God’s First Name: « Yahweh » – Exodus 33:12-34:10

God, in most religions, is a distant God.

The Greek gods were capricious and uncaring gods, unique not because of their character, but because of the supposed power they had. They were unpredictable and unreliable, and used humans for their own selfish purposes.

In Hinduism, you have 300 million gods that are all absorbed into the ultimate divine, the Brahman, which is a mysterious and impersonal oneness. So you have the divine found everywhere and nowhere in the same time.

On Islam, Al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent theologians in the history of the religion, asserted:

« The end result of the knowledge of the `arifin is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him. »

Another contemporary scholar wrote:

“He [Allah] does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will.”

In Roman Catholicism, God is difficult to access, and in order to go to him one must have additional mediators, like the dead saints, and Mary, and the priests, and the Pope. And if you fail to fulfill your sacraments and good works, you may lose God’s favor at any time.

In Judaism, God is also distant. In fact, when you look at rabbinical writings, you see a god that is transcendent and even impersonal.  The god of Judaism is so distant, that even his personal name cannot be mentioned, but must be only referred to with substitutes.

Maybe you have heard that they did so by fear of blaspheming God. That might be part of the truth. The rabbis did not only do this with God’ personal name, Yahweh, they also did this with every manifestation of God which used anthropomorphic language, or in other words, that described God in human terms, or in an approachable way. The arm of God, his ears, His eyes, His voice…the rabbis did not like these terms. And they did the same thing with God’s glory. God’s glory, his Hebrew kabod, which means “weight” and is associated with one’s weighty reputation, became transformed as the “Shekinah,” a term which progressively became more and more distant from God’s character and more and more associated with an esoteric sort of beaming light.

And so you have one of their rabbis write concerning heaven:

“they sit with their crowns on their heads and are refreshed by the radiance of the Shekinah.”

Is this how you picture heaven? You just sit around and contemplate a superior power in a sort of passive trance? “Wow dude, I went to heaven, it was like a 4D movie! And I even got a tan!” This is what heaven becomes when your God is a distant and impersonal one.

Is God distant? Sadly, for many, yes. But this has never been what He desires. In fact, tonight, I want us to look at God’s revelation of His first name, His personal name, Yahweh, so that we can be reminded of how personal our God is. For those who truly know God through His salvation, God is not distant. On the contrary He is present, He sees everyone of our needs and cares deeply. His desire is to have a deep and vibrant relationship with each one of us.

So as we turn to the book of Exodus, we will look at 3 aspects of Yahweh’s approachability, so that we can rejoice in the truth that Yahweh is a personal God.

I invite you to turn to Exodus, and we will study from chapters 33:12-34:10, where we see a passage where Yahweh reveals His name a second time to Moses.

But before we get there, let’s just recall a little bit of what is going on. Let’s try to understand what it felt like to be in Moses’ sandals. Remember, 40 years before Sinai, Moses had killed an Egyptian to deliver an Israelite, because, as Stephen explains in Acts 7, he already had a conviction that the salvation of Israel would be accomplished by his hand. But then Moses as to flee and goes in the wilderness for 40 years. That’s close to 15,000 days to remember his people. To remember their suffering. To remember his failure to save them. And yet somewhere inside of him, he knew that it wasn’t over. God had plans, big plans. And then the burning bush comes. God reveals Himself as Yahweh, “I am who I am,” the ever-present God, the mighty God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who remembers His covenant and who comes to deliver. And so Moses goes to Egypt, with the staff of God in his hands, setting the people free through plagues and wonders and miracles. And the people go. And not only they go, but the God who delivered them reveals his desire to be in a covenant with them, to be with them forever. This amazing and personal God, all-powerful, caring and loving, desires to extend His relationship to Israel to make them his own people, and to bless them ever-increasingly. And so He gives them His perfect Law, His commandments, and the plans for His tabernacle, a dwelling place for Him in the midst of the people. And everything is just falling into place. Moses, the deliverer of Israel, is now ready to lead His people into the Promised Land, in the very presence of Yahweh.

