Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Bearing the Name of God

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’

And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”  (Exodus 3:13-22 ESV)

Moses has another hesitation about doing what God (Hebrew ‘Elohim’) says, and that is, why should the people of Israel believe him if he doesn’t know God’s name.  God’s name, Yahweh (translated in our English texts as LORD in all caps), has been known and used from the beginning but it seems the Israelites have forgotten it.  Yahweh makes a play on His name saying, “I am who I am,” the Hebrew verb for “I am” being similar to the name Yahweh.  He tells Moses to tell the people that “I am” has sent him.  He is Yahweh, the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He is promising them that He will bring Israel out of Egypt to Canaan.

There was a belief in this culture that knowing someone’s name gave you some influence in their lives and we may say that this is true.  But does it give us influence with God?  The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it does and fault orthodox believers for not using His name.  Interestingly, their understanding of His name is in error.  In the Hebrew language the words are made up only of consonants, no vowels, and Hebrews just mentally supply the vowels in order to correctly pronounce the words.  When it became a concern that Yahweh’s name should not be pronounced those who copied the sacred text used a series of dots and dashes under and between the consonants to represent the vowels for the word ‘Lord’ in order to encourage readers to say ‘Lord’ (Hebrew ‘adonai’) instead of Yahweh.  But when you read the vowels for adonai with the consonants for Yahweh you get Yehovah or Jehovah.  The correct pronunciation is Yahweh.

Should we hesitate to say the divine name?  Jews have become unwilling to do so because of the second commandment not to use Yahweh’s name in vain and they want to protect against accidentally doing it so they do not pronounce it but say, “Lord.”  In writings you might see “G_d” even to remind you not to say the divine name.  We should not feel that hesitation but when dealing with Jewish people we may want to yield to their sensitivities so as not to offend.  Moses wanted to know God’s name in order to have more credibility with the people and God conceded this to him, even though it had never been a secret.  God wanted him to know His name more so that he could reflect God’s character more faithfully.

Yahweh tells Moses that the people will listen to him and will go with him to Pharaoh to request time in the wilderness to sacrifice to Yahweh their God, knowing, of course, that Pharaoh will refuse.  But this will allow Yahweh to demonstrate His power as He strikes Egypt with plagues and makes the Egyptians show favor to the Israelites as they leave.  He has laid out the whole plan to Moses and guaranteed him success.

God often comes down to our level, so to speak, to help us obey Him and do His will.  He asks us to trust Him and to remember how He has cared for His people in all generations.  How has He proven Himself to you?  What does He have for you to do next?  How will you bear His name?

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