The sanctuary was a place where God’s name was ‘remembered’ (Exod 20:24) and where God caused his name to dwell (Deut 12:11), although Psalm 119:55 seems to suggests that to remember God’s name is no more than to keep his law and Psalms 45:16-17; 83:4 and Isaiah 26:8 may indicate a connection between remembering and posterity (survival), that is to forget the name is to, as it were, cause existence to cease. So Absalom complained, ‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’ and so had to name a pillar after himself (2 Sam 18:18; cf. Isa 66:1; Acts 7:45; 17:24-25; 2 Cor 6:16).
The name the Israelites were to remember ‘throughout all generations’ was ‘YHWH (LXX = ku,rioj) the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Exod 3:15). But although this was the ‘remembered’ name, what did it actually mean to the ancient to know that Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s God had a name? And did that name actually reveal anything?
It is my contention that the revelation of the name ‘YHWH’ in Exodus 3 ties God down neither in his nature or conduct. Rather, the response to Moses’ question maintains the freedom, independence and ‘self-determining existence’ of the Answerer to be who he chooses to be in the future. Everything is left ‘open’. I’ve appreciated Thielicke words here (as elsewhere):
[God] himself will make it plain in the future who he is and will be. I will be – but it is still to be revealed who I will be. There is thus expressed here the freedom of this self-revealing God for the future self-disclosing and self-imparting which will take place in history. If the name were meant as a concept embracing the nature of God, we should have definitive information with this self-declaration. Instead, the name simply denotes the one with whom we have to do or who is under discussion. It leaves it for him to disclose himself. It leaves it for him to interpret his name by what he makes known by word and work in his self-disclosure. The only definitive thing that this name Yahweh lays down is that this self-disclosure and self-impartation will follow, so that Yahweh had at his command an incalculable multiplicity of ways of acting and working … The being in the name of Yahweh is to be construed, not as being in itself, but as being for.
What stands out to me is that the name given in Exodus 3 in the seemingly evasive divine response is perhaps not so much as revealing God’s name (for they already knew his name) as it is a revelation of divine character. As an OT scholar notes:
The term itself, as the J source affirms, is doubtless pre-Mosaic … What emerge as distinctively Mosaic in the name formulas are the qualities and attributes of the Creator God of the Fathers revealed in the unique historical setting of the Sinai covenant, between the past event of the Exodus, and the future prospect of the Conquest. These are grace and mercy, patience, great kindness and devotion, all of which mark the action by which he delivers his afflicted people, creates a new community, – and not least the passionate zeal by which he binds Israel to himself in an exclusive relationship of privilege and obligation, of promise and threat, of judgment and mercy.
Until the next post …
BTW: Jim Gordon has an exciting and encouraging (not least because he is the principal of the Scottish Baptist College) post here on what it means to do theology as community. And Jim West, in typical tongue-in-check style, has posted here on the evils facing America today.