YHWH

Scripture: Exodus 34:1-9

 

Title: YHWH

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • YHWH
  • Moses
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Today we continue our series on Moses in Exodus

  • You may remember that God made a covenant with Israel – a sacred agreement in which they were committed in loyalty to Yahweh
  • Sadly the people were quick to break this commitment by making and worshipping a golden calf
  • But Moses interceded for the people asking God not to destroy them
  • And God listened to Moses
  • This morning’s reading picks up the part in the story where God is renewing the covenant with Israel – giving them a second chance

 

Israel didn’t really appreciate what God was offering them in the covenant

  • But now, through their fall and failure, they learn more deeply the extent of God’s steadfast love for them

 

Today I will be reading from the New Revised Standard Version

  • The words will appear on the wall behind me
  • Exodus chapter 34, verses 1 – 9

 

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain.

 

No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.

 

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6  The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate [merciful] and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

 

And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. He said, “If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

YHWH:

On the wall here we have some text language

  • If you are under the age of 30 then this will probably be easy
  • But if you are over 40 then it might be a bit harder
  • So for those over 40 only – what does BTW mean? [Wait]
  • Yes – that’s right – ‘By The Way’

 

That was an easy one to get you started

  • What about FWIW? [Wait]
  • ‘For What It’s Worth’

 

Okay – one more – BOT [Wait]

  • ‘Back On Topic’

 

You could be forgiven for thinking the title of this morning’s message (on the front page of the newsletter) was text language – YHWH

  • But it’s not – this is God’s name
  • In English it is usually translated simply as LORD, all in capitals
  • But really it is untranslatable
  • We tend to put vowels in to at least make it pronounceable – so it sounds something like ‘Yahweh’
  • In any case there is significant mystery and sacredness in the name

In Exodus 33 Moses had asked to see the Lord’s glory and God had said…

  • I will make my goodness pass before you and will proclaim my name before you …but you cannot see my face… you may see my back.
  • Now in chapter 34 (the passage we read earlier) God does just that

 

6  The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate [merciful] and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…

 

Yahweh is different from the deities of the pagan nations around ancient Israel

  • The gods of the other nations were represented by wooden or metal statues – something the people could see and touch
  • Something that wouldn’t talk back or tell them what to do
  • Something they could control

 

But Yahweh forbids the people to represent Him in this way

  • Instead Yahweh represents Himself with words: poetry is God’s language
  • Words are like seeds – they are powerful and once buried in the soil of our imagination take root, grow and bear fruit in our actions

 

The first characteristic or attribute God reveals about Himself here is that He is compassionate (sometimes also translated merciful)

 

Compassionate and merciful are relatively long words in English

  • The Hebrew root word is quite short – just three letters ‘RHM’
  • As Phyllis Tribble observes, the Hebrew word for ‘compassionate’ or ‘merciful’, when used in relation to Yahweh, is intimately connected to the word for ‘womb’ [1]
  • Compassionate and womb share the same linguistic root

 

A womb is a sacred and holy part of a woman’s body

  • It is where human life grows and is formed in secret
  • A womb is a powerfully creative thing – a place of nourishment and protection for the child
  • And it is cloaked in mystery – science doesn’t yet understand it

 

It’s like God is saying in poetic language…

  • ‘My inner most being is sort of like a womb
  • At my core is mystery, power and creative energy
  • I am like a mother to you Israel, carrying and protecting and nourishing you, bringing you into this world at great pain to myself
  • And like a mother I am compassionate

 

To be compassionate means to receive the other person’s suffering

  • To see their sadness and pain and reach out to accept them so they know they are not alone
  • We don’t have to pretend with God
  • If God asks us how we are we don’t have to say, “I’m fine”, if we are not
  • We can be honest with God – He can handle it

 

Steve Apirana has a song we sometimes sing in church called, Something Beautiful

  • Something beautiful, something good
  • All my confusion, He understood
  • All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
  • But He made something beautiful out of my life

 

This is really a song about God’s compassion

  • God has the power to receive our pain and suffering
  • To take it into Himself and transform it into something beautiful
  • To do something creative with it so that it serves a good purpose
  • Just like when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery
  • God received Joseph’s rejection (his pain & suffering) and used it to save many people, including Joseph’s brothers

 

In the ‘Gospel for Asia’ magazine which came out this month there is an article – a true story of a 2 day old baby girl who was left in a rubbish bin [2]