And then comes chapter 32. And Israel makes a Golden Calf. And they break Yahweh’s covenant. In one day, the entire people of Israel alienate themselves from God. And so God tell Moses: “Depart from here, you and your stiff-necked people, and I will give you the Promised Land like I told your ancestors. I will give you the milk and the honey and the military success. But, I am no longer going with you. I’ll give you everything, but I’m not going. I’ll send an angel.”

I. Yahweh Delights in Revelation

And we come to our text, where Yahweh is about to reveal again His name and the depth of its significance to a confused Moses. Let’s read the first part, from 33:12-23.

Exod 33:12  Moses said to YAHWEH, « See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’

Exod 33:13  Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people. »

Exod 33:14  And he said, « My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. »

Exod 33:15  And he said to him, « If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.

Exod 33:16  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth? »

Exod 33:17  And YAHWEH said to Moses, « This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name. »

Exod 33:18  Moses said, « Please show me your glory. »

Exod 33:19  And he said, « I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘YAHWEH.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Exod 33:20  But, » he said, « you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. »

Exod 33:21  And YAHWEH said, « Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,

Exod 33:22  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

Exod 33:23  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen. »

Obviously there would be much, much more to say on this passage, but here comes our first point: Yahweh is personal because Yahweh delights in revelation. Yahweh delights in revelation.  Yahweh delights in the revelation of Himself. He delights in making Himself known to men.

And for this, He takes the initiative. He took initiative in the burning bush, and here again in the beginning of chapter 33:1, it is Yahweh who initiatives the conversation with Moses. Why? Because He delights in revealing His plans and His character to men. In the Old Testament you have close to 4000 passages which begin with phrases such as “Thus says the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to…” this or that prophet or “Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying.” Yahweh delights in revealing who He is.

In this passage, as the result of the dialogue initiated by God, we see 2 pleas from Moses for more revelation. The first one, in verse 13, “Show me now your ways!” and then the second one in verse 18, “Show me your glory!”

Now, in most religions, Moses would probably have received an answer like this: “Well, Moshe, you might be my prophet and stuff, but thinking about it, I don’t really want you to know who I am. I like being mysterious. I like it when people have to think really deeply to try to figure me out, because, you see, I am just that great.”

But here we see quite the opposite. God goes out of His way to make Himself known. A normal appearance of Himself in His glorious attire would kill people. But yet God informs Moses that in spite of this, He would pass by and proclaim the name of Yahweh and its significance to him: that of a good God showing grace and mercy.

Now Moses’ plea was not a shy one. Moses wanted to see Yahweh’s very glory. He wanted to see as much as possible of His God. He wanted to see God at His best, so to speak. He wanted a confirmation and a blessing, just like Jacob had fought for with the Angel of the Lord. “God! I am not moving until you bless me!”

And the reason why Moses was so determined is because He knew first that God was knowable, and secondly, that this knowledge was superior to anything on earth. He had renounced the riches of Egypt and he wasn’t going to fall for it again. Now, even though God was promising him the Promised Land and the milk and honey and success and all, it would have been worthless for Moses if God was not with Him. He wanted the Giver, not the gift.

You can hear his plea: “Yahweh! I know your name is great, and yet I know there is so much more to discover about you! Give me more!”

And so God gives Him more. Yahweh comes down and reveals Himself through His Word. He speaks to Moses. He gives Him the Ten Commandments, literally the “ten words.” He gives him instruction, and continues the dialogue. He gives Moses a description of His character and of His works, so that He can be recognized. God loves to make Himself known and to so in a personal way. In Exodus 33:11 we read, “Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with a friend.”

And when Moses is done and comes back to the camp, his face is shining, not because he saw a mysterious light or entered the cloud or fell into trance. No, we read in Exodus 34:29

Exo 34:29  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

The glory that Moses reflected came because he had been exposed to the living Word of God.

