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The Name that is Above Every Name
Chapter 7

"THERE ABRAM CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD"

Having considered in some detail two of the titles of God, Adon and Adonai, both translated as "Lord", we come now to the Name of God.

A word as to the distinction between names and titles: a title is a form of address which denotes status, and office or a distinction of merit. Thus God is Adon by reason of His power over all that He has made, and Adonai because in His sovereign majesty He is worthy of reverence and obedience. So Jesus was Master or Teacher to his disciples, and Saviour because of his redemptive work. A name, on the other hand, is that by which a person is known, in the several senses of that word -- a personal appellation which distinguishes him from others and also the reputation which he has acquired by his deeds or character.

Thus, to "put one's name to" something, by way of signature, for example, is to identify oneself with whatever has been signed; and one's reputation is the knod of person others think of when they hear his name.

"Both Lord and Christ"
The Lord was named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins; on account of his Divine descent and his obedience unto death he was given the titles of both Lord and Christ.

What can we say then of the Name of God? How has He chosen to be known to His people? Alas, that those to whom the Name should be most precious should have allowed questions of how to pronounce it, when it should be used, indeed, what is its precise grammatical signification, to become almost the badge of distinct groups in the Brotherhood, rather than that by loving with all their heart, soul and mind Him who is one LORD, they should themselves become one in Him!

A Scriptural Issue at Stake
We ourselves have been taken to task for even alluding to this problem, as though the statement of the fact and not the fact itself were the divisive thing. But we believe that there is at stake a Scriptural issue which can easily be missed, whether we are of Apollos or of Cephas in this matter, and we shall endeavour to set it forth as clearly as we can.

For God in His mercy and providence has not left the English reader to depend upon the knowledge that Yahoshaiah Mashiach, or Jesous Christos, whom we call Jesus Christ, might be an approximation to what his own Hebrew or Greek contemporaries actually called the Master. As we often remind our friends, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" involves much more than the knowledge of how to utter his name.

In this chapter we confine ourselves simply to the use of the Name as we find it in the Book of Genesis. The formal announcement that God would be known as the LORD was made to Moses at the burning bush. But was it unknown before then? According to the record in Genesis we must answer no, unless we commit ourselves to the belief that Moses wrote the Name into the record, placing it upon the lips of Abraham and others even though they did not use it. This is one explanation given in our literature of the passage in Exodus 6:2-3:

"I am the LORD: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known unto them."

This theory, however, cuts completely across the belief in Divine inspiration which our writers themselves held. The higher critics account for the introduction of "the LORD" into some passages in Genesis by making it an alternative to "God" and inventing two separate strands of tradition blended together in the transmission of the text -- the J (for Jehovah, and possibly Judah) and the E (for Elohim and Ephraim).

Still, the LORD's statement must be capable of some explanation, and there are two which are consistent with the Scripture itself. First, it is possible to translate the Divine pronouncement to Moses as a question: "I appeared . . as God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not (also) known to them?" On this interpretation God was in effect answering Moses' question (5:22), "Lord, (Adonai), wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people?", with the reminder that the fathers had known God as El Shaddai, Creator and Sustainer, and were assured of His power to accomplish His purpose; they had also known that God had made a covenant, a covenant which He was now remembering (6:5), in spite of the initial difficulties with Pharaoh which His intervention seemed to have brought upon the officers of the children of Israel (5:6-19).

On the other hand, taking the Revised Version margin -- "as to my name JEHOVAH I was not made known to them" -- the meaning is substantially the same except for the emphasis laid on the fact that the detailed outworking of the fulfilment of the covenant as Moses and his contemporaries were to experience it had been hidden from their eyes, although Abraham himself had perceived it in a vision (Gen. 15:13-16).

So what can we understand of the Name before coming to our consideration of it in the light of the proclamation of "the good will of him that dwelt in the bush" (Deut. 33:16)?

According to Genesis 1, Creation was the work of God (Elohim). That the angels had a part in the work of laying the foundation of the earth is implied in Scripture (see Sob 38:7) but this is not necessarily deducible from the plural form of this word for God. In spite of the fact that the idea of the "plural of excellence or majesty" has been dismissed as purely an invention of the grammarians, it is a well-attested phenomenon of language both ancient and modern, and there are examples of it in Scripture which are not otherwise to be explained.

As to the use of the word Elohim, the concept of God's power revealed in Creation is at present sufficient for us. The reference to man in this chapter (vv. 26-27) is general rather than particular, as the phrase "both male and female" indicates. There was a relationship between God and man, that of Creator and creature, a relationship man shared with the rest of Creation, although his own potential was greater: "God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."