  • The doctor had said the baby was abnormal and the parents felt so ashamed they threw the child into a dumpster
  • The sister-in-law of the man who had thrown the child away was a Christian. Her name, Pranaya
  • When Pranaya learned that her wee niece had been put out with the rubbish, she went & found the child, reached into the bin & lifted her up
  • Pranaya carried the baby home, named her Jansi and cared for her
  • Even after Pranaya married and had children of her own, she still accepted Jansi in her family

 

Pranaya showed compassion, graciousness & steadfast love – she reached out to accept someone else’s suffering – to carry, nurture, protect and nourish Jansi

  • This is what God did for Israel and it’s what He does for each of us

 

The second word God uses to describe Himself is gracious

  • To be gracious here means that Yahweh acts freely and generously, without need for compensation or hope of benefit
  • God works pro-bono – for free and without agenda
  • God’s graciousness points to His freedom
  • God doesn’t do things for us because He needs something from us
  • God doesn’t need anything – He is able to meet His own needs
  • God does things for us because He wants to and He can

 

That phrase, slow to anger, literally translates from the Hebrew ‘long of nose’ or ‘long nostrils’ – this is Hebrew idiom which is lost on us to some extent

  • Make the snort of anger noise – that’s a snort of anger
  • To say that God has long nostrils means, it takes a long time for the snort of anger to come through God’s nose

 

In today’s English idiom we might say ‘God has a long fuse’

  • Someone with a short fuse is someone with a quick temper – they explode in anger at the smallest thing
  • Someone with a long fuse (like God) is not prone to exploding

 

As we heard last week, anger or wrath is not primary to God

  • It is secondary and temporary
  • If anger is represented by the white ball in a game of pool then the cue which sets the white ball moving is God’s care
  • Like an expert pool player God is in control of His anger

 

We could say that ‘slow to anger’ basically means God is patient

  • He is not pressured or in a hurry – He measures twice and cuts once

 

Steadfast love is mentioned two times by Yahweh in today’s passage – so it is given extra emphasis

  • It translates from the Hebrew word hesed
  • Hesed doesn’t have an exact English equivalent
  • Loyal love or covenant love or steadfast love are generally the best translations
  • Steadfast love (Hesed) is not a romantic feeling which waxes and wanes
  • It is not skinny love
  • Steadfast love has substance – backbone
  • It is an unswerving, unbreakable commitment to someone else’s well-being

 

William Shakespeare was describing something like steadfast love when he wrote…

  • Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;

 

In other words, true love is constant – it does not change with the circumstances

  • Steadfast love goes on loving the other person even when that love is not reciprocated
  • The commitment that Noah shows for Ally in the movie the Note Book is steadfast love
  • The commitment Ruth shows to her mother-in-law Naomi (in the Bible) is also steadfast love

 

Faithfulness is complete trustworthiness and reliability

  • It means Yahweh won’t go back on what He has promised
  • He won’t break His word – His word is truth
  • God does not promise Israel an easy road
  • He promises to go with them – He promises His presence

 

In verse 7 the Lord continues revealing His character saying He is a God who

  • …keeps steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

 

 

Now, at first glance this statement sounds contradictory

  • God is saying He forgives people but then in the same breath He also says He doesn’t clear the guilty
  • So which is it: forgiveness or justice? Grace or punishment?
  • Well, it’s not either / or with God – it’s both / and
  • The steadfast love of God requires Him to exercise both forgiveness and just judgement

 

What we notice is that the judgement – or the just consequence – is limited to 3 or 4 generations, while the steadfast love is unlimited, for 1000’s

  • Wrath is not a continuous aspect of God’s nature
  • Wrath is temporary – a particular response to a historical situation
  • God’s natural inclination, His default setting if you like, is to show steadfast love

But steadfast love does not mean anything goes

  • There is no predictability or inevitability about divine grace
  • We should not presume upon God’s forgiveness
  • We can’t say, ‘Well, I know this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyway because God is my mate, He will forgive me, it’s in His nature.’
  • God is not obligated to forgive us
  • If we are playing Him for fool then He will see through that

 

The Lord is slow to anger and quick to forgive but that doesn’t mean we have immunity from the consequences of our actions

  • For forgiveness to really happen, something has to die
  • Usually it is our pride and wilfulness which needs to die

 

Okay, so hopefully that helps you to understand something of the meaning of Yahweh’s name