Now I love the image that God gives us in this passage. Just as He had manifested His glory in a veiled way to Moses, so Moses reflects God’s glory in a veiled way. But let me ask you. Do you think that because Moses had a veil, no one could know who he was? Of course not. All he had to do was to open his mouth and lead as He usually did. And it’s the same with God. You might not see His face, but through His Word and through His deeds, you can know Him. And whatever details you are missing should not prevent you to know Him well and deeply.

You want to know how much Yahweh cares to be known? Well, look at how big His book is.

But as we will see in each one of our key points today, there is also a certain condition of the heart that is necessary for us to enjoy God in a deep and personal relationship. Like Moses, if we want to know God, we must be eager in our heart.

Moses say God’s glory, because He was consumed with a burning burden to see it, and he pursued the Lord. Moses did not just get up in the morning saying, “Well, Yahweh, if you show me your glory today, that would be nice, but whatever.” Just as Paul was “pressing on to know Christ” so was Moses running to gain more knowledge of His God.

If you want to know Yahweh and the fullness of His glory, if you want to grow to know this amazing God who not only can divide in two an entire sea just as easily as a bar of warm butter, but who deeply cares, then you must be eager. You must have that kind of living faith. You must pray like Moses: “Yahweh! I know you give grace! I know this is who you are. Don’t allow me to read Your Word without Your blessing. Don’t allow me to participate in Your holy church without growing and getting closer to you. Show me Your glory! I am not moving until you bless me. I am not giving up until you answer me. I’ve seen your hand at work and your deliverance, and I know you can give me victory. Show me your glory! Give me your best! I will not be satisfied with anything but your very presence!”

And this comes with a cost too. If Moses had said to God: “Great, send your angel!” He would have gone straight to the Promised Land. But instead God came, and because there was sin in the camp, which conflicted with His holiness, and Moses ended living another 15,000 days in the wilderness, and he never made it to Disneyland.

But was it worth it? I hope each one of us would trade in a heartbeat all the pleasures of this world for a desert if that were the place where God was to be found.

The glory of God is where God is. For God to be glorious is nothing else but to reveal Himself. And for us, to live for His glory is nothing more than to make Him known, and to do so eagerly. That is the blessing and the honor and the responsibility of those who know Yahweh.

II. Yahweh Delights in Redemption

So first we saw that Yahweh is personal in that He delights in Revelation. He does. He loves making Himself known. Secondly, Yahweh is personal because He delights in Redemption. That is what we see in chapter 34:1-7.

Exod 34:1 YAHWEH said to Moses, « Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

Exod 34:2  Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.

Exod 34:3  No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain. »

Exod 34:4  So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as YAHWEH had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.

Exod 34:5  YAHWEH descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of YAHWEH.

Exod 34:6  YAHWEH passed before him and proclaimed, «  YAHWEH, YAHWEH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

Exod 34:7  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. »

So after some dialogue, Yahweh comes down, and speaks to Moses. And in these few verses, the name of Yahweh is mentioned 7 times, even His very own mouth. And what do we see? A God committed to Redemption. Everything in this passage is aimed towards sinners in need of divine grace.

And as we look at God’s description of Himself, you will see that every attribute is personal, purposeful, relational and aimed towards people, especially sinners.

Again, we must understand the context. When Moses is speaking to God, Israel had just been caught in sin. Their covenant with God had been broken and without renewal would have been terminated. And as God reveals His name, He does so to a needy people, a people in need of salvation; a people in need of Redemption.

