"...as regards a being whose existence is not due to any cause—God alone is that being, for His existence, is absolute—existence and essence are perfectly identical."—Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, p. 80
What's in a name? In America a personal name bears only a conversant identification, having been supplanted by social security, credit, occupational, and bank account numbers, all on a computer file. But in the Semitic world of the Old Testament a name became the description of a person's character, reputation, disposition, renown and destiny. The Hebrew word "shem" translated "name", emphasizes the essence of a person's character, that would speak volumes regarding the past, present, and future implications of an individual's life.
When Moses in Exodus 3:13-14, anticipating the signal question from the Children of Israel, asked God, "What is His name?" He articulated the most audacious question that a mortal can inquire of the Immortal. What [Heb. "mah"], conveys in the interrogative sense "What is your substance, makeup, your innermost Being, what are you really like?" This was the nature of Moses' probing inquiry into the Divine Name. In Hebrew "name", i.e., "shem," regards character, disposition, person, reknown, and substance. God did not rebuke such an intimate request. The answer to this epochal question regarding God's name, the continued existence of Israel, would depend. The reply of God would be the most assertive declaration of Selfhood. For it would embody the very essence of life in all it's uncreated, ingenerate, underived, and non-dependent fullness. God's revelation of His Name, the rabbis call his "Shem ha mephorash" i.e., the most personal, distinctive name. All other names of God describe some aspect of His work or relation to man, but this is unique, His own Self-definition.
"And God said to Moses, 'I AM Who I AM;' and He said, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Ex. 3:14) The Hebrew, "Yahweh AshereYahweh," comes from a verbal root, "To Be," the verb of absolute existence. The Self-sufficient, Self-fulfilled, Self-sustained, quintessence of life as the Eternal God, is revealed to Moses. The name defines God as aseity [Lat. "from one's self"], of Being. He is the fullness of unbounded life, the power of Being itself. He was, He is, and He will ever be, the One who will never be without life. In the translation of Moses Maimonides, He is, "The existing Being which is the existing Being." (Guide to the Perplexed, pg. 95, 1170.) The state and condition of absolute existence is conveyed to transitory man. "I am that I am," Exodus 3:14, that is, [the Existent], whose existence depends on his own essence and not upon another, the expression 'That I am,' is in the first person, as if to say, because I am, not because another than I is. My existence and power are not dependent upon another at all, as in the case in the other existents [creation]. None of the existents could say of himself, 'I am that [because] I am.' They would have to say, "I am that [because] he is"' That is, I am in existence because another than I is in existence, namely, the First Cause, upon whose existence that of all other beings depends. But God's existence depends on Himself and not upon another cause. Therefore, to Him alone of all existing things is applicable the name, 'I am that I am.'" (Joseph Albo, 1380-1440 C.E., Ikkarim, II, 27.)
In Numbers 6:27 Yahweh is succinctly called "my name." The name which is unique to God alone. It is to be an expression of God's nature forever. "Thy name, O Lord, is everlasting, Thy remembrance, O Lord, throughout all generations." (Ps. 135:13) It is God's holy name, "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord; and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever." (Ps. 145:21) Separate from all of creation, expressing God's purity of being. "If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored (Heb. kabed, "to be heavy, God's incomparable greatness") and awesome (Heb. yare, "to be feared") name, the Lord your God."
Between the close of the Old Testament and the time of Christ, the Name of God was categorized as ineffable. Considered too awesome, sacred, and overwhelming to be spoken. By it's very nature it was inexpressible by mortal man. Rabbinical interpreters read Exodus 3:15, "This is My name forever,…" as a command to restrict it's public use and the need to substitute another name for it. For the root of the word forever (Heb. leolam) is "to conceal." "In this the Rabbis found an allusion to the rule that the name of four letters should not be read as written, but be 'concealed' i.e., another word is to be substituted for it." (Rashi, 1040-1105 C.E., French exegete and greatest commentator on the Talmud.) Thus the text was read, "This is my secret name, (Lit. "my name to be concealed").
In the post-Old Testament period there was a curse of exclusion from the "World to Come," put upon anyone who spoke the ineffable name. "And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come;" Abba Saul says, "Also: he who pronounces the divine Name as it is spelled out." (Mishnah tractate Sanh. 10:1, Jacob Neusner, A New Translation.) "Whoever explicitly pronounces the Name is guilty of a capital offense." (Pesikta 148a) Josephus, the mid first century Jewish general in the first war against Rome, and historian, cites his reluctance to use God's holy name. "Whereupon God declared to him (to Moses) his holy name, which had never been discovered to men before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say anymore." (The Antiquities of the Jews, book two, Chapter 12.4.) The Israelites came to refer to God simply as "The Name," so as not to come close to infringing upon God's holy inexpressible nature.
The August Name of God was only pronounced publicly once a year, on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest made confession of sins on behalf of the nation of Israel. "Thus did he say: O YHWH Thy people, the House of Israel, have committed iniquity, have transgressed, have sinned before Thee. I beseech Thee by the Name YHWH make Thou atonement for the iniquities and for the transgressions and for the sins wherein Thy people, the House of Israel, have committed iniquity, have transgressed and sinned before Thee; as it is written in the Torah of Thy servant Moses, saying: 'For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before YHWH.' (Lev. 16:30). And when the priest and the people that stood in the Court heard the glorious and revered Name pronounced freely out of the mouth of the High Priest, in holiness and purity, they knelt and prostrated themselves, falling on their faces, and exclaiming: 'Blessed be His glorious, sovereign Name forever and ever.'" (Mishnah tractate Joma 6.2.)