The special relationship, arising from the circumstances of the creation of the first man, from whom would spring the whole race of men, is described in chapter 2: it was the work of the LORD God. This combination of the Name and title throughout chapters 2 and 3 suggests that the One who sought the relationship ("the Father seeketh such to worship him") was also He who had created a being in the image and after the likeness of God, who would therefore be capable of the appropriate response; a being whom He would also sustain. For Adam God provided all the necessities of life (2:9), but particularly "an help meet" for him, so that he could understand the idea of fellowship and relationship in terms suited to his own daily life. The sad sequel marked the breaking of the bond between God and man.

A Covenant Name
Without going into questions of derivation at this stage, we can therefore with confidence accept that "the LORD" was a name connected with this relationship between God and a man and a woman. In it each had their own part to play, the LORD having already done His. He had not specifically covenanted to continue to do so, but as yet there had arisen no doubt in the mind of the man and woman that His word was absolute. The covenant came in the promise of the woman's seed, in which the determination of the LORD to put an end to evil was declared as plainly as the sentence upon them for disobedience of which they were already feeling the effects.

Whatever they made of "the covenant in Eden", it is plain that Adam and Eve eagerly awaited its fulfilment. With the birth of the first child Eve exclaimed in triumph and delight, "I have gotten a man from the LORD" (Gen. 4:1). It is just possible grammatically to translate this as "I have gotten a man, even the LORD", meaning "the man, even him who is to come". Though we must reluctantly confess that this meaning is less likely to be correct (the issue turns on fine questions of vowel pointing and the Hebrew particle eth), the idea is fascinating, linked as it is with the Messiah's later title of "he that should come" (Matt. 11:3) and his inheritance of "the more excellent name".

But even if we have here no linguistic authority for going down this otherwise Scripturally acceptable road of interpretation, the Promised seed would be "from the LORD" and would be both confirmation and fulfilment of the covenant. It is probably not strictly accurate to speak of covenant relationship until the solemn enactment at Sinai Nevertheless, as we have observed that creation in general was the act of God and the creation of man in a more personal sense was the work of the LORD, so it is possible to follow that principle throughout the rest of the Book. We should no doubt be unwise to attempt to assign special meaning to every change from Elohim to Yahweh; but the general principle will be seen to hold good.

So it is the LORD who repents "that he had made man upon the earth, and it grieved him at his heart" (Gen. 6:6). The evil and the violence in man's heart were a denial of the relationship that ought to exist between God and the man who had been created in the Divine image and likeness, to reflect the glory of the LORD. Instead there was a strife between their spirits, which seems to be the sense of verse 6, since man showed himself to be but flesh, manifesting nothing of that Divine likeness. So the LORD set a limit of 120 years upon that strife, the expiry of which marked the very day that Noah entered into the ark and the flood came.

Verse 6 is therefore probably "the scripture" to which James refers when, speaking of the enmity between the world and God, he asks, "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us he yearneth for even unto jealous envy?" (James 4:6, R.V. margin). The expression is consistent with what is revealed to us in the Law and the prophets about Israel's God, who yearns for His wayward people and is jealous of their falling away to other gods, who could neither save nor redeem as He had done:

"Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity . . . and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:3-6)

"How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God. and limited the Holy One of Israel." (Psalm 78:41)

So God designed the ark, and the LORD invites Noah in and shuts the door (Gen. 7:1,16); God remembers "Noah and every living thing" and the general covenant with man and every living creature of which the token was the bow in the clouds. But it was the LORD to whom Noah built an altar and it was He who "said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground for man's sake".

The great challenge of man to God in Genesis was the building of the Tower of Babel. It hinged upon the question of relationship: Would men make themselves a name to rival the Name of God? Would they "build a city, a tower" and in effect mount up to heaven, to exalt themselves instead of exalting God? So "the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do" (Gen. 11:5-6). It is surely significant that He who was for Israel "the LORD their God, one LORD" should thus make it clear that men must seek their unity in Him and that apart from Him all is confusion and discord. Moreover, as we shall see later, the Name conveys the idea of underived existence and therefore of unchanging power and purpose -- He is what He is, from everlasting to everlasting -- and there is no power in man, "for that he also is flesh", to challenge or resist.

