Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Introduction: Biblical history is incompatible to any other national history of a people in that it seems to emphasize the spiritual weakness of its people, Israel. The heroes are nearly all flawed in some way. Samuel is credited with its authorship: Even these heroes needed the law of God to staple them to the reality surrounding them. In this book, though the meaning or message of the book as such is never explicitly discussed, the central theme defines the standard titles κριταί/שפטים' conversantly draw attention on the other hand, to the divinely energized agents of Yahweh's salvation—the ‘Judges'.
Thesis: With the concept of divine agency in consideration, we can now summon a proper exegetical explanation for this profound book. The angel of the Lord here appears more in this book than any other book in the Tanakh. The divine messenger isְ usually signified by a modifier as in ‘messenger of Yahweh’ מַלְאַך יְהוָה or ‘messenger of Elohim. However, this is not always the case. See Gen. 48:16; 1 Ki. 13:18; 19:5; Ps. 78:49; 91:11; Job 33:23).
Dr. Constable says in his “Notes on Judges” God sent His Angel to revisit Manoah and his wife because they voiced questions in prayer about how they should bare Samson (v. 8), his way of life (v. 12), and his vocation (v. 12).”
In many Ancient Near Eastern cultures, there was a political concept we call 'agency'. In this, the delegate or ambassador of a god simply spoke in the first person on that god's behalf. However no doubt these messengers were divine in some sense, i.e. Gupan and Ugar and Qadesh and Amurr served as divine messengers in Ugarit, [see briefly Cho, Lesser Deities, p. 155]; while Ninsˇubura, Ilabrat, and Nuska served as messengers in Mesopotamia [CAD S sukkallu 1c, pp. 358–9.] Sukkallu, another Babylonian subordinate divine messenger, was a deity in its own right, was responsible for thinking, planning, and representing It's divine master. Much like the AOG in our inspired literature.
The record in Judges 13 is very interesting because when the angel first showed up, he was not recognized as an angel at all. Both Manoah and his wife thought he was a man of God (Judg. 13:3, 6 and 21). Finally, they realized it was an angel: “…Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.” However, no sooner had he recognized that he had been speaking to an angel, not a man, that he exclaimed, “We are doomed to die…We have seen God!” (v. 22). C. F. Burney in his work The Book of Judges With Introduction and Notes pg. 488 has a literal reading which reads “Then Manoah knew that it was the Angel of Yahweh. 22. And Manoah said unto his wife, 'We shall surely die, for it is a god that we have seen.” He then expounds in a footnote:
“We shall surely die. Cf. 6 22 note. for it is a god, etc. The order of the Heb. כִּיאֱלֹהִיםרָאִינוּ׃, is very emphatic. R.V. renders 'elohim 'God'; but had this been intended we should have expected Manoah to have used the name Yahweh, and not ^elohim : cf. the verse following. On the sense in which 'ĕlōhîm is probably used”.
Note that his translation has some support in more modern translations as well;
The BBE Bible reads “And Manoah said to his wife, Death will certainly be our fate, for a God whom we have seen.
The NET reads “Manoah said to his wife, “We will certainly die, because we have seen a supernatural being!”
It's also quite interesting that the NET Bible committee agreed to render ĕlōhîm as an equivalent to a being, singular. It seems to suggest no real distinction between Person and being.
The LXX interestingly renders “the Angel of the Lord” as an indefinite term when it is introduced. “And an angel of the Lord appeared to the woman,” (ibid 13:3)
The fact that the record makes it clear that he knew what he saw was an angel [אֱלֹהִים] shows us that he understood that he did not see YHWH , but YHWH’s representative. When biblical Hebrew uses “ĕlōhîm” with a plural verb or plural adjectives, then ĕlōhîm has a subset semantic and likely means "a god", (not the Isrealite God) or gods in a general sense. Likewise, it's vice-versa with singulars.
An intriguing fact about this record is that as long as Manoah thought he was with a man of God who was representing and speaking for God, he was comfortable, but when he realized he was talking to an angel, he became afraid. Theologically speaking, this is a adequate example of people being uncomfortable in the presence of God, albeit through his representatives, whether earthly or heavenly. God often wants to get closer to us than we, as humans and sinners, want him to get.
Angels as intermediaries between God and Man
According to the entire biblical and non-biblical literature, Angels or messengers are depicted as having the sole purpose of offering praise to God. However, their functions as intermediates between the covenant God and man were, also of special importance. They also have the task of bringing the prayers of man before God's throne. Men often in biblical times pleaded with these intercessors to even transmit his prayers to God. See I Enoch 9:2-3 [http://qbible.com/enoch/9.html]. The Angels themselves, although acknowledged, does not directly receive praise, but rather praise is transmitted through them ‘to’ God. This is precisely how a shaliach functions and seems to highlight the role of the Angel of God in the book of Judges.
John Walton, a distinguished OT scholar insightfuly defined the role of a intermediary [agent of a superior] in his commentary on Genesis.
“In the ancient world direct communication between important parties was a rarity. Diplomatic and political exchange usually required the use of an intermediary, a function that our ambassadors exercise today. The messenger who served as the intermediary was a fully vested representative of the party he represented. He spoke for that party and with the authority of that party. He was accorded the same treatment as that party would enjoy were he there in person. While this was standard protocol, there was no confusion about the person’s identity.