And so He says:

Exod 34:6  YAHWEH passed before him and proclaimed, «  YAHWEH, YAHWEH, a God merciful [a word which speaks of a loving compassion and readiness to relieve those in need] and gracious [which speaks of His affection and undeserved favor towards His chosen people], slow to anger [God’s slowness to anger is also a reflection of His intention to deal patiently with sinners, wishing for them repentance and salvation], and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness [ “steadfast love” speaks of the constant and reliable kindness, something often connected to His covenants.  Paired with His faithfulness, God’s steadfast love is unshakable and unbreakable]

Exod 34:7  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. »

Everything in this passage speaks of God’s desire to save sinners. And ultimately, as we see in verse 7, it is accomplished by the forgiveness of sin and by the destruction of sinners. Not only God saves His people by taking away their sins, but He also saves them by protecting them from sinners and by punishing them. No one desires a heaven full of unrepentant sinners, and in consequence, as the ultimate Savior, God saves the world and His chosen ones through judgment. The Lamb of God, in the book of Revelation, is not only the Savior who was slain, but also the only one worthy of opening the scroll of God’s final judgment. Because Yahweh cares not only about temporal salvation, but eternal salvation, and He desires that those that He redeems gain a hope that cannot be broken.

But when you look at this list, you just see the heart of God that is desperately reaching out to sinners. Yes, Yahweh is God’s personal name, and Yahweh takes sin very personally.

Do you want to know Yahweh? You want to know Him fully? Confess your sin, and see how awesome He is to forgive and to cleanse you and to accept you and to renew you! Do you want to know Yahweh in a more personal way? Remember how much of a sinner you are!

If you don’t want to know Yahweh, then by prideful, harden your heart, and pretend like you never sin!

But let me tell you. You will never understand the depth of God’ grace until you understand the depth of your sin. You will never understand the greatness of God’s faithfulness until you realize the greatness of your failures to Him. You will never understand the peace that He gives, until you practice faithful repentance and turning away from sin.

I tell you: one of the main reasons why our churches have lost our touch on God’s greatness is because we fail to see our sin. We are so passive to deal with our sins and our pride and our love for this world and our complacency and our lack of prayer and fasting, we never quite understand how much God is willing to help us and to reveal is unsurpassed glory in our deliverance.

Do you know Yahweh? Then know that you are a sinner that found the unmatched Savior! And tell someone about it!

We fall short of arguments when we try to lead people to Christ, because we fail to realize the simplicity of what the gospel is all about. Walk daily to the cross, and you will see, other sinners will follow you.

And let me tell you. There is nothing more important to do in this life, but to turn away from our sin and to lead others to do the same. Yahweh delights in salvation. There is nothing that can reveal more of the character of God in our generation than His ability to save sinners. You want to know God more? Work on the Great Commission. There is reason why the greatest vision of all times is paired with God’s desire for salvation. Start in Jerusalem, then go to Judah, to Samaria, and to the rest of the world. Think about branching out of your comfort zone, see how you can impact more and more people, and see if Yahweh does not reveal Himself more to you!

III. Yahweh Delights in Relationships

First, we saw that Yahweh delights in Revelation. Secondly, Yahweh delights in Redemption. Thirdly, Yahweh delights in Relationships. And all of these things work together progressively. You can’t have a relationship with God without Redemption, and you can’t find Redemption without Revelation.

Often when we describe the name of Yahweh, the “I AM,” we strictly associate it with the fact that God does not change. He is the I AM, the one who is always present, self-existing and self-sufficient. But there is much more to the equation. See, when Yahweh says I AM, He says it in relation to people. “I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Now, as Jesus explained in the New Testament, God is the God of the living, and not of the dead. When God says “I AM the God of Abraham” it means: “today, as we speak, I am still the God of Abraham. We are still in a relationship. Although he died in this world, death did not separate us. I was too committed to him. There are none to break my promises!”

Exod 34:8  And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

Exod 34:9  And he said, « If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance. »

Exod 34:10  And he said, « Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of YAHWEH, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Again, we are just doing a quick overview of the text. But here we see introduced the main point of the rest of chapter 34. God renews His covenant with Israel. After He manifests Himself to Moses and proclaims His longing for salvation, He now takes concrete action to enable a sinful people to be in fellowship with Him.

This is how committed God is to His relationships. He delights in relationships, He this is why He saves, so that we can be in such a relationship.

