The Name of God

Rev. Edward J. Young

What is the Name of God? Moses was standing before the burning bush. He was at a respectful distance, for the place whereon he stood was hallowed ground. The bush was burning, but since the Lord Himself was in its midst, the bush was not consumed. The miracle was designed to convince Moses that he was in the presence of the one true God. When God had announced to him the intended mission unto Pharaoh, Moses had exhibited some hesitation. He had recognized his own weakness, but the Lord with tender condescension had assured him of His own presence. Now, however, a further problem arises, What is the Name of the God who speaks from the bush?

The Revelation of the Name of God

"And Moses said unto God, 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 unto me, what is his name? what shall I say unto them?" (Exodus 3:13). For us today this question presents certain difficulties. When we ask a man his name, we merely expect to hear some vocable in reply. He tells us that his name is Smith or Jones. It is a mere word. In itself it means practically nothing. When we come to know and to love a person it makes little difference what his name is. The name is little more than a word; it certainly is no indication of the character of the person in question.

Such, however, was not the case in Biblical times. In Biblical times the name was a clue to the character of the person. What Moses desired to know, therefore, was not some word by which God was addressed. He wished to know what kind of a God this was who was in the bush. Specifically, he wished to know whether or no this was a God who could fulfill His promise, who was able to lead forth the children from Egypt as in times past He had taken care of the patriarchs.

It is obvious that this is what Moses had in mind. Moses was facing the problem that would arise when he returned to his people. He would come to them as they were in bondage in Egypt. God has appeared to me, he would say, the God of our fathers. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has appeared unto me.

The Israelites well knew that the God of the patriarchs bore the Name Jehovah. As early as the time of Enos, "began men to call upon the name of the LORD" (i.e., Jehovah) (Genesis 4: 26b). The actual vocable was surely known to the patriarchs and to the Israelites in bondage. And doubtless all the people would have been assured that Moses himself knew this Name. The very name of Moses' mother, Jochebed, in all likelihood, contains a part of this name. Why then, we may ask, would the Israelites in Egypt have asked Moses what the vocable was by which the God of the patriarchs had been known? Suppose that they had asked this. Suppose also that he had replied, His Name is Jehovah. What would have been accomplished? Moses would merely have stated what the people already knew. In what sense would this have accredited Moses unto the people as a messenger from Jehovah?

There is a passage in Exodus which at first sight may seem to conflict with what we have been saying. When God speaks to Moses again, He says unto him, "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" (Exodus 6:2b, 3). It soon becomes apparent however, that this verse does not intend us to understand that the patriarchs did not know the name Jehovah. What about a passage such as Genesis 15:8, "And he said, Lord GOD (i.e., my Master, JEHOVAH) whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it"? Many other passages could be brought forward to show that the patriarchs did indeed know the name Jehovah. It is obvious, is it not, that the passage in Exodus must be considered more carefully?

What then, is the meaning of this revelation which the Lord is giving in these words? When the Lord says that He appeared unto the patriarchs as God Almighty (i.e., as El Shaddai), He means that He appeared unto them in the character of EI Shaddai. To put the matter simply, we may say that God revealed Himself to the patriarchs as One Who would protect them from all their adversaries, both when they were in the land and when they were without. Thus, God assured Abraham that He would fulfill to him the promises which had been made. When Jacob was far from home, he also experienced the blessings of God as EI Shaddai. The patriarchs then had known much about God. They had known that He was the Creator and they had known that He was the powerful One, who could take care of them and protect them. They had not yet known God as Jehovah. True enough, as we have said, they did know the word itself. But in His character as Jehovah they did not know Him. In this sense, they did not know the Name Jehovah.

Jehovah-The Redeemer God

In answer therefore to the question of Moses, God says, "I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:14). The Name I AM is not henceforth used in Scripture, but in its place the word YAHWEH (this word appears in our English Bibles as the LORD or JEHOVAH). Let us pause and ask what these words mean.

A great amount of energy has been expended in an endeavor to discover the proper etymology of this word. Such study is very interesting, but it is not as fruitful and profitable as it might be. In all likelihood, the word Jehovah means, "He causes to be." However, we must come to our understanding of the meaning of the word in a different manner. It is well to know the etymology of the word, if we can, but there is something far more important than that. How is this Name of God used in the Bible? In what context is it presented to us? If we examine closely the context we shall see the true meaning of the word.

Let us note first of all, therefore, that the revelation of this Name is given in connection with the organization of the people into the theocracy and their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. It is a Name therefore which stands in close connection with the subject of redemption. It reveals to us that God is a Redeemer. This background must ever be kept in mind. The Name has to do with the Mosaic economy.

As, then, we examine the background against which this Name was revealed, we come to see that Jehovah is not only a Redeemer but also a sovereign Redeemer. In Exodus 33:19, there is a wondrous statement of the saving power of Jehovah: "And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy." Grace and mercy are to be shown. They are not, however, to be shown indiscriminately. Not all men; not all nations, will be the recipients of grace. In His choice of those whom He would save, God is sovereign. He chooses those of His good pleasure. It is no foreseen good in the sinner that causes God to choose one and to reject another. It is His sovereign good pleasure. God is sovereign and God is a Redeemer. Herein is the blessed truth revealed which the patriarchs had not known.

Does someone object; this is Calvinism? Indeed it is. He who revealed Himself at Sinai is the God of heaven and earth. He comes to us sinners, not on our terms, but on His. In His choice of the recipients of His favor, He is not influenced by forces outside Himself. He determines whom He will save. Thus there is refuted at once the false notion that the God of the Old Testament was nothing more than a tribal deity. The God of Sinai is sovereign in the exercise of His saving power.

Another fact also emerges from a study of the background against which this revelation was given. Says the Lord, "And I will bring you unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD" (Exodus 6: 8). Not only does the Name Jehovah reveal the fact that God is sovereign in all His dealings with His people but it also shows clearly that He is a faithful God. It was Jehovah who had made the promises. And Abraham had believed the LORD (i.e., Jehovah), and it had been accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham had believed the Lord, and so had the other patriarchs. Had their faith, however, been in vain? Not at all. The answer to their faith is Jehovah. That is the Name which reminds the elect that God is Faithful. He remembers the covenant which He has made. He is faithful to the promises. And so He has come to His people.

Such then is the God who appeared in the burning bush. It was fitting that His appearance should be accompanied by a miracle. "By my Name Jehovah was I not known unto them." The patriarchs had not been the recipients of this wondrous revelation. How great then, their faith must have been. But now God, in marvelously loving fashion, is making known to His people what He had not revealed to them in times past. They had known Him as the Creator and Protector. Now, however, they are to know Him with a new Name. They are to know Him as the Redeemer, the gracious Redeemer, the Deliverer who is able to deliver because He desires to do so. And in this deliverance they are to be reminded that He is a faithful God.

This was the Name which the Israelites needed. For they had been in bondage and servitude to Egypt. They could not save themselves. They were weak and helpless, and the way before them lay through the unknown desert. But the Name was revealed. Jehovah had come down to save them. He had heard the cry of His people. Jehovah is good, "for His mercy endureth forever" (Psalm 106:1b).

We too are weak and helpless. We are in bondage to sin, and in ourselves there is no way through the desert to the Promised Land. We too need the Name. We need the pillar of cloud and fire. We need the precious blood of Him who said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto Me, and him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." We need the Almighty, Faithful Redeemer.

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 16, No 20, November 10, 1947. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!


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