“Why do you ask My name, it is hidden?”
In the Scripture, there is a messenger of YHVH whose name remained hidden in secret. He appeared only at key points in the world history and his hidden identity had never been revealed to men.
Who is this messenger who said, “Why do you ask My name, it is hidden?”
From the Canon and Apocrypha, we know the names of YHVH’s messengers such as Micha’el (Who is like El), Gavri’el (Might of El), Rapha’el (Healing of El), Phanu’el or Pani’el (Face of El), Uri’el (Flame of El), Reg’el, Remi’el, Barachi’el, and others. But the name of this messenger and his identity were wondrously obscured and hidden in secret until the time came to be revealed.
Samson the Judge of Israel
There was a certain man, by name Manoach, from the clan of the Danites, whose wife was barren. A messenger of YHVH appeared to the woman and said to her that she would conceive and bear a son (Jdg 13:2-3).
Then he gave her three prohibitions imposed on her, which distinguished the condition of a Nazarite given in the Torah (see Num 6:1-8): drink no wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean food, no shaving, for the youth would be a Nazirite to Elohim from the womb to the day of his death.
The only other thing mentioned in the Torah is the warning against defilement from contact with the dead, which does not seem to have been enforced on her son.
And the messenger said, “And he (the Nazarite) will begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines“, which undoubtedly was intended to show that her son’s power to deliver his people would be closely related to his condition as a Nazarite. Her son would be none other than the Judge Shimshon (Samson).
And the woman spoke to her husband everything the man had said to her; whose appearance was like the appearance of a messenger of Elohim, very awesome. But she did not ask the man where he was from, nor did he reveal his name to her (Jdg 13:6).
And the Messenger of Elohim came again and set the rules imposed on the woman before Manoach (Jdg 13:9-14).
The messenger whose name is hidden in secret
Then, Manoach asked the question: “What is your name?”, because he did not know he was a messenger of YHVH but a man (Jdg 13:17).
Now, here we find something peculiar in the Hebrew text. “What is your name?” in Hebrew would be שִמְךָ מָה mah shim’cha, whereas מָה, mah, means “what” inquiring about a thing. See Gen 32:27, where an identical question is asked.
But this is not what we find in the text. We find שִמְךָ מִי mi shim’cha, literally, “Who is your name?”, whereas מִי mi, means “who” inquiring about a person.
What was the purpose of asking this odd question: “Who is your name?”
This hard to translate question is not an accidental expression in this seemingly “ordinary” encounter of a human being with a heavenly being.
In Hebrew unlike English, shem, does not denote a sound identifier, i.e. a name, but a character, reputation, authority that expresses the essential nature of its bearer. In other words, in the Hebrew Scripture, shem speaks foremost of reputation and character rather than just a proper name.
And indeed, as we have seen in the Scripture, the actions of a person are always related to his character, which determines his reputation.
Manoach literally asked the messenger, “Who is your character or authority?”, or perhaps, “Who is the one [in authority] who has sent you?” And since Manoach used שִמְךָ shim’cha, “your name”, he inquired about the name of the one who had sent him in second person singular: “you”.
We should note again that Manoach and his wife did not know that the man was a messenger sent by YHVH.
How should we understand this mind-twister? Did Manoach ask about the messenger’s name, because in this case he would have asked, Mah shim’cha? Or, perhaps, he meant something else. Whatever it is, the present author has no definite answer to this question.
Note: the translators should have shown this peculiarity in the text in the footnotes. Since it is hard to explain or comment on it, a literal translation in the footnotes from Hebrew would have been a better choice for the reader. Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary commented this odd use of מִי mi in a few places in the Scripture thus: “an interrogative pronoun of persons, as מָה mah is of things, who? (occasionally, by a peculiar idiom, of things)”.
But to Manoach’s question the messenger of YHVH replied, lamah zeh tish’al lish’mi vehu peli. Literally, the messenger asked, “For what thus are you asking for my name and (moreover) it is [hidden] secret?” In Hebrew, “for what”, lamah, means “why”. Or the man asked, “For what (reason) are you asking for my name, it is hidden?”
The JPS translation reads thus the words of the messenger, Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is hidden? (Jdg 13:18 JPS)
Messenger revealed, the name still hidden
Then Manoach prepared the sacrifices and offered them to YHVH,
And he did miraculously while Manoach and his wife looked on (Jdg 13:19).
Now, the words לַיהֹוָה “to YHVH” and the following words “and he did miraculously” form a circumstantial clause, which should be understood thus: Manoach offered the sacrifice to YHVH, and in consequence of which He (YHVH) acted miraculously.
In other words, YHVH performed a wonder or miracle, and Manoach and his wife saw it.
This miracle is explained in the following verse,
And it came to be, as the flame went up toward the heavens from the altar, that the messenger of Yehovah went up in the flame of the altar. And Manoach and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground. (Jdg 13:20)
First, we should note that there is no indication in the text that Manoach fired the altar, but we are told that the flame went up to heaven from the altar, that is to say, the flame was issued from the rock, and the messenger ascended in this same flame.
So, what was the miracle YHVH did before Manoach and his wife that they fell on their faces to the ground?
This miracle was twofold: YHVH, not Manoach, made the fire go up to heaven and His messenger went up in the flame.
After the messenger of YHVH had gone up in the flame, something must have struck Manoach, for he was afraid they would die.