Moses’ cries out to God to come in the midst of Israel, and God responds by making a covenant, telling them: “Yes, I am coming. And I will make an awesome covenant with you. And you must know something. If you are in a relationship with me, I will rock your world. I will show you things unheard of. I will amaze you, I will make you wonder, I will astonish you, I will make you dream. And I will do it with you.”

I like that last clause “with you.” God’s plans were never to just put a show for people to passively be entertained. No, when you know Yahweh, and you have a personal relationship with Him, you become part of the show. You become part of the wonders and the awesomeness of His outreached arm.

The fact that Yahweh is glorious and holy and like no other does set Him apart. The glory does indeed belong to Him and He will not give it to another. But Yahweh is not a selfish God or a distant God. His greatest joy is to see His very glory reflected by those that He loves. And that is why He dwelt in the midst of His people and why He now dwells within His saints with His Holy Spirit.

Yahweh believes in relationships because He is committed to love and care and bless and only through a relationship can the constant flow of His goodness pour out!

But again, there is a certain condition that is necessary. To be blessed by God’s revelation, one needs an eager heart. To be blessed by His redemption, one needs a repentant heart. To be blessed by God’s relationship, one needs a worshipping heart.

Moses had a vibrant personal relationship with Yahweh, and he worshipped Him. But what is even more revealing, is that if you look at the rest of chapter 34, you see God’s instructions that follow His covenant, and all of it revolves around the worship of His name by the people. God was committed to be in a relationship with His people, and because this would involve their worship, He organized their entire calendar around the worship of His name. If His presence and His grace were to be with His people all year-round, then the worship of His name was also to be expected all year-round.

Worship means commitment and devotion. And it is so only because it is the back-side of God’s own commitment to His relationship with us. Yahweh is more committed to you that you will ever be to Him. Listen, Yahweh is so committed in His relationships, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:38-39). Amen!

Yahweh is not an object. He is a subject. He is One with whom we can have a rich, growing, and wonderful personal relationship, if we are willing to worship Him in a rich, growing, and wonderful manner.

IV. Conclusion

But there is one more thing we need to remember. It is the cloud. In the New Testament, John writes that no one has ever seen God, except the Son Jesus Christ. Now, who do you think was in the cloud? The same who will come back in the cloud. Jesus Christ. Every manifestation of God in the Old Testament was a manifestation of a Person of the Trinity.

1Cor 10:1 For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

1Cor 10:2  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

1Cor 10:3  and all ate the same spiritual food,

1Cor 10:4  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Jesus Christ is Yahweh. He was in the burning bush in the appearance of the Angel of the Lord, and was in the cloud, and has promised us to be present and close to us every day until the end of the age.

Yahweh delights in Revelation, and in Jesus Christ, we received the most perfect revelation of God, the living Word.

Yahweh delights in Redemption, and in Jesus Christ, we have received the perfect atonement for our sins, so that we could be forever forgiven.

Yahweh delights in Relationships, and in Jesus Christ, we have a brother, a friend and a Savior that is ever near, ever present, and who is more committed to us than anyone else on this earth. Even now as I speak He is praying for each one of you.

So here is a very simple question. Do you love Jesus Christ? Are you eager for Him? Are you quick to repent from the sins that prevent you from having a deep fellowship with Him? Do you delight in the worship of His name, and in the fulfilling of His Great Commission?

If you had to grade your relationship with Christ, what grade would you give yourself?

Jesus Christ is worth it. Before the world was created, God the Father had no one else but His Son, with the Holy Spirit, to love and to be satisfied. Because Christ was so worthy, nothing else was necessary. God didn’t need to create us. He had everything He needed in His Son, and in the Spirit. But He did, out of love for His Son, so that we also would love Him and make ourselves ready as a Bride to be given to Him. That is why we exist, nothing else matters, but to be holy and to help others to be holy through salvation and sanctification, until His return.

Hos 6:3  Let us know; let us press on to know YAHWEH; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth. »

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