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Shemot/Exodus 6:3 And I appeared ... but - My name is Adonai - I was not known to them.
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Moshe has been to Pharaoh to demand that the Israelites be freed. As a result, Pharaoh has made the Israelite labours harder and the Israelite leaders have rebuked Moshe for making their life worse. These words, spoken to Moshe byHaShem, come by way of personal encouragement and are followed by the declaration of the great promises of freedom that we review in the Pesach seder each year. - Nif'il prefix 1cs, vav-conversive, from the root , to see or to look - means "and I was seen" but is usually understood in a more active sense: "and I appeared". The words are taken by some commentators to be an oath formula (Ibn Jana1), supported by the pointing that suggests that there is a break between these two words and the three that follow; our translation follows that idea. Nahum Sarna points out that the value of a promise given in a name that is previously unknown has much less value than one given by a known source.
HaShem appeared to, was seen by, Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov, the three patriarchs. But He was not known - another passive verb, - Nif'il affix 1cs, from the root , to know - by them. Given the promises made to Avraham and his amazing acceptance of them by faith, what could this mean? Yitz'khak prays for his wife to become pregnant and she conceives, Ya'akov wrestles personally with G-d; what is HaShem saying here: "I was not known to them"? Clearly, the immediately obvious meaning of the words cannot be correct.Rashi takes the lead among the mediaeval commentators by suggesting that although the Patriarchs knew HaShem by that name, they didn't fully understand its meaning or significance because they had not experienced its power. Rashi puts these words in HaShem's mouth: "I was not recognised by them in My aspect of truth ... by which I am faithful to uphold My word, for I promised but I have not fulfilled". In other words, although HaShem had made promises concerning the time in and return from Egypt, and the change from a family to a nation, He had not executed those promises, so the patriarchs had not experienced HaShem's power to fulfill His word in practice. The name was known by promise but not (yet) fulfillment.
Sarna points out two verses that confirm that "'knowing the name of YHVH' means witnessing or being made to experience the display of divine might." The first is spoken by the prophet Isaiah "Assuredly, My people shall learn My name, assuredly [they shall learn] on that day that I, the One who promised am now at hand" (Isaiah 52:6, JPS). The second is spoken by Jeremiah: "Assuredly, I will teach them , once and for all I will teach them My power and My might. And they shall learn that My name is L-RD" (Jeremiah 16:21, JPS). The repeated uses of the verb emphasise that to know G-d, you have to experience G-d; to know the power of His name, you have to witness His power in action.
Hirsch moves us on into the area of faith. He comments that, "It really means: to understand G-d's methods of planning and ordering which are implied in this Name." He is speaking not just of experiencing G-d's power, but appreciating the mechanisms and reasonings behind it, the number of steps and processes that have come together to make it happen just when it has, the degree of preparedness and intentionality that G-d has brought to each moment. This point must not be missed: every moment is the culmination of everything that has gone before. Nothing happens in this world that G-d has not known, organised, worked around and for which He has not provided grace. That is why the proverb writer tells us that, "The name of the L-RD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10, ESV); when we cling to G-d and recognise His control and providence over our lives and this world, then we are in a strong place of faith and cannot be shaken because we know our G-d.
At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua came from His baptism in the Jordan into the Galil and proclaimed everywhere, "The time has come, G-d's Kingdom is near! Turn to G-d from your sins and believe the Good News!" (Mark 1:15, CJB). Yeshua knew that the culmination of the time so far, the words of the prophets, the wisdom of the sages and teachers of Israel up until that time, was about to be fulfilled in His ministry. He told the disciples at the end of His ministry as He was about to be taken from them into heaven, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moshe and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44, NASB). Rav Sha'ul recognises the significance of the moment: "when the fullness of time had come, G-d sent forth His Son" (Galatians 4:4, ESV). Yeshua didn't just come at any time, to any place; He came to exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, to fulfill the exact plan and purpose of G-d; He "gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time" (1 Timothy 2:6, ESV).
Many people see G-d as an advanced vending machine: you put in money or tokens, in the form of prayers, rituals, lighted candles, donations to charity, good deeds and kindnesses to others; you pull the handle and out pops what you want. This is akin to manipulation and reduces G-d to being a puppet that we control. Others see a similar picture with not quite the same degree of human control, leaving G-d some room for manoeuvre and choice, but still essentially bound; this is the position of magic, where ritual and incantation oblige G-d to act in line with human desires. This is the attitude held and taught - even if they would deny it in those words - by many groups that are dominated by covenant and preached by the prosperity gospel: G-d has promised, G-d can be called on His promise, then to be faithful to His nature and character, He must deliver on His promise. Some people see G-d as a benevolent old gentleman with glasses and a long white beard, sitting in a comfortable chair in His library by a roaring fire, smiling and kindly but essentially powerless. He laughs and waves to us, promising to look after us, but makes no demands of anyone and is incapable of enforcing anything, leaving everything to the good will of mankind.
Critically, our attitude towards G-d depends on how we see Him. Many people have a prayer life that consists entirely of Christopher Robin prayers2: "G-d bless Mummy, G-d bless Daddy" and so on. Others have a shopping list that they go through, simply asking for things for others and themselves without expecting any direct response or feedback. Some pray only through the medium of ritual, reciting standard written or memorised prayers from a book - for example, the collect for the day - or in the standard services of the church or synagogue; these people may have a strong sense of the corporate, "the Church or community at prayer", but often lack a personal relationship with G-d or connect with Him for or by themselves. Yet others used to pray in one of these ways but because they didn't get the answer they felt they needed or deserved, have now given up on prayer, thinking that it doesn't really apply to them or get answered anyway.
In these days, our relationship with G-d must be different; it must be vital and interactive, it must be demanding and challenging. Our conversations with Him must engage with the difficulties of life, His plans and purposes for us and those around us, earnest intercession on behalf of others, worship and simply spending time with Him. Only when we "know" G-d can we have that level of relationship with Him. In turn, that knowledge of G-d can only from from revelation, as He shows us who He is and shares the concerns of His heart with us. It is then that we "know" G-d and know what His name means to us.
1 - Ibn Janah (c. 990 - c. 1050); a Spanish Jew, physician and scholar who was famed as a Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. His principal work was the two-volume Book of Exact Investigation, a Hebrew grammar and lexicon, written in Arabic.2 - after the style of praying of a little boy in A. A. Milne's book of poems, "When We Were Very Young".
Further Study: Isaiah 42:8; Psalm 61:4
Application: Do you want to improve your relationship with G-d and find greater intimacy with Him? You have to start by asking Him for a revelation of His character and then go from there. Ask today, you won't be disappointed!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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