Names and the Name – 14

These posts on the Name have been concerned to affirm (among other things) that YHWH (unlike the gods) is not an impersonal cosmic force but rather One who enters into a personal and immutable (covenant) relationship with his people on the basis of his love and grace (Exod 33:19; 34:6). This forms the basis of his mongamous jealousy (Exod 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9), a jealousy which leaves him vulnerable to suffer not only with (Exod 3:7-8) but also because of (Gen. 6:5-8) those he has made (Gen 6:6; 18:20; Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). As Wolterstorff has reminded us, ‘God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer … The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love … The tears of God are the meaning of history.’

The desire to know and be known is grounded in the covenant nature of God. Soulen notes,

[We] perhaps do not go too far astray of the biblical witness if we say that God’s covenant with Israel is the outworking of God’s desire to be known by name. For the sake of this name, God fashions a people out of the barren womb of Sarah and out of the chaos of bondage, so that by works of steadfast love and faithfulness, God might be glorified by name not only in the heavens but also by men and women on the earth. The biblical sense of the Tetragrammaton is thus finally also eschatological in orientation. Under the pressure of God’s great promise, “I will sanctify my great name” (Ezek 26:23), the Tetragrammaton points irresistibly forward to the consummation of God’s universal rule, when there will be an end to the state in which `all day long my name is despised,’ and God’s incomparable uniqueness will be fittingly honored by Israel, the nations and all creation.

Motyer reminds us that Israel’s personal knowledge of God (and his name) was closely linked to their experience of him. He notes, ‘… it was the claim of El Shaddai to be powerful where man was weakest, and He exerts this claim supremely by promising to an obscure and numerically tiny family that they should one day possess and populate a land which, in their day, was inhabited and owned by people immeasurably their superiors in number and power.’ Motyer goes on to point out three ways in which this is substantiated: (1) God took over human incapacity in the lives of the patriarchs in order to raise up a great nation; (2) God changed the name of Abram and Jacob to symbolise their transformed human nature; (3) God promised boundless posterity to them in the land of promise. In these acts, the patriarchs came to know God by experience.

John Calvin, commenting on Exodus 34:6f. notes that to know God is inextricably related to experiencing God. ‘Thereupon his powers are mentioned, by which he is shown to us not as he is in himself, but as he is toward us: so that this recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and highflown speculation’.

Posts to come:

* The name and action of God
* The name and blasphemy of God

* The name and mission: God as witness to his own name
* ‘YHWH’ and ‘Jesus’
* Hallowing the name of God

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