The daily hours of prayer for the Jew are a living memorial of the nature of God's Name. In the Chasid Shimuel Rab. Samuel ben David asks, "Why are we commanded to use three hours of prayer? Answer: These hours point out the holy blessed God; He who was, Who is, and Who shall be. The morning prayer points out Him who was before the foundation of the world, the noonday prayer points out Him who is, and the evening prayer points out Him who is to come." Thus indicating that time in it's past, present, and future aspects, is not an impediment to God, that restricts Him to work sequentially. But time as God's creation, is a continuum with a genesis and telios.Time is indwelt with God's presence in each successive moment as it's preserver and sustainer. This promise of God's presence became the bedrock of God's care for His people, who would never be outside the ever present and watchful attention of their faithful God.
The revelation of God's name, Yahweh, embodies a dual exegetic. As delineated, it reveals God's essence and his eternal nature. But secondarily, there is the promise embedded in Exodus 3:12, "And He said, 'Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you; when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.'" In the strongest language of asseveration [certainly, Heb. "ki", a divine oath] God promises to be the ever-present, help, sustainer, provider, and guide to His people forever. At every moment of time "I will become all that you need at each step along the way," is the force of the Hebrew phrase. "No words can sum up all that He will be to His people, but His everlasting faithfulness and unchanging mercy will more and more manifest themselves in the guidance of Israel." "According to the Rabbis this Name [Yahweh] stresses the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God in relation to His creatures; He who educates, punishes, and guides; He who hears the cry of the oppressed, and makes known His ways of righteousness unto the children of men. He is the great Living God who reveals Himself in the Providential care of His people." (The Pentateuch and Haptorahs, J. H. Hertz, pg. 215, 216.)
Man is always in a relation of polarity to God, he is diametrically opposite to God, the obverse of all God is. The most often used word in the Old Testament for man, whether generically or individually is "enosh." Enosh identifies mankind as feeble, dying, weak, anemic, fragile, mortal and sickly. As "enosh," man is always in need of God: Psalm 8:4, 103:15, 144:3, Job 7:17. Man was made to find in God all that he is not, to be a God-dependent being. In God's nature, as in it's native home, man's full provision resides, and when the circumstances change, God's manifest grace will sustain and uphold him. "And the Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed." "Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you." (Deut. 31:8, 23) "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isa. 41:10, Jos. 1:5, 9, 17, I Chron. 28:20, I Sam. 18:12, Isa. 43:2, Matt. 28:20, Heb. 13:8.) From the revelation of God's August Name we glimpse the nature of the Eternal God; Self-existent, eternal, independent, self-sufficient, almighty, unchanging, ever-present, unbounded, unlimited, ingenerate, creator, preserver. "The Lord is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Thy great and awesome name; holy is He." (Ps. 99:2-3) O praise the glorious Name of God forever!
Jesus without equivocation affirmed that he was the eternal I AM. Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58) Jesus says that his nature is immeasurably greater than Abraham's. Abraham had a beginning in time, "was born," (lit. trans. "came into existence") in the aorist tense, and died. (John 8:53, 58). But Jesus said, "I Am." Gk. "Ego Eimi," the LXX translation of the August name of God, "Yahweh Ashere," (Ex. 3:14). It is the divine style of speech in the most emphatic form. Eternity of Being is declared. "Am" (Gk. eimi), is a verb in the present tense active voice, indicating continuous existence. He continually is! Timeless life is conveyed. The contrast between the created (Abraham) and the uncreated (Jesus), the temporal and the eternal was unmistakable, and the crazed crowd was looking around for stones, as Christ's self-appointed judges. (John 8:59) "Christ is not merely the 'sent' Son of God (John 3:18, 5:25-26, 9:7); he is also the one who 'has come' (i.e., 'from heaven' John 3:13; 5:36-38; 6:29, 33) from the realm of pre-existence and eternity. In this context we must also understand Jesus absolutely unparalleled use of the 'I AM' in self-disclosing his singular nature and mission. Just as Yahweh employed the 'I AM' in the Old Testament without a predicate (Ex. 3:14; Deut. 32:39), so Jesus Christ employs it in the New, and with the clear intention that he manifests the Father in the flesh (Jn. 14:9). He makes the absolute formula ego eimi used in Yahweh's self-presentation his own..." (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. 3, p. 111-112) In John's gospel other "I Am" analogies occur: John 6:35, 8:12, 10:7, 9, 11, 19, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1, 8:23ff, 28, 13:19. "But as for God the Son, apart from the incarnation, scriptures never suggest any contrast in glory as between Father and The Son. The following passages make this abundantly clear; John 1:1, 18, 8:58, 10:30, 14:9, 17:5, Rom. 9:5, Col. 2:2, Titus 2:13, Heb. 1:8, I John 5:20." (Gleason Archer, Bible Difficulties, pg. 375.) Jesus, without hesitation affirmed that He was the eternal God. Such an affirmation would transcend the simple category of a moral teacher or a rustic rabbi. He placed all the prophets, priests and kings of Israel in a subordinate position to Him. "...he ever was, and will be what he now is; he is immutable, the same today, yesterday, and forever; in his nature, love, grace and fullness, he is the invariable and unchangeable I AM." (John Gill, Notes on John 8:58.) No devised category can contain Jesus. He leaves no one in a moral no man's land. A rubicon decision is demanded by Christ, "But who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15)
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