Open Exodus 6:2-7.
Who governs the affairs of the world? That depends who you trust. Fox News would give you a different answer to China Press, Aljazeera, BBC, or Spiegel.
Truth is, none of the world’s leaders have the kind of control they’d like us to believe. There’s another hand behind history, beyond the best laid plans of mice and men.
Pharaoh was the biggest name in Moses’s world. At least, that’s what Moses thought. Until he learned the name:
Exodus 6:2-3 (NLT)
2 And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh — ‘the Lord.’ 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai — ‘God Almighty’ — but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.
The name God revealed to Moses is written in Hebrew with four letters. In English, it appears as YHWH (or JHVH). The name occurs more than 5000 times in the Old Testament, so why don’t we see it more often?
Our translations use the Lord for this special name. It’s a tradition that dates back before Jesus’ time, when the Scriptures were translated into Greek. It’s not that the translators of the Septuagint disrespected the name by which God had revealed himself to Israel; on the contrary, they thought the name was too holy to give to gentiles.
The New Testament books, written in Greek, continued this tradition of representing YHWH as Lord (kyrios). Today we use Lord in small capitals to indicate the name.
In a previous post, we explained that YHWH is the covenant name revealed at Sinai. YHWH entered into covenant with the nation of Israel. The covenant defined him as their sovereign, with Israel as his people, representing him to the nations. The name was revealed to the covenant people so they could invoke the name when threatened, trusting their faithful ruler to rescue them.
When God established a covenant with the patriarchs, he gave them a name by which they could call on him: God Shaddai. The name YHWH was a new revelation, for the nation founded at Sinai to call on him.
The name is used in Genesis, of course. It was natural for Israel to use this name in telling their story, even if we would consider that anachronistic. Moses received the revelation of the name at Mount Sinai (3:15-18), along with the covenant sign that God would bring his people to this mountain to enter covenant with them (3:12).
Moses is therefore commanded to reveal the name of their sovereign to his people:
Exodus 6:6-7 (ESV)
6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people …
So who is YHWH? He is the God who saves. He explains what it means to be their Saviour:
- I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
- I will deliver you from slavery to them.
- I will redeem you …
These become keywords in the Bible’s narrative. God sets his people free, delivers them, redeems them. He is Saviour.
It won’t do to understand salvation as forgiveness of my personal sins. Our problems run much deeper than individual guilt. We are slaves, born into slavery to evil. We are under the regime of powers in rebellion against God, powers that would kill God’s Son rather than yield to his authority.
In Moses’ world, the Egyptian rulers were the embodiment of those rebellious powers. In Jesus’ world, it was Rome. In our world, the powers are seen wherever people do evil to hold power.
We do need to recognize ways we have acted abusively towards others, but God promises to save us from far more than our personal sins. He promises to emancipate us from the misery of evil rule that dominates the earth, to free us from slavery to these powers, to bring us back under his own rule instead. That’s what the Bible means by salvation.
His goal is far more than removing our personal guilt feelings. His goal is to form us into a world that functions under his authority. He is liberating us from the misery of the present evil rule, so we know what it’s like to live under his reign, as his kingdom:
Exodus 6:7 (ESV)
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
What God did for Israel through Moses, he is now doing for the whole earth through Jesus. That’s why it’s so powerful — and controversial — to name Jesus as Lord.
Every human hope rests that name.