The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7
Have you noticed there are certain times when the term LORD is in all caps in your Bible? Read through Exodus 34:6-7 again. “The LORD, the LORD” – it’s capitalized two times in a row. Why would the Bible do that? Sometimes when we write an angry email, we put it in all caps just to let the reader know we’re angry. Is that what’s going on in these cases? Is God angry?
No, it’s actually something far more significant and beautiful. When we read the word Lord, we view it as a title. The “Lord of the Manor” was someone who had control over the house. But when the scriptures capitalize LORD, they want us to know they are NOT referring to a title. The scholars who worked on the translation want us to know that they’re translating the word ‘Yahweh,’ which isn’t a title; it’s a name.
Which begs the question, why does God need a name? Isn’t ‘God’ good enough? There are a few reasons God needs a name. First, he’s personal. I don’t refer to my wife as “wife,” I call her “Kelly.” We have a relationship and calling her by her title just doesn’t quite feel right – it lacks intimacy and is impersonal. Secondly, in ancient times, the term ‘god’ (Elohim), was a generic term because there were innumerable Elohim. That’s why when God sends Moses to Pharaoh, he says, “Who should I say sent me?” Notice God doesn’t reply, “Tell him God (Elohim) sent you.” Why? Because Pharaoh’s follow up question would have been, “Which god?” So God says, “Tell him I AM (Yahweh) sent you.” God needs a name because there were other spiritual beings who also used the title ‘god.’
When Yahweh appeared to Moses and told him his name in Exodus 34:6-7, he goes one step further; he tells him what he is like. Yahweh gives Moses a brief but complete picture of his character. Yahweh is merciful and gracious, he’s loving and faithful, he’s forgiving and just. A God who was compassionate and slow to anger was a unique vision of God in the ancient world. The gods of Egypt were to be appeased, feared, and kept at an arm’s length. The best thing most ancient people could hope for from the gods was that they’d leave them alone. Yahweh was telling Moses that he was completely different – in the best of possible ways.
When Jesus steps onto the scene, he completely embodies everything Yahweh told Moses was true about his nature. Read through this passage again and meditate on the character traits again today. Try to get a picture of that God in your mind. Are there any ways that view of God conflicts with the picture of God in your mind?
As a side note, if you’re looking for a book on this subject, God Has a Name by John Mark Comer is excellent!
By Ryan Paulson