What’s In A Name?
We probably take our names for granted. Everyone has a name and if you ever encountered someone without a name, you would probably think it rather odd.
Why is that?
Well, because everyone has a name and our names—whether we think about it much or not—have significance. They define us in some ways. And in many other ways we give definition to our names.
In the ancient world, people had names, obviously. But, people might have had many names. As you go through your life, certain accomplishments or other circumstances might result in your getting a second or third name. Like in the New Testament, Simon was called Peter and Paul was also called Saul.
Places had names, and the same is true; a place might have multiple names given to it by different people in different times.
And not just people and places, but in the ancient world gods, angels, and other divine beings had names as well. Many gods are named throughout the Bible.
- Amon, a god of Egypt.
- Asherah, a Canaanite goddess who was the wife of their chief god, El.
- Ashteroth, a Canaanite goddess of fertility.
- Baal, a Canaanite and Phoenician god of rain and fertility.
- Chemosh, the chief god of the Moabites.
- Dagon, a god of Babylon and Philistia.
- Molech, the chief god of Ammon.
- Tammuz, the fertility god of Babylon.
- Zeus, Hermes, Artemis, Castor, and Pollux, all gods of the ancient Greeks.
These gods are all mentioned by name in the scriptures in various places, and yet, the God of the Bible, the one true God, his name appears nowhere.
Or does it?
Well, it doesn’t in most Bible translations, but it does in the original Hebrew.
I think the translators of the Bible and the scribes who preserved the scriptures in ancient times have done a great disservice to the name of God. In most of your Bibles, the name of God appears as the word Lord, but in all caps. That comes from an ancient tradition dating back to at least the third century BC, where people came to believe that to speak the name of God was to take the Lord’s name in vain. And then they believed that if they couldn’t speak it, then maybe they should not write it either. And now we’ve preserved that good-intentioned, yet ill-conceived tradition for over 2000 years.
We’re so detached at this point that most Christians probably believe God’s name is God or Lord. But, it’s not. His name is Yahweh and since we are talking about the name of God this morning, I will use the proper name of God in all of our readings so that you can see the purpose of the name of God in the scriptures.
On a side note, some of you may have heard that the name of God is actually Jehovah. That again falls under good-intentioned, yet ill-conceived tradition. The ancient Jews would write the name Yahweh, but swap out the vowels with the vowels from elohim, which is a general term for a god or divine being in the Hebrew Old Testament. And then when you try to read that word with a modern English accent it comes out something like Jehovah. But, again, it’s just an attempt not to write or say the name of God.
God’s name is Yahweh and if you follow that everywhere it says Lord in all cap it is Yahweh, God’s name, then you have already realized that God’s name appears all over the Old Testament. So, let’s look at the Name in the OT.
Exodus 3:1-6 reads,
Exodus 3:1–6 (CSB) — Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. So Moses thought, “I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” When Yahweh saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Do not come closer,” he said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Now, let me make a couple observations about this story.
- First, notice that there are three characters mentioned—Moses, Yahweh and Yahweh’s angel. You can see that Yahweh and Yahweh’s angel are not the same figure because it clearly says that the angel of Yahweh is in the burning bush, but Yahweh is observing the bush. It says, ‘When Yahweh saw that he had gone over to look…’ referring to the bush.
- Second, the story refers to Yahweh as God, ‘When Yahweh saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him.’
- And third, the story refers to Yahweh’s angel as God, as Moses seemed to believe that to look at Yahweh’s angel was to look at God. Moses went over to the bush, talked with Yahweh, and then, ‘Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.’
We see this paradigm all over the Old Testament, where there is some confusion about different ways that God appears. In countless narratives, we see this situation where the voice of Yahweh takes on a distinctly different character than the physical form of Yahweh. In this story, the physical form of Yahweh is named ‘the Angel of Yahweh,’ but not in every story. Sometimes he is just referred to as Yahweh.
This is what the Jewish theologians of the ancient times called, the Two Yahweh’s. Contemporary Judaism has classified this doctrine as heresy, but as Christians, it’s part of the foundational theology of the doctrine we call the trinity, and so it’s important that we see it play out, even in the Old Testament.
There is Yahweh, the mind and voice of God. And there is the Angel of Yahweh, a designation that here refers to the physical form of God.
Look at the Angel of Yahweh in Exodus 23. Yahweh said,
Exodus 23:20–23 (CSB) — “I am going to send an angel before you to protect you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to him. Do not defy him, because he will not forgive your acts of rebellion, for my name is in him. But if you will carefully obey him and do everything I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. For my angel will go before you and bring you to the land of the Amorites, Hethites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
So, here we have Yahweh referring to, ‘My Angel.’ Notice what this angel is able to do.
