For the week of January 24, 2009 / 28 Tevet 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 6:2 - 9:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21
God spoke to Moses and said to him, "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 to them." (Shemot / Exodus 6:2,3; ESV)
According to these verses it appears that God is revealing himself to Moses by a name different from the one revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This name in Hebrew is represented by the Hebrew consonants "Yod-Hey-Vav-Heh" (most commonly represented in English Bibles as "the LORD" in full caps) and is a form of the verb "to be." These verses sound as if this name for God is being made known for the very first time. But if we look back to the Torah's accounts of the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we discover that this name is used regularly.
This supposed contradiction is resolved when we understand that the Bible's use of the concept of name is primarily one of the essence of a person's character, not that of a label. This is contrary to how names are used in contemporary English, whereby the name given to a person is one that tends to suit their parents. They may like the sound of that name or want to honor someone else who has that name. But the function of the name is simply to distinguish them from others.
In Bible times and perhaps in other cultures today, while names do have this function, they do far more. A name was meant to describe something of a person. So when God tells Moses that he had not revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as "the LORD", he doesn't mean that they had no awareness of this label, but rather that there were aspects of God that were not known until revealed to Moses.
This is not to say that God had changed or that the forefathers' understanding of God was wrong. It's that God chose not to fully reveal himself previously. God, being God, is far greater than anything we can imagine. He carefully chooses the times and circumstances in which to make aspects of himself known.
Comparing how God dealt with the forefathers with how he dealt with Moses and the people of Israel later on, we do see a fuller revelation of himself. God's involvement with the patriarchs was far more personal and somewhat hidden. There were situations that had a significant effect on others, but, for the most part, the essence of God's reality was experienced by a very few. Based on the workings of God in this earlier time, I don't know what the people of Moses' day may have expected. But what they got was very different from what they had heard of. The God of the Exodus was a God of power, judgement, and law. While this new revelation was consistent with what they had known about God until then, it was much much more.
Could you imagine what would have happened if God's fuller revelation of himself would have been rejected on the basis of how different it was? It was partly the people's acceptance of the fact that the God of their fathers was also the God of their deliverance that was the basis of their following Moses.
Many generations later the people's understanding of God would become so solidified that they would not as easily receive God's coming to them with a new name and fuller revelation. God would come to deliver his people again, but with a name that they had not yet known. The day would come when God would reveal himself in the name of "Yeshua" (salvation). All that the Messiah taught and represented was in keeping with God's revelation of himself up to that point. Yet it was a new day similar to that of Moses' time in that a time of oppression was coming to an end. And just like in the time of Moses, God's salvation through Yeshua would reveal aspects of his character that were not yet known. Sadly, many today continue in their refusal to accept God's fuller revelation of himself in Yeshua, but it is not too late to do so.
Then there are others who, for some reason, believe that God has in recent times revealed himself in a fuller sense again, thinking that he wants us to know him is such ways as "Multi-Faith God", "Mother God", or "God of Absolute Acceptance". But God's names are never based on our own perception of him. This is one of the things we learn from how he revealed himself to Moses. The name "Yod-Hey-Vav-Heh" is derived from "I AM WHO I AM" (Shemot / Exodus 3:14; ESV). God is the self-defining one, whose being and character is beyond human analysis. Accurately understanding God must be based on his self-disclosure, not upon our preferences.
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