Friday, June 21, 2013

Baruch H' Shem

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Exodus 3:13,14)

 Therefore hear ye the word of the LORD, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith the LORD, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord GOD liveth. (Jeremiah 44:26)

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 RSV)

When Moses asked for the Name of God, the prophet received an answer that was simple and direct: “I AM THAT I AM” (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). The shorter answer soon followed: "I AM" (אֶהְיֶה). By its appearance in the original Hebrew, this seems to be the first person for the name of God most often translated "the LORD" ( יְהוָה)  in all higher case letters, sometimes translated "GOD." That Name has been put into the Latin alphabet as Jehovah or Yahweh, both attempts to find a pronunciation for the Name that ought to be transliterated most accurately as unpronounceable: YHVH (using English rules).  

Throughout the Old Testament the Name of YHVH is spoken often, and used as part of many proper names, such as the name of the prophet Elijah (אֵלִיָּהוּ), whose name means "The LORD is God" (perhaps a name gained because of the events recorded in I Kings 18:38, 39). And yet, after the return of the people of Judah, from seventy years captivity in Babylon, we find that the Jewish people had stopped pronouncing the Name. To this day, when reading the Scripture out loud, the ineffable Name (YHVH, known as the tetragrammaton) is replaced by the Hebrew word Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) , which means "the Lord." The other way, though less commonly used, is to say, H' Shem (ה שֵׁם), which means "the Name." 

The reason for this practice is that the Name is so holy that every precaution is taken to avoid taking it in vain, or even speaking it lightly. Because of this practice, no one knows the exact pronunciation of the ineffable name. This tradition was the common practice in the days of Jesus. When scribes would copy the Torah and the other Scriptures, each pen used to write the Name was destroyed so as never to be used again. 

In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John, Jesus says that He had begun to reveal the name of God in a new way. After calling God "Father," at the beginning of this passage (v.1) known as His High Priestly Prayer, He says, "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word (v.6)." Notice that throughout His ministry, in His teaching as recorded in all four Gospels, Jesus uses the word Father as the Name of God.

But the full revelation of the Name of God comes after His resurrection from the dead, when commanding us to use the Name in the baptismal formula: "...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This can pass over our modern ears a little too carelessly. We need to think in the Jewish terms of His day to catch the full meaning. The likelihood of a Rabbi, which Jesus was, prescribing use of a sacred formula or prayer in Hebrew is high. Yes, Greek was the Lingua Franca of the empire, and Aramaic was the street language of the Jews in the Holy Land. But, this sacred formula most likely was revealed in formal Hebrew, B' Shem (בְּשֵׁם), "In the Name." As such, The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is the more perfectly revealed way to say "in the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה)." 

In the greater glory and more full revelation of the New Covenant, the name of God is best revealed to us, by the risen Christ, as The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is striking to see part of the Septuagint translation from Exodus 3:14 uttered again by Our Lord in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John, verses 5 and 8, and another part of it commonly distributed over the three visible parts of the Cross in Our Lord's cruciform nimbus in ikons.

Equally striking is the combination of the quotation of the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 45:23 and "KURIOS Iesous Christos" in Philippians 2:10-11.

Perhaps I should have expected it, but when first reading the 1559 Institutes I.xiii.13-15 I was pleasantly surprised by Calvin's lucidity with respect to the Tetragrammaton and the Persons of the Trinity.