  • But really we can only know Yahweh through a relationship with Him
  • We can only know Yahweh’s compassion if we suffer
  • We can only know His graciousness if we have empty hands to receive from Him
  • We can only know His steadfast love & faithfulness if we trust Him through thick & thin
  • We can only know His patience and forgiveness if we admit our failure

 

The other person in this morning’s reading is Moses – let’s take a look at things from his perspective

 

Moses:

Moses has just experienced a revelation of God’s goodness

  • There is something overwhelming about God’s goodness
  • There is a grandeur and a beauty to it (like a mountain range) which both inspires us and makes us feel inadequate at the same time

 

God’s goodness infinitely outweighs our goodness – we become aware that we are unworthy, not equal partners in the relationship

Moses responds by bowing before God in worship

  • Worship is the appropriate response to God’s goodness
  • In bowing we are saying, ‘God, You are the bigger, better person here. How can I possibly stand in Your presence.’

 

Based on Yahweh’s revelation of Himself, Moses goes on to ask three things of the Lord (for the sake of Israel)…

  • Go with us – that’s presence
  • Forgive us – that’s grace
  • And take us as Your inheritance – that’s acceptance
  • Presence, forgiveness and acceptance

 

One interesting thing we observe here is the way Moses identifies himself with the people in their sinfulness

  • Go with us – forgive us – accept us
  • Moses could have said forgive them – but he doesn’t
  • Moses wasn’t part of the golden calf debacle and yet he stands in solidarity with the people – he wears their shame, he carries their cross
  • Remind you of anyone?

 

Forgiveness is the key to Yahweh’s relationship with Israel

  • In order for Yahweh to accept Israel and go with Israel, the Lord will need to be prepared to forgive Israel, for they are a stiff necked people
  • Like a mule that won’t be led by its master Israel will fight God and resist Him each step of the way

 

In verse 10 God answers Moses’ prayer for presence, forgiveness and acceptance by saying: “I hereby make a covenant [with Israel]”

  • Renewal of the covenant is not automatic – Moses must make an admission of guilt on behalf of the people

 

We are not that different to Israel

  • Forgiveness is key to our relationship with God also
  • Without God’s forgiveness we can’t know His presence or acceptance
  • But forgiveness is not automatic – there needs to be an admission of guilt on our part, otherwise it is not an open or honest relationship

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard about the Lord’s name – His character, His values, His nature

 

As the Son of Man, Jesus is like the new Moses – interceding for humanity before God – carrying the cross of our shame – asking for God’s presence, forgiveness and acceptance for us

 

And, as the Son of God, Jesus embodies and personifies Yahweh’s name

  • Jesus shows us God’s compassion and graciousness
  • His patience, steadfast love and faithfulness
  • Most of all though Jesus shows us God’s forgiveness on the cross
  • This is not a forgiveness to be presumed upon or treated lightly
  • This is a forgiveness which calls us first to confession and then to the obedience of faith

 

As a way of responding to the message this morning I would like to lead you in a guided prayer. I invite you to close your eyes as we pray…

 

Imagine you are in the place of Moses

  • You are up the mountain in the cleft of a rock
  • No one else is with you – just God
  • You can’t see God – you can only hear Him

 

God speaks His holy name to you

  • It is not like anything you have heard before and you’re not sure if you could even repeat it

 

God goes on to explain the meaning of His name

  • This is God’s character, His values, His nature

 

The Lord is compassionate – able to handle your deepest hurt and pain

  • He is gracious – giving generously without expectation of return
  • The Lord is patient – unhurried and completely in control of Himself
  • His love is steadfast – like a mountain range – majestic, immense, ancient
  • There is a strength & reliability in His words which both reassures you & makes you feel uneasy at the same time

 

This revelation of God’s goodness inspires your trust

  • But it also reveals your own lack of goodness
  • Your lack of compassion
  • Your lack of graciousness
  • Your lack of patience and self-control
  • The skinniness of your love and the lightness of your words

 

How can you stand in God’s presence – this is not a relationship of equals

 

God finishes talking and gives you opportunity to respond

 

What is it you want to say to Him?

  • What is it you want to ask?
  • Take a moment now to quietly speak to the Lord (in your heart)
  • [Wait]

 

Lord, go with us, forgive us and accept us we pray

  • In Jesus’ name. Amen

[1] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Theology of the Old Testament’, page 216.

[2] Gospel for Asia magazine, November 2015, pages 20-21.

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