Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's in a Name? (Exodus 3:13-15)

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘[Yahweh], the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15, New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]).

Early in the book of Exodus, Yahweh calls Moses to go to Egypt with a special message for Pharaoh (the ruler of Egypt). The quote above is part of that conversation.

The books of the Old Testament, including the Book of Exodus, were originally written in Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew used only capital letters and consonants. The name of the one true god looked something like this: YHWH.

Almost all translators of the Old Testament into English translate YHWH as “the LORD.” My habit, when quoting them, is to restore the name of the one true god, “Yahweh,” to the text. So, where the NRSV has “‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors…'” I write “‘[Yahweh], the God of your ancestors…'” In other words, where the NRSV translators substitute “the LORD” for “YHWH,” I restore the word and name “Yahweh.”

There are reasons for this. For us reading the biblical text today, “Lord” doesn't sound much like a name. It sounds much more like a title and not a very special one either. YHWH, or Yahweh (giving it the lower-case letters it needs in English), is the very unique name that the one true god himself revealed as his very own.

Reading and saying that name is very important. If we refer to Yahweh by a title, rather than calling him by name, our relationship with him eventually feels much less personal than it should be and is. Our connection to him grows weaker. By saying his name, we may affirm all he is with all we are.

By calling on Yahweh by name, we make it clear to him and ourselves that we are in relationship with him and no other. That’s important because we daily face the promises, threats, and deceptions of the six conventional though false gods of Olympianity. If we use conventional words like “Lord” or even “God,” our Olympian personality easily fills those words with Olympian meanings. We end up praying to "God," and thinking we busily serve our "Lord," when all along we’re just conforming to the shared expectations of our very Olympian neighbors.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
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