Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Name of God

Moses said to God, "If I go to the Israelites and tell them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' — what should I say to them?" (Exodus 3:13 NET)

It is commonly taught that this passage is where God revealed His name to men, but that is born from a misunderstanding of what Moses was asking. It was not that Moses did not know God's name. He wanted to understand what it was that God was going to do.

God's answer was to show the fundamental truth of who He was.

God said to Moses, "I AM that I AM." And he said, "You must say this to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.' " God also said to Moses, "You must say this to the Israelites, 'The LORD — the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.'" (Exodus 3:14-15 NET)

The name that is translated as "the LORD" is most translations was rendered as Yahweh (YHWH in ancient Hebrew). It means "the self-Existent or Eternal". God only can make the claim that He simply is: He always been and will always be. He is pre-eminent over all. The name was considered so holy that they would not even write it out. We recognize this today by translating it in all caps: "LORD".

This name was not new. We first see "LORD" referred to in Genesis 4:26.

And a son was also born to Seth, whom he named Enosh. At that time people began to worship the LORD. (Genesis 4:26 NET)

So we see that this name for God was used from almost the beginning of the human race. As the family of man lived on, God revealed Himself in many different ways which led people to know Him by many different names. Here are a few examples:

God Most High (El Elyon) - the highest of all gods.
Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) He blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20 NET)

Lord GOD (Adonai) - sovereign Lord.
But Abram said, "O sovereign LORD, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?" (Genesis 15:2 NET)

God Almighty (El Shaddai) - the sufficient one, the provider.
When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1 NET)

Unfortunately, that last name is often translated in such a way that this meaning is lost ("God Almighty" or "Sovereign God"). This was the name by which God was primarily known by the patriarchs. But there was no confusion that He had somehow changed His nature or that the names referred to different deities. Rather, the names were an indication of the nature of how God interacted with His people at particular times.

God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name 'the LORD' (Yahweh) I was not known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3 NET)

This does not mean that they did not know God's name was "the LORD", for Abraham and Sarah both used that name on numerous occasions (Gen 14:22, 16:2, 16:5, 22:14). However, they primarily knew God by the other names, and He manifested Himself as El Shaddai, their provider. He did not give them the inheritance of the land that was promised to them. They did not have conquest over the nations around them. But He continually protected them, provided for them, and blessed them with riches and prosperity.

So when God reveals Himself to Moses and promises to deliver the Israelites, Moses asks the question: who are you to be for us?

Moses said to God, "If I go to the Israelites and tell them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' — what should I say to them?" (Exodus 3:13 NET)

God's answer was powerful and a prophetic indication of the great wonders that He would soon work on behalf of the Israelites in Egypt and in their conquest of Canaan. God is the Self-Existent One, the Supreme Being of the universe to whom are subject all gods, creatures, and the forces of nature itself. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had received protection, blessing, and provision. The Israelites would receive all of these things in addition the revelation of the true power of all that God was and is and will be. God, the Self-Existent One, would humiliate and defeat all of the gods of Egypt. He would conquer and destroy all of the gods of Canaan. God would reign supreme and reveal His power and majesty through His people Israel.

Yahweh is the true nature and identity of all that God is, but God reveals Himself in different ways to people throughout the Bible and history to this very day. How will God reveal Himself us to us today?

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