read through one or two times completely to get a grasp of the story. It is probably one of the most intriguing portions of the Old Testament. Victor P. Hamilton noted this about our text:
“Among all the places in Scripture where Yahweh’s angel appears to a visionary, Judg. 13:6 is the only one that suggests that the theophanic recipient perceived something significantly different than a normal human form...” (1)In this chapter is recorded the miraculous birth of Samson. Manoah and his wife were soon to be the parents of a judge of Israel--Samson. The Angel of the LORD appears to them both. Manoah’s wife first sees him and describes him as a “man” of God (13:6). Such a reference is often used in prophetic contexts (See Josh. 14:6). This might be a result of her initially understanding him to be a human emissary or envoy from Yahweh. By the time she reaches Manoah to explain what had happened she concluded that there was something different about his appearance. She says, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name,” (Judges 13:6, ESV)
Although Manoah’s wife is never named she is probably the stronger and more interesting character in this narrative. Manoah rightly seems skeptical and prays for God to allow this “man of God” to return yet again (13:8). God grants his request and the “man of God” appears once more. This time only to confirm what Manoah’s wife had already said. Manoah offers to “prepare a young goat” for the “angel” which seems to turn into Manoah asking the “angel” for his name. Manoah creates a sacrifice for worship to the “Lord...the one who works wonders” (13:19, ESV) While the flames on the altar consume the “young goat” and “grain offering” the “angel of the Lord” went up into the flame and apparently disappears (13:20). After this Manoah and “his wife” fell on their faces to the ground. A few verses later Manoah realizes that the “visitor had been the LORD”s messenger” (13:21, NET) and his wife concludes “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” (13:22)
Initial readings of this Old Testament passage do not seem to produce a Trinitarian understanding. As noted in previous posts Yahweh is always referred to and understood as personal and one divine person. The Old Testament must then be thought of as ambiguous for Trinitarians. By this I mean there is no recognition or indication that Yahweh is or even could be more than one person.
Trinitarians will use the interplay of words here to suggest that Jesus is actually speaking to Manoah in some pre-human form. Elohim can be used for angels, judges and God. It is used in 13:22. If Elohim means the Trinity when God speaks to Moses or Manoah all three persons should be speaking at one time. Yoel Natan suggests that in the phrase ‘angel of the LORD” the term “angel” refers to the second divine person called Son and “LORD” refers to the first divine person called Father.(2) In other words, the title “angel of the LORD” is actually a reference to two divine persons.
Such an anachronism is absurd. Natan reads later Trinitarian ideas back into the Scripture. The idea of two divine person quickly vanishes when the “angel of the LORD” actually speaks as one person. If any of this is true then Manoah should have communicated with either all three divine persons or at the least two of them. The angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah and his wife. In Natan’s understanding this should be the Father and the Son. That amounts to two divine persons that are both conscious and aware. Manoah even tells his wife that they had seen Elohim (13:22).
The use of Elohim has likely nothing to do with a Trinity. If so, then the entire trio of divine persons or at least two of them could be seen as lesser deity. The NET translators make this interesting note here:
“Some take the Hebrew term אֱלֹהִים (’elohim) as the divine name (“God”) here, but this seems unlikely since v. 21 informs us that Manoah realized this was the LORD’s messenger, not God himself. Of course, he may be exaggerating for the sake of emphasis. Another option, the one followed in the translation, understands Manoah to be referring to a lesser deity. The term אֱלֹהִים (’elohim) is sometimes used of an individual deity other than the LORD (see BDB 43 s.v. 2.a). One cannot assume that Manoah was a theologically sophisticated monotheist.”(2)The use of elohim here then may not even be in reference to Yahweh but an angel. Manoah's wife goes on to assure him that they will not die. She gives several reasons why that accord with Israelite laws of evidence. D.I. Block notes:
Theologically his statement was correct, for no one can see God and live, but logically he is incorrect. His wife coolly and rationally allays his fears with three observations. First, Yahweh has accepted the whole burnt offering, that is, the tribute/gift they have presented to him. The fire is the sign. Second, Yahweh has put on a visual display of all these things for them. “All these” would refer to everything they had witnessed including the twofold appearance of the messenger and the fire that consumed the offering and took the messenger to heaven. Third, Yahweh has communicated orally284 with them. “This” (lit., “like this”) refers to “the oracle concerning the boy,” inclusive of the promise of a son, the instructions for Manoah’s wife, and the declared mission of the son (vv. 3–5, 13–14)...With impeccable logic and according to the Israelite laws of evidence, Manoah’s wife presents incontestable proof that they will not die. God has spoken cultically, visually, and orally, declaring to them the future, which obviously depends upon their continued living.(4)If a Trinity of divine persons was revealed it was not perceptible to Manoah nor his wife. What did they see? How did they speak of what they saw? The Scriptures are actually clear and unambiguous. Prior we saw that Manoah even asked for the name of the messenger but it was not given (13:17). The ways of God may have been a riddle here on purpose. It is interesting to note that Manoah understood only after the messenger left (13:21).
Instead of a Trinity Manoah and his wife possibly saw and talked with an angelic messenger or a single manifestation of God. The more interesting fact though seems to be that the angel of the LORD speaks to them using singular personal pronouns such as “I” (13:11) and “me” (13:16). Manoah’s wife even describes what she saw as “a man of God” and describes this character as a “him” (13:6). Obviously the angel nor God are perceived as being multiple persons. Such a notion was not impressed upon them by their experience with Yahweh.
1) Hamilton, Victor P. (2004) Handbook on the Historical Books (150). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
2) Natan, Yoel. (2003) The Jewish Trinity Sourcebook : Trinitarian Readings From The Old Testament. Copyright (c) 2003 by Yoel Natan. All Rights Reserved.
3) Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Biblical Studies Press.
4) Block, D. I. (2001). Vol. 6: Judges, Ruth (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (415–416). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.