Root: פֶּ֫לֶא (pey, lamed, aleph) [Sounds like: peh-leh]
It’s Olympics time, which for me means a double figure skating season: Olympics followed by the World Championships in March. I’m a big fan of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. I find their skating wonderful. To have “wonder” is to be overcome with awe and amazement… and certainly some of their skating has made me feel that way, but how much more wonderful should I feel about YHWH!? Just the mere thought of God should make us feel wonderful, wonder-filled, filled with wonder… or in a colloquial term, “gob-smacked!” We should be Gob-smacked by God!
The word Wonder hasn’t been given the headline it deserves. When we think of Christian words the most popular seem to be Faith, Hope, Love, Forgiveness… all verb -action based- words and they’re all great, but the word Wonderful, an adjective, deserves special attention. Why? Because, according to Isaiah it is the first name/descriptor of the Messiah:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.…
Yeshua fills the people with Wonder
Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah) certainly fulfills the description of Wonderful. He constantly filled people with awe and astonishment. Everywhere He went people were amazed. Here are just two examples of people being filled with wonder after seeing the miracles of Yeshua.
Yeshua calms the storm:
When He [Yeshua] got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was engulfed by the waves; but Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
“You of little faith,” Jesus replied, “why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was perfectly calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey Him!”
Yeshua heals the paralytic man:
He [Jesus] said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
Immediately the man stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. Everyone was taken with amazement and glorified God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
It wasn’t just the miracles of Yeshua that caused wonderment, sometimes just being in the presence of Yeshua caused them to be filled with awe:
As they were going up the road to Jerusalem, Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, but those who followed were afraid. Again Jesus took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him: “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise again.”
And, of course, there couldn’t have been anything more wonder-filled and jaw-dropping than when Yeshua returns to his disciples after He had died. Yeshua first words to them are:
“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself. Touch Me and see—for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet.
While they were still in disbelief because of their joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” So they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in front of them.
Jesus said to them, “These are the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Yeshua makes a point of highlighting that He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, which includes Isaiah 9:6, “and His name shall be called Wonderful”.
What is your name? It is Wonderful.
There are moments throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) that hint to the Messiah being revealed long before He came to earth in human form. In Christian Theological circles this is called Christophany; (Thanks, Reverend Mike!). It has been suggested that one of those instances is a tiny (yet mighty) story in Genesis (Genesis 32:24-30) when Jacob wrestles with “a man”. Eventually the man asks:
“What is your name?” And he [Jacob] said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have wrestled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me YOUR name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
We aren’t given the answer to Jacob’s request, “Tell me your name”. Perhaps Jacob heard it, perhaps not. All we are presented with is that the wrestling man blessed Jacob, and that Jacob recognized “the man” as God.
Jacob’s wrestling with God is often associated with the story of Samson’s parents, Manoah and his, unnamed, wife. Their meeting with the angel of YHWH takes on a very similar tone. An angel of YHWH visits Manoah’s wife and tells her she will bear a son. He gives her instructions and tells her that her son will rescue Israel from the Philistines. Amazed the woman tells her husband about this marvelous event and says:
“A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome [nowrah meod, meaning “abundantly terrifying”]. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
So Manoah, wanting to experience this miracle himself, asks God to return this messenger to them so he can get instructions on what to do.
God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!”
When Manoah finally faces the angel of YHWH he says this:
“Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I Am.” Manoah said, “Now when your words come to pass how shall justice come to the child and what shall his vocation be?” And said the angel of YHWH to Manoah, “To all that I said unto the woman, let her be aware…”
It is interesting that Manoah thinks he knows the right questions to ask, and that he should be the one to hear the answers. But the angel of YHWH went to the woman and he trusts that she knows and understands what is expected of her. Her husband does not need to be intercessor for her. In fact, he need not be concerned about it at all. The woman is aware and that is enough.
So, not getting the answer he was looking for, Manoah asks the angel of YHWH one final question:
“What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honour you?” But the angel of YHWH said to him, “Why do you ask my name, as it is Wonderful?”
Manoah and his wife looked on in wonderment at the angel of YHWH. They watch as he ascended towards heaven in the flame on the altar.
When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of YHWH did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of YHWH. So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”
At the end of each story Jacob, Manoah, and Manoah’s wife all have the same response: they recognize that what they have seen is God, face to face. Seeing YHWH meant certain death, but seeing the Son of God produces the fear of death, but not the outcome of death. It appears that the text is trying to tell us that this angel of YHWH is YHWH… just as Yeshua says, “I, and the Father are one” (John 10:20).
There is also an interesting parallel here between the angel of YHWH who appears to Samson’s parents, and Yeshua who appears to Mary Magdalene after His death on the cross:
After Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had driven out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, who were now mourning and weeping. And when they heard that Jesus was alive and she had seen Him, they did not believe it…. Later as they were eating, Jesus appeared to the eleven and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
The same could be said for Manoah. He needed to see for himself. He wanted some control in the situation. Certainly in the time of Samson’s parents the status of women was in a dismal state. Manoah could not imagine God choosing to talk to his wife over him! This was culturally WAY out of the norm. But this angel of YHWH is acting just as Yeshua does in the His day… because, perhaps, they were one and the same. Yeshua’s relationship with women, as first responders, highlights the possibility that Samson’s parents were talking to the preincarnate Messiah. This Messiah chooses to reveal himself to a woman first and that should have been enough (although for the disciples, it wasn’t)… just as the God-angel in Manoah’s time spoke with Manoah’s wife, twice, before addressing him.
Yeshua deliberately seeks out women. He puts His trust in them to be implementors of His plans and spokeswomen for His message. In an age when women had rights not much grander than cattle, this, in itself, would have caused wonder in His day.
Wonderful: Beyond Comprehension
But what made the miracles of Yeshua, and Yeshua Himself, so wonderful and extraordinary? Not only did he challenge cultural norms and radically dispute political and religious leaders, but what He did with His death and resurrection was beyond human comprehension.
Humankind loves to be amazed. It doesn’t take a lot. We are always looking to be entertained or amused or awed. We call those things extraordinarily wonderful… like the skating of Tessa and Scott.
But pele (wonderful) has a deeper meaning. It is something that is beyond human comprehension.
We cannot even begin to grasp the wonders of our Creator. Psalm 139 really explores being wonder-filled by YHWH:
O YHWH, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, YHWH, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? or where can I flee from Your presence? if I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
YHWH is wonderful. He is awe-inspiring and beyond human comprehension. We should be gob-smacked by the overwhelming glory and power of our Creator. Seek Him out and be Wonder-Filled!
Next week: Courage