We should recall that a messenger of YHVH appeared to Mosheh in the burning bush, but the burning bush was not burned (Exo 3:2).
Manoach and his wife must have also recalled that story at Sinai, and they must have recalled the story when the fire from heaven came out from YHVH and consumed the two sons of Aharon, who offered a foreign fire, and they died (Lev 10:2) but were not burned (see Lev 10:5).
And after Manoach witnessed these miracles, he knew that the man was a messenger of YHVH, as his wife said, and he said to her,
We shall certainly die, because we have seen Elohim! (Jdg 13:21-22)
And the messenger of YHVH who had hidden his name did not appear to them anymore. But Manoach was afraid that he and his wife would die, for they had seen “Elohim”.
But his wife quieted his fear with a strong argument,
If Yehovah had been pleased to put us to death, He would not have accepted an burnt-offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all this, nor would He have let us hear the like of this! (Jdg 13:23)
Note: There is no a specific Hebrew word designated for the Creator, such as “God” in English. The Hebrew word “Elohim”, commonly translated “God”, literally means “one of absolute power and authority”, or a “powerful one”. “Elohim” can be applied to the Creator and to a man, as well; such as Mosheh who was called to be “elohim” before Pharaoh, that is, to speak with power and authority. He was not made “gods” as rendered in many translations.
So, what did YHVH made them see and hear, but the fire that had come from Him and His messenger ascending in the flame. That ascension of the messenger must have been not only spectacular to see but to hear too.
Then, Manoach and his wife must have remembered that the father Ya’akov also asked about the name of a messenger with whom he “wrestled” all night.
“Please let me know Your Name”. And He said, “Why do you ask about My Name?” And He blessed him there. And Ya’akov called the name of the place Peni’el, “For I have seen Elohim face to face, and my life is preserved”. (Gen 32:29-30)
Read more in the article “Jacob wrestled with an angel. The consequence of struggling with YHVH.“
Now, when Ya’akov asked the messenger of YHVH for his name, the messenger did not tell him his name; he even declined giving him any definite answer.
But, unlike the answer to Ya’akov, the messenger of YHVH, who visited Manoach and his wife, added the words: “… it is secret”, or “it is hidden wonder” concerning his name.
What our father Ya’akov wanted to know, with regard to the personality of the “wrestler”, was his name. And because the messenger of YHVH had met him in the form of a man (Hos 12:4-5), for this reason Ya’akov called that place Peni’el or Penu’el which means the Face of El(ohim).
But why did neither of these messengers reveal his name? Perhaps, because, their names (character, reputation, authority) must have been a hidden wonder, miracle, incomprehensible to mortal man. We read,
Why do you ask my name, moreover it is a hidden wonder? (Jdg 13:18)
Or, perhaps, the messengers who “wrestled” with Ya’akov, who appeared in the burning bush to Mosheh, and to Manoach were actually one messenger, the Messenger of YHVH. The likeness is too close to be accidental.
Of whom did the apostle speak?
But do we have any proof for what we are saying here?
Apostle Stephanos had already provided the proof. Before his last breath, he said,
… this one (Mosheh) Elohim sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Messenger who appeared to him in the bush. … This is the Mosheh who said to the children of Israel, “Yehovah your Elohim shall raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brothers. Him you shall hear.” This is he (Mosheh) who was in the assembly in the wilderness with the Messenger who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, who received the living Words (the Torah) to give to us … (Act 7:35-39)
This Messenger of YHVH appeared and spoke to Mosheh in the burning bush (Exo 3:2), who led Israel out of Egypt (Exo 14:19, Num 20:16), in whom is the Name of YHVH and who led them to the Promised Land (Exo 23:20-23, Exo 32:34, Exo 33:2-3) and stood as the Captain of the heavenly forces of YHVH (Jos 5:13-15).
This heavenly being Stephanos clearly called “the Messenger” of YHVH, the Messenger who gave the Covenant and the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai.
And indeed, the Name of Yehovah is in this Messenger (Exo 23:21), for Yehovah revealed Himself in him to mortal humans; and hence he is called in Exo 33:15-16, the Presence but literally the Face of Yehovah, since the essential nature of the Creator is manifested in him through His seven spirits (see also Isa 11:2).
Therefore, this Messenger is the manifestation of YHVH Himself, who went before Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them.
This is what the apostle witnessed before he was stoned to death by none other than Shaul, the next apostle who will be brought in the Messiah’s fold.
And to make his witness truthful, Stephanos identified this Messenger of YHVH, the One through whom the Torah was ordained at Sinai, with the Righteous One whom the corrupt elite of the Pharisees betrayed,
Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who before announced the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who received the Torah as it was ordained by messengers, but did not watch over. (Act 7:52-53)
Of whom did the apostle speak?
Now, when Manoach asked the question: “Who is your name?”, for he did not know he was a Messenger of YHVH but a man, he might have spoken inadvertently yet prophetically of the coming of the Righteous One—the One of whom Mosheh spoke too, “Yehovah your Elohim shall raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brothers. Him you shall hear.”
Why would Mosheh have said it, if he had not foreseen Him already? And this we studied in the article “To foresee Yeshua the Messiah“.
Later in the Scripture, this Messenger of YHVH would be called the Messenger of His Face, but the Rabbis of blessed memory would call Him: Sar HaPanim, the Minister of the Face.
But did we not study this in the articles,
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.