- The angel is able to forgive sins. In this case, the angel, Yahweh says, will not forgive them if they rebel against Yahweh. But, it’s pretty clear that the angel could if he wanted to, otherwise Yahweh would have said, ‘I will not forgive your acts of rebellion.’
- The angel forgives and withholds forgiveness. And the angel is to be obeyed. Notice that to obey the angel is synonymous with doing everything that Yahweh says. They are one in the same.
- Now why, you might ask, is this angel so significant? Why can he forgive sins and why should they be obeyed? Well, it is because, Yahweh says, ‘My name is in him.’ Remember the commandment, ‘Do not take Yahweh’s name in vain.’ There’s power in names and we should not use the Name lightly. Names signify authority. Yahweh’s name is the name that is above all other names—it is the supreme name that defines Yahweh’s authority above all other authorities—all kings and rulers of this age and all powers and principalities in the heavenly places. And that name—Yahweh—is in the angel. In other words, the full, magnificent authority of Yahweh is in the angel of Yahweh.
So, again, we see a physical angel show up with the full power of Yahweh, but there is a separate character speaking, who is Yahweh. And although there are two distinct personas, they both have the same ultimate power and authority.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is writing about Israel being delivered into the Promised Land by the Angel of Yahweh. We read,
Deuteronomy 4:37–38 (CSB) — Because [Yahweh] loved your fathers, he chose their descendants after them and brought you out of Egypt by his presence and great power, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you in and give you their land as an inheritance, as is now taking place.
Notice it is Yahweh who loved the fathers of Israel, but it was the presence of Yahweh that delivered the Israelites. This is one of the clues into the thinking of the ancient Hebrew person. There is transcendent Yahweh, the uncreated God who exists in the heavenly places, and then there is the presence of God, or the physical God who they called the angel of Yahweh.
So, for instance, if you go to Judges 6 there are some fascinating things going on. Let’s read it.
Judges 6:11–23 (CSB) — The angel of Yahweh came, and he sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the angel of Yahweh appeared to him and said: “Yahweh is with you, valiant warrior.” Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if Yahweh is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t Yahweh brought us out of Egypt?’ But now Yahweh has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” Yahweh turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the grasp of Midian. I am sending you!” He said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s family.” “But I will be with you,” Yahweh said to him. “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.” Then he said to him, “If I have found favor with you, give me a sign that you are speaking with me. Please do not leave this place until I return to you. Let me bring my gift and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.” So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from a half bushel of flour. He placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. He brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat with the unleavened bread, put it on this stone, and pour the broth on it.” So he did that. The angel of Yahweh extended the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of Yahweh vanished from his sight. When Gideon realized that he was the angel of Yahweh, he said, “Oh no, Yahweh God! I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!” But Yahweh said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
So, remember, I’m teaching that the angel of Yahweh is Yahweh in human form. Notice the story began with the angel of Yahweh, but then as the angel and Gideon are having a conversation about Yahweh and Israel, it says, ‘Yahweh turned to him…’ Turning is something the a physical being does. The author of the book just can’t help pepper this in, that the angel of Yahweh is in fact Yahweh Himself.
And Gideon knew that because when he realized that he was talking to the angel of Yahweh, he was fearful that He would die because he had seen the angel of Yahweh face to face! We see this paradigm show up in many places in scripture. To see the face of Yahweh is to invite death. Seeing angels doesn’t kill you. Seeing God’s face when you are wrought with sin and impurity kills you. To Gideon, seeing the face of this angel of Yahweh was to see the face of the Almighty God.
And a final observation. Notice the intentional ambiguity between the characters. The angel of Yahweh disappears, but then Yahweh continues to speak to Gideon.
Now, some people have taken this in the wrong direction. They have said, well if Yahweh and the angel of Yahweh are the same charachter, then Yahweh is just another angel. But that’s not the teaching of the scriptures.
The scriptures clearly teach that Yahweh, God, is eternal and existed before all things and that angels are created beings. The explicit parallel of ‘Yahweh’ and ‘Angel,’ does not imply that Yahweh is an angel. Rather, it affirms that this particular Angel is, himself, Yahweh—the ultimate authority of the universe, by whom all things were created and for whom all things were created.
Now, this whole image of the two Yahweh’s that is painted in the Old Testament should inspire you to think about the way that God is talked about in the New Testament, especially as we talk about Jesus and The Name of God.
The NT uses different words than the OT to explain the relationship of the two Yahweh figures. The OT calls them both Yahweh to emphasize their singleness. But, the NT uses terms to emphasize their uniqueness in spite of their unity. Those terms are Father and Son. Or you might say, Father and Jesus, who is God’s son.
Notice here, Jude, in the New Testament, credits Jesus with delivering the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, which, as we talked about earlier, Moses attributed to the Angel of Yahweh. Jude writes,
Jude 5 (CSB) — Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe.
Who is the angel of Yahweh, who is the presence of Yahweh in this world?
