Names and the Name – 10

God has a name – 9

It seems to me that to know God’s name is to carry (at least) a two-pronged fork. One prong brings a sense of security, responsibility and identity for God’s people. The other demarcates God’s people from those who don’t yet know his name, or who regard it differently (or indifferently).

What is significant in the OT is that to know the name of a deity is to wield power over that deity and indeed means that one can summon him/her to one’s aid against one’s enemies. This means (in an ANE kind of way) that for God to reveal his name is for God to make himself vulnerable. But as Exodus 33 shows, it is a vulnerability that it intractably tied up with God’s sovereign freedom. In verse 18, Moses asks God, ‘Please show me your glory.’ To which God replies, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD” (YHWH). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy’ (v. 19). Zimmerli comments here: ‘In this figure of speech resounds the sovereign freedom of Yahweh, who, even at the moment he reveals his name, refuses simply to put himself at the disposal of humanity or to allow humanity to comprehend him … According to the statement of Exodus 3:14, at the very point where Yahweh reveals his true name so that people can call him by it, he remains free, and can be properly understood only in the freedom with which he introduces himself.’

Again, as Thielicke has reminded us, ‘When God indicates his name, he shows that he is not to be located in a nexus of being, as though there were something all-embracing in which he could be integrated or something higher and general under which he could not be subsumed.’

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