For decades Moses has been herding sheep for his father-in-law in the Sinai Peninsula. Suddenly God speaks to Moses. God tells of the suffering of his people in Egypt. He then calls Moses to join him on the most unexpected adventure: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10, English Standard Version, here and following).
At first, Moses refuses. He tells God that he’s too unimportant. Then he complains he doesn’t know God’s name. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM’ has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). This name revealed by God—I AM—is a translation into English of four Hebrew letters. This Hebrew name is usually translated as the LORD. If we simply substitute four English letters for the four Hebrew ones, we would get YHWH or, adding the needed vowels, Yahweh. On Mount Sinai, God reveals to Moses that his name is Yahweh.
Eventually Moses affirms his call, goes to Pharoah, and leads Yahweh’s people back to Mount Sinai. There Yahweh gives us what we call the Ten Commandments. Before Yahweh does this, however, he reminds us of who he is and therefore why we should be heeding his voice alone: “I am [Yahweh] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). In other words, Yahweh—and Yahweh alone—is our Liberator.
Forty years later, we stand poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses will be leading us no longer; in fact, he will die shortly. For our enduring benefit, Moses reminds us of our recent history with Yahweh and of Yahweh’s instruction to us. Then Moses speaks words which, ever since, we have regarded as our great confession of faith.
These words are normally translated in this way: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). At the same time, the translators of the English Standard Version note that the original words in Hebrew might just as well be translated another way: “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” This second way seems preferable. In the context of the Book of Deuteronomy, the issue is not the oneness of Yahweh. The issue, then as now, is whether we, who claim to be Yahweh’s people, continue to affirm that Yahweh alone is the one true god who reigns supreme in our minds and hearts as he does in the world and history.
Today, thousands of ambiguous years later, we do well to understand that where Yahweh is no longer affirmed as supreme, he soon no longer seems necessary. Today, even as we persist in identifying ourselves as Christians, we nonetheless cast Yahweh (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) aside and affirm our devotion to the false yet conventional gods that have tormented us since the days of Moses: Jupiter, god of politics; Mars, god of war; Vulcan, god of technology; Venus, goddess of sex; Pluto, god of money; and Bacchus, god of consumption. May Yahweh’s grace enable us to reaffirm his supremacy now, as Moses did then, by again proclaiming, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.
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