Volume 13, Issue 6: Stauron
Parsing God\'s Name
Sh'ma, Yisrael: YHWH Elohenu YHWH ekhad.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.
. . . in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one.
The ancient Hebrew confession of faithknown as the Shemadeclares that Jehovah is one. The word used for "one" can be employed in a variety of ways. But among its very first uses in Scripture, husband and wife are declared by God to be "one flesh."1 The context gives the meaning of unity in plurality, as opposed to individuality. And so we often find theologians citing the Shema as one of the Old Testament allusions to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Of course the book of Deuteronomy explains God's law to Israel. But more importantly, the
book reveals His attributes. He alone is supreme ruler, God of heaven and earth (4:39). He is a jealous God (4:24; 6:15 cf. Ex. 34:14) who rises up in angry wrath against sin (6:15; 29:23). He is loving (7:7 cf. 1 Jn. 4:8), merciful and faithful (7:9). Yet He is also righteous and just (32:4).
These last two traits are found in the opening lines of the Song of Moses. And there we are explicitly told that this is instructive of God's name. The song begins: "Give ear, O ye heavens . . . Hear, O earth . . .because I will publish the name of the Lord." Moses' song repeats several of the previously mentioned attributes of God and in addition shows us His greatness, perfection, Fatherhood, and tenderness. He is the God of truth, the Most High, One who avenges wickedness (v. 35), yet a Judge with compassion, whose mercy will cause even the Gentiles to rejoice.
Paul's Epistle to the Romans instructs that Christ became a servant for the truth and mercy of God, and then quotes the Song of Moses.2 Indeed, the conclusion of Moses' songthe song that set out to publish God's namedeclares: "He will provide
atonement for His land and His people." But far from being a fragmented list of disparate traits awkwardly capped by a statement of salvation, God's name is here shown as a unity in plurality. As Zechariah informs, "His name is one." And this mystery culminates in the revelation of the atonementthe salvation He wrought for His people.
Over the centuries, many theologians have parsed God's name and then distilled the many elements, the many infinite facets of that name, down to what they feel is the real meat of the discussion. Some have emphasized His justice; others His holiness, honor, wrath, power, and mercy; fewer speak of His love; others emphasize
only His love. But these are not irreconcilable contradictions. They comprise a partial listing of equally infinite aspects of His infinite character. And anytime a partial truth is represented as the complete truth, there is a doctrinal problemnot unlike the ancient Jain Parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant.3
Like Moses, the psalmist links the atonement of God to His name: "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins,
for Your name's sake!"4 God's name was revealed to Moses in the context of their deliverance from Egypt, their salvation, their atonement. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had known Him primarily as God Almighty, not as Jehovah.5 Moses had asked God to show him His ways that he might know Him.6 God's response was that He would make all His goodness pass before Moses, and proclaim the name of the Lord before him.7 God commanded Moses to take two tablets and see Him in the morning.
Early the next morning, God met Moses up on Mount Sinai, placed him into the cleft of the rock, and covered him with His hand until He had passed by in a cloud. God then revealed His name, proclaiming: "Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers uponthe children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to thefourth generation."8
One historic event speaks the Name. All facets of the Name find their nexus in the good news of our salvation at Calvary. Jehovah God first published His covenant name in conjunction with the deliverance of His people from bondage. When Jesus was born, we are told that the reason for His name was because "He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus came to make known the Father's name "And I made known to them Your name, and will make it known" (Jn. 17:26).
No one passage of Scripture provides an exhaustive list of all God's attributes, the glories of His name. He gave us sixty-six booksand His Sonto teach us that.