"To this man will I look"
The record so far, in the nature of things, given the entry of sin into the world so soon in man's history, tends to emphasise the judgment of God as the principal feature in His relationship with men, That is only a superficial view, however, since the mercy of the LORD has also been revealed, in the covenant in Eden which Eve at any rate understood, and in the salvation of Noah and his house. The rest of Genesis is concerned with "the mercy to Abraham" (Micah 7:20) which the LORD sware unto him and "unto our fathers from the days of old".

Remarkably, in the early record of God's dealings with Abraham the word Elohim does not appear. In chapters 12-14 it is always the LORD who speaks to him; the covenant with Abraham is initiated by the LORD of the covenant, and the patriarch's response upon first entering the land promised to his seed was to build "an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him"; and later, when he came near Bethel, "there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD" (12:7-8). Likewise, when he came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, he "built there an altar unto the LORD" (13:18). It is abundantly clear, therefore, that Abraham was well aware that God's Name was "the LORD", even if all that He intended to be for him and his seed was not yet known to him.

Equally remarkably, Abraham never uses the simple form of the Name in addressing God: he refers to "The LORD", but addresses Him by the combination of Name and title of LORD GOD, or Adonai Yahweh, that term of deep reverence and respect which we have already discussed in detail in chapters 5 and 6. Moreover, as God said to Moses (Exod. 6), it was more in His capacity as the great Creator and Sustainer, El Shaddai, that God revealed Himself to Abraham, as a basis for his confidence and obedience (Gen. 15:1; 17:1; see chapter 2).

In Genesis 17 the predominant title of God is Elohim -- at first glance unexpectedly so, since this is the chapter where the covenant, which had been ratified by the "cutting of the covenant" (chapter 15), was renewed and the symbol of the covenant in circumcision was instituted. A closer consideration, however, reveals the fitness of this. For Almighty God who appeared unto Abraham with the promise of the seed and the inheritance (this was also the occasion of the change of name from Abram to Abraham in recognition of his status as "a father of many nations"), now added the promise which was in effect the heart of the covenant: El Shaddai, the great Adon, would be Abraham's God even as Abraham was His friend and servant:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God" (17:5-8).

"I will be their God"
So the Elohim who speaks and acts throughout the rest of this chapter is Abraham's God, in the special sense of the covenant, and all the details concerning the birth of Isaac in whom "thy seed shalt be called". One can detect the sense of awe and wonder in the writer to the Hebrews as he refers to the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22), when Abraham revealed himself to be wholly God's as God was his, and the King of heaven and earth, Who is what He is from everlasting to everlasting, confirmed the covenant once more, this time with an oath by Himself "because he could sware by no greater":

"By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee . . . because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18; Heb. 6:13-14).

With the same sense of wonder and awe we can now take up the record at the Bush in the next chapter. We shall consider more deeply the significance of the Name, and learn what the LORD was for Israel and what He has promised to be for us in Christ.

All-powerful, self-existent God,
Who all creation dost sustain!
Thou wast, and art, and art to come
And everlasting is Thy reign.

 


Chapter 8

"WHAT IS HIS NAME?"

WHEN Moses stood before the burning bush and heard the voice of the angel of the LORD proclaim the memorial Name, he was warned that he stood upon holy ground. This, the first occurrence of the word "holy" in Scripture, reminds us too that the Name of the LORD is holy, and that any discussion of it must be with reverence and godly fear, with the single intent of "knowing the Name" in the true sense of that phrase -- understanding more of the Divine mind and purpose and striving to "perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord".

We shall endeavour to pursue our study in this spirit, following the general pattern laid down in previous chapters and relying more upon Scriptural usage than upon questions of grammar for our understanding. We cannot entirely avoid reference to linguistic matters, however, for the simple reason that we are dealing with a language not our own. Therefore much that would have been instinctively grasped by a Hebrew speaker we have to discover by recourse to lexicons and grammatical aids. Two important points arise immediately. First, their more accurate knowledge of what the Divine Name meant in terms of vocabulary and tense did not make the Israelites any more sensitive to the requirements of the covenant which it expressed and which it was designed to bring to their remembrance: not knowing the Name of the LORD, as distinct from being able to pronounce it or "translate" it, they did not put their trust in Him.

Secondly, one of the most remarkable things that emerges from the study of the grammatical discussions, including those between brethren, is the divergence of view as to the derivation and translation of the Name, while the decision as to the correct way to pronounce it seems to rest on a balance of possibilities rather than anything more accurate. The fact is. we are apparently dealing with an older form of the Hebrew language and as we have remarked before, there are several ways of pronouncing Biblical Hebrew in the synagogues today according to whether their congregations are Sephardic Jews or Ashkenazim, but none of them is identical with the spoken language of modern Israel.

