Exodus/Shemot 6:2 - 9:35
For the week of January 24, 1998
26 Tevet 5758
God also said to Moses, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham,
to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known
God wants us to know him. It may be difficult for some people to grasp that God desires relationship. God is often associated more with religious ritual and organizations than with God himself.
Moses had recounted to God that his first attempt to speak to Pharaoh resulted in even greater hardship for his people. He confronts God with "You have not rescued these people at all!" (5:23)
But as far as God concerned, this is just the beginning. His response amounts to: "You ain't seen nothing yet!" He tells Moses that he is about to reveal himself in a way that has never been seen before. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, knew him as "God Almighty" (Hebrew: El Shaddai), but now he would reveal himself as "the LORD".
English translations of the Scriptures use the term LORD (with all capital letters) for the Hebrew "YHWH" This term appears to be a derivative of the verb "to be" and is similar to the "I am who am I" of Exodus chapter 3. Because of the Jewish people's deep reverence for God's name, this term was only pronounced in very special circumstances. At other times, whenever this term was encountered, the people would substitute the Hebrew word "Ha Shem" (English: the Name) or "Adonai" (the Lord). Eventually the actual pronunciation was forgotten and only the substitutions used.
For those unfamiliar with Hebrew, the concept of forgetting a word's pronunciation may seem strange. But ancient Hebrew was written with consonants only, and no vowels. The consonants were preserved through writing, while the pronunciation, having was passed down from generation to generation orally. The pronunciation of God's name, however, was lost.
Scholars have attempted at figure out the original pronunciation. They have guessed at names like Jehovah and Yahweh or Yahveh, but we don't know for sure. That is why most English translations opt for using the special designation "the LORD" instead.
Strange as all this may seem, even stranger is that God said that he had not revealed himself as the LORD to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Is not God referred to as "the LORD" over and over again in Genesis? Even Eve referred to God this way (Genesis 4:1).
Some attempt to solve this apparent contradiction by concluding that the Torah writer read the later name of God back into the earlier stories. But this demonstrates an insensitivity to both the unity of the Scriptures and more importantly to the essence of what God is saying and doing in Moses' day.
When God said that the forefathers did not know him as "the LORD," he was saying that they had not experienced him in that way. They may have known the term, but they did not know the fullness of its meaning. When the Hebrew Scriptures use to word, "know," it usually means experiential knowledge.
The people of Israel were going to experience God in a new way. They had likely heard the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and had been told of God's promise to return to the Promised Land. We can suppose that, to them, God was just a legend.
Now God was about to make himself truly known to his people. Here are some of the ways they would experience him.
First, he demonstrated that he is real. He is not just a God of history and legend. He gets involved in the affairs of life and really makes a difference to individuals and nations.
He is also powerful. His involvement in our life is not just in the realms of philosophy and morality. He gets involved in very practical things. He clearly demonstrated that he is greater than political leaders, false religions, and the elements of nature.
The people would come to know that God is true to his word. Though many years had passed, God still did not forget his promises.
They would also experience his compassion. God cared enough about his people to do something about their plight.
Like the people of Israel long ago, to many today, God is simply a character in a story. A teacher of mine (who was Jewish) once likened the God of Israel to the mythical gods of the Greeks. The Greeks have their legends and we have ours.
But God wants to make himself known today, just like then.
To others, God is more than a story. Maybe what he has done in the past is very meaningful to you. But the thought of his being involved in your life today - in the here and now - is inconceivable to you.
God wants to make himself known to you today.
In the New Covenant, in a letter written to a group of Jewish followers of the Messiah, we read, "Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). The coming of Yeshua is in keeping with what I have been writing about here. God was coming into the lives of people in a way not yet experienced. God, through Yeshua, was coming to be with people like never before (see last week's TorahByte). And what Yeshua did in people's lives two thousand years ago, he is still doing today.
Through Yeshua we can experience the God of Israel. Next week we will see how.