This explains how the angel in this chapter [Gen. 16] can comfortably use the first person to convey what God will do (16:10). When official words are spoken by the representative, everyone understands that he is not speaking for himself, but is merely conveying the words, opinions, policies, and decisions of his liege. So in Ugaritic literature, when Baal sends messengers to Mot, the messengers use first person forms of speech. E.T. Mullen concludes that such usage ‘signify that the messengers not only are envoys of the god, but actually embody the power of their sender.'”
I would add that occasionally, the biblical characters in real-time didn't have a complete understanding of who or what they were encountering. However, the readers, with the special privilege of looking at the text zoomed out, should. Nevertheless, the concept sounds awfully close to the ancient Israelite concept of agency that the majority of Unitarianism posits.
An Angel’s administration of the Law
Even with giving of the Law the angels acted as intermediaries between God and Moses (see Josephus., Ant., 15:136; Jubilee. 1:27 ff.; NT-Galatians. 3:19, Acts 7:53, 7:38;Hebrews. 2:2). This is significant to our exegesis of Judges 13. For we see the Angel of God making admissions to refrain from certain Mosaic dietary restrictions. Verse 14 is of interest:
Jud 13:14 She may not eat of anything that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; all that I commanded her let her observe.
Here, the angel decrees that the woman should refrain from consuming anything ritually defile to a Nazarite. Now compare Gal. 3:19 where it explicitly speaks about angels putting God's laws in place. “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Likewise, Heb. 2:2 says the messages that the Angels (an indefinite semantic) were indeed binding. The parallels to angels and the Angel of the Lord in Judges commissioning the law are impressive.
The definite and indefinite usage
A common theme for the boasting of the AOTL being a specific messenger is the grammatical definite article (the) accompanying the word Angel. That the definite article when it comes to this angel denotes a particular angel/messenger that only have prerogatives that belong to God. This is unwarranted because there are actually two occurrences of this term where we are told exactly who is being referred to: Observe below:
“Haggai, the angel of Yahweh, [מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה] spoke the message of Yahweh to the people …” Haggai 1:13
Haggai is called the mal'āḵ YHWH
“The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction, because he is the angel of Yahweh of hosts.” [מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה] Malachi 2:7
A priest is the mal'āḵ YHWH
Since we have a breach in the definite usage that supposedly denotes one specific entity, though in a grammatically definite form, the term is contextually generic and can be applied to any person on a position of authority that carries the message from God. In other words, the article (the) in conjunction with the term “angel of God” is not necessarily exclusive to a non-created being.
The charge of idolatry: Angels are the recipients of worship?
The charge that Unitarians are inadvertently transmitting worship to God's heavenly and or human messengers is solely predicated on a misunderstanding of the position and the ancient concept that the Israelites were well aware of in their cultural milieu. It's also important to note that the charges of Angelic idolatry is not a newly invented lore. There are recorded accusations in early Christian writings around the first and second centuries, i.e the writings of Aristides (Apology;14), Origen (comm.froh 13:17; quoting Celsius), and Clement of Rome (Kerygma perou) that shows Christians, who deliberately accused pious Jews who recognized the roles of these divine agents of their day of idolatrous angelic worship. Despite their passed down tradition that was transmitted down from ancient proto-Jewish worship clearly reject such practices. Much like then, the false charges of idolatry are still currently set in place to present the Unitarian view as outrageous, dangerous and inconsistent. Not to mention blasphemous.
Conclusion: Again, because there is an all-consuming desire to disparage the opposition known as unitarianism, the concept is often mangled. They missed the element that these subordinate figures have unique roles in God's redemptive plan. There is a economy involved and their duties as sent messengers come with certain stipulations, even if it seems to only be reserved for God. But this does not mean that the agent must necessarily carry the sender's ontology. A great hermeneutical lesson, shared titles and imagery does not equate to shared ontology.
The text is erroneously mishandled by those in the "Angel of God is God" camps…It seems that Monoah’s wife , whom had better control in reserving her excitement than Monoah himself understood the assignment. Because as a more observable figure, she did not reach far enough at the top shelf to conclude that the Angelic messenger was YHWH himself or some sort of theophany. An excerpt from "The Book of Judges: A Study in Prophetic History" by ANE scholar Martin Sicker brings clarity to the issue at hand. He insightfully notes;
“The angel, known to them as a man of God or prophet, having completed his mission disappeared completely, and after several days Manoah came to the shocking conclusion that the man of God could not have been anything other than an angel of the Lord. In a state of panic, Manoah said unto his wife: We shall surely die, because we have seen God. That is, he assumed that seeing an angel was the same as seeing the face of God, and recalled the divine word to Moses, Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live (Ex. 33:20). But his wife, who as suggested earlier was more intellectually astute than her husband, said to him: If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering and a meal-offering at our hand, neither would He have shown us all these things, nor would at this time have told such things as these. In effect, she told him that he was being hysterical and needed to calm down because he was not thinking clearly, that seeing an angel was not the same thing as seeing the face of God, and that seeing these miraculous things was not a danger to them but a privilege.[...]"…”
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