Manoah and his wife are told by an angel that they are to have a child (Samson). In thanksgiving for the angel's message, the couple prepare a burnt offering (v.19) and watch as the angel himself disappears in the flames of the altar. Is Judges 13 showing us a link between sacrifice and the mystical presence of angels, and/or that being consumed by flames is a way to God?
American sculptor David Best’s Temple projects are contemporary evocations of this kind of mystical event (although they are purportedly ‘non-religious’). In constructing his huge and ornate wooden structures, using the skills and labour of as many local people as he can involve at once, he both harnesses and gives rise to an instinctive desire to make, mark, and adorn. Within the different communities in which he has worked, the participants’ motivations to contribute can vary from expressions of grief and loss, to a desire for forgiveness and community cohesion.
Best’s Temple in Derry-Londonderry was sited on a contested piece of land in one of the areas most divided and damaged by Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’; all too familiar with flames. It drew some 60,000 visitors, all of whom were invited to inscribe personal messages on the structure (or place them within it). Then on 21 March 2015, six individuals involved in the making of Temple set the structure alight and the work was razed to the ground.
In its evocation of a rite of purging, or perhaps offering, this symbolic ‘letting go’ of a damaged community’s anxieties, desires, and dreams could be said to have a sacrificial quality.
Manoah and his wife invest their intense and fearful hopes for a son in the sacrificial rites they perform. But these hopes and fears are also bound up with their faith in the strange heavenly messenger. So when the angel reveals himself as an angel by becoming one with the fire in front of them, it could be said that their sacrifice to God and God’s message to them become simultaneous. The altar flames are the outward expression of their most intimate prayer, and the first manifestation of its answer.
David Best Temples, http://davidbesttemples.org [accessed 11 December 2018]
13 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoʹah; and his wife was barren and had no children. 3And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 6Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible; I did not ask him whence he was, and he did not tell me his name; 7but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son; so then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’ ”
8 Then Manoʹah entreated the Lord, and said, “O, Lord, I pray thee, let the man of God whom thou didst send come again to us, and teach us what we are to do with the boy that will be born.” 9And God listened to the voice of Manoʹah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoʹah her husband was not with her. 10And the woman ran in haste and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11And Manoʹah arose and went after his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12And Manoʹah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s manner of life, and what is he to do?” 13And the angel of the Lord said to Manoʹah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her beware. 14She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing; all that I commanded her let her observe.”
15 Manoʹah said to the angel of the Lord, “Pray, let us detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” 16And the angel of the Lord said to Manoʹah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoʹah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) 17And Manoʹah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19So Manoʹah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. 20And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoʹah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.
21 The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoʹah and to his wife. Then Manoʹah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. 22And Manoʹah 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 cereal offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.” 24And the woman bore a son, and called his name Samson; and the boy grew, and the Lord blessed him. 25And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Maʹhaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshʹta-ol.