In the absence, therefore, of decisive information from outside the Scriptures, we shall best serve our true end by giving close attention to what we find within, accepting with gratitude the work d those who have written before on this theme as an aid to our Bible study, but not necessarily accepting all the detailed conclusions they reached.

When God declared "I AM THAT I AM" (Exod. 3:14, A.V.), He was responding to Moses' request (v. 13): "Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?" The declaration was the prelude to the words of the announcement Moses was to make: "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."

The God of their Fathers
So in effect the proclamation of who their God was, is followed by the Name that would enshrine all the attributes expressed in the original declaration. This form of the Name (ehyeh in the Hebrew of verse 44) is appropriate for God to use of Himself, but the Name of the LORD (YHWH, apparently from the same root as ehyeh) corresponds to "He who is", or "He who will be", and is the form actually used as the Name. This is in accord with God's further declaration in verse 15, in which He identifies the I AM of verse 14 by adding:

"Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."

For the present we shall continue to follow the English version in using the expression "the LORD", writing in large and small capital letters to represent YHWH, lest we be diverted from our main purpose into a discussion about the forms Yahweh and Jehovah, although some explanation of why "the LORD" came to be adopted in the translations will become necessary. Our immediate concern is with what the Name means.

Prophecy and Promise
The Revised Version of 1881 renders the Divine declaration to Moses as "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE", and gives the meaning of the Name as "HE WHO WILL BE", a translation anticipated many years earlier by Dr. Thomas in his exposition of God-manifestation in flesh and spirit (Eureka, Vol. 1, pp. 98-111, 1st edn.). He saw "the good will of him who dwelt in the bush" as a proclamation of the whole purpose of God to manifest Himself in glory, as he had already done in the angels, in fulness in Christ and the saints who were the seed of Abraham and heirs according to the promises. There is thus a strong element of promise and prophecy in the Name which, as we have already seen (chapter 7) was used from the beginning to express a relationship between God and man. The relationship of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was such as to assure their future resurrection from the dead, as the Lord Jesus clearly taught (Mark 12:26-27) on the evidence of the passage we are considering.

We shall miss the power and beauty of this Scripture, however, if we think simply in terms of the future tense as we understand it in English. The difference between the Authorised and the Revised Versions does not arise from the impossibility of determining the tense intended or from indecision as to which possible translation to choose. It is a matter of the emphasis to be placed upon the many aspects of the meaning contained in the Hebrew words which it is difficult to render in any single English expression. The idea they represent is not so much that of "being" anyone or anything, but of the absolute existence of Him who only hath immortality. In them all the power, authority and grace of the Godhead are proclaimed, for the reassurance of Moses and the children of Israel to whom he was to bring the message of deliverance. God was what He was, their God, uncreate, self-existent, sovereign in majesty and might, Disposer supreme of all things in heaven and earth, Judge and Saviour of men according to His own will. None could say, What doest Thou? or, Why hast Thou made me thus? His purpose was as sure with Israel as it was with the ordinances of day and night.

What God has been He still is, and will always be. Or, as the inspired translation of the Name in the Apocalypse has it, using Name and titles in combination:

"We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned." (Rev. 11:17)

Notice how the titles of Adonai and El Shaddai are linked together with the Name of the LORD in this passage, which speaks of the great consummation of God's purpose.

There is no one word in Greek which would reproduce the fulness of the word ehyeh, or its derivative rendered as the LORD. The earliest Greek translation, the Septuagint, renders God's words in Exodus 3 as "Ego eimi ho on -- I am the One Who is . . . ho on -- He Who is -- hath sent me unto you". The Apocalypse translation, the last recorded inspired words on the subject, ensures that we too understand that God and His purpose span eternity. The foundation of faith, the basis of any approach unto Him, is the conviction that "he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:9).

Such was He who now sent His messenger to proclaim liberty to the people of His covenant and to bring them unto Himself. Because there was none greater He had sworn by Himself, and having heard the groaning of the people in Egypt, He had remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob, and in infinite mercy and grace He "looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them" (Exodus 2:24-25). What He had been for the fathers He would be for their seed, both at that time in their deliverance and throughout all their generations until the great day when He would be all in all. He would have mercy upon whom He would have mercy, for He was Israel's God, and there was none beside Him.

What He became for them and what He will be for us is enshrined in the Memorial Name of the LORD, a theme to fascinate and delight us in succeeding chapters.