By Chuck Alley
Reading from Judges, 13:15-24
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” 16The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt-offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) 17Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” 18But the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”
19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain-offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. 20When the flame went up towards heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21The angel of the Lord did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 22And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt-offering and a grain-offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”
24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.
An important lesson to modern human beings is found in this interaction between Manoah, his wife, and God. Manoah asks the man of God, “What is your name?” In the biblical context, this means Manoah is asking about the nature of the one standing before him, about his essence — who he is — so that they might give him credit for all that will take place. There is no doubt in Manoah’s mind that these things will occur, so he is not asking so that he might gain control over the messenger or the events. Rather, his request is a genuine attempt to know, understand, and acknowledge the truth.
God must reveal his nature to us through his revelation. And unless God interprets his nature to our understanding, we could not possibly fathom its meaning (Ps. 139:6). We see the reality of God’s absolutely different nature and the pure power of his presence in Manoah’s fear that merely observing God might consume a fallible and imperfect human. But in his mercy, God disguises himself in the form of a man, thus allowing the couple to live, and to experience God’s faithfulness. Because of the integrity of Manoah’s request, God gives him the answer he needs, in a form that he can relate to and survive.
The simple couple from Dan is used to deliver the nation of Israel from the Philistines because they are willing to believe in God as he reveals himself to them — not as they can fit him into their understanding. If we are to contribute to God’s ultimate plan for creation, then we also need to recognize our inability to understand God on our own. We must conform our lives to God’s revelation and not try to conform God’s revelation to our lives.
Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.
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