Jesus. The answer is Jesus. To the New Testament writer, everywhere that Yahweh showed up in physical form in the Old Testament, that was Jesus.
John 1:1–4. 14 (CSB) — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus is the Word of God who existed with the Father before creation. It is through Jesus that all things were created. Jesus was the light that came to illuminate the void and desolate planet in Genesis 1 and Jesus is the one who breathed life into Adam in the creation story. Jesus is the word or the mind of God, present in human flesh to carry out the purposes of God in this world.
Remember, the ancient Jews didn’t want to speak or write the name of Yahweh for fear that they would be breaking God’s commandment not to take Yahweh’s name in vain. So, many times they simply refer to God as hashem, which is a Hebrew word that means, ‘the name.’ I really don’t have time to get into all that could be said about the name in the New Testament, but notice Acts 5. The apostles had been beaten for telling people about Jesus.
Acts 5:41 (CSB) — Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name.
In other words, to preach about Jesus was the same EXACT thing to them as speaking to people about Yahweh of the Old Testament.
The name, Yahweh, was the name that caused Gideon to fear for his life when he realized that he had been speaking face to face with Yahweh. The name is powerful. That’s why the Apostle Paul said,
Philippians 2:10 (CSB) — At the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
You see, as we said in the beginning, there are some senses in which names define us. But, really, we give definition to our names. And so it doesn’t matter whether the name is Yahweh or Jesus. Here in the New Testament the hashem is no longer Yahweh, because the ultimate power and authority of the creator God is not in a name, but in the one who bears the name, and today that’s Jesus.
So many times in the New Testament, we read phrases like, ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus.’
Try to think like a 1st century Jew. That statement means something like, ‘In the Almighty name of Yahweh, who is Jesus.’ The name has changed but the power remains the same. It’s like…
- Simon who is called Peter.
- Paul who is also known as Saul.
- Yahweh who is also Jesus.
Paul wrote, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth—”
Philippians 2:11 (CSB) — and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
To the Jewish reader, this communicated, ‘and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, to the glory of God the Father.’
When you read Lord Jesus in the New Testament, you must read him as the Lord God of the Old Testament, because the biblical writers saw them as the exact same figures.
When Jesus said to the Pharisees,
Luke 6:46 (CSB) — Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?
…Jesus was identifying himself with the Hebrew terms adonai Yahweh, from the Old Testament, which frequently show up as Lord GOD, with God in all caps. Adonai is the general term for lord, like lord of the house. And Yahweh is the Lord of Lords, the supreme ruler of the universe. And Jesus claimed that title Lord Lord, Adonai Yahweh, for Himself.
Revelation 15, seven angels sing the song of Moses which in Deuteronomy 32 is about Yahweh, but here they sing this song about Jesus.
Revelation 15:3–4 (CSB) — They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts have been revealed.
And we get this metaphorical description of Jesus when he returns,
Revelation 19:11–16 (CSB) — Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with justice. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on his head. He had a name written that no one knows except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from his mouth, so that he might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And he has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
And you might say, ‘So what?’ ‘Why do I need to know all this?’ Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh are synonymous with the Father and Jesus. ‘So what?’
Well, in the New Testament, Jesus takes this a step further. Jesus adds another layer to this paradigm and actually gives us some very real application that informs our calling and character as Christians in light of who Jesus is. Let’s read what Jesus said.
John 17:20–26 (CSB) — “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they will see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the world’s foundation. Righteous Father, the world has not known you. However, I have known you, and they have known that you sent me. I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them.”
We saw in the Old Testament that Yahweh was in the Angel of Yahweh. Here we see that in exactly the same way, the Father is in the Son, in Jesus. But, not only that, Jesus says that He is also in the Father so that they are one. Jesus and the Father—Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh—have a unity, a wholeness, a singularity of purpose. They are distinct in their roles, but they are completely unified in heart and mind. You could say that Jesus and the Father are two different ways that we experience the same God.
But, Jesus takes this even another step further. He prays for his followers, his church, that we also might be one with him and one with the Father. Don’t misunderstand, though, what Jesus is saying. This isn’t some kind of weird deification doctrine that many cultic religions believe in where you are a part of God and your journey as a human is to return to the source and become a part of god again. You aren’t a part of God. You are the creation of God.
The oneness that Jesus is speaking of is a oneness in purpose. It’s a oneness in will and thinking. It’s a unity of spirit. Notice in the passage, three reasons that Jesus wants us to be one in purpose with him and with the Father.
- The first is so that the world may believe that God sent Jesus into the world. Listen, no good historian denies the existence of the man Jesus. Plenty of people argue that Jesus is very real, but that he was just a man. But, Jesus said that when we are one in purpose with him, we communicate that Jesus wasn’t just a man, but that Jesus was, in fact, sent into the world by the Father.
To say that differently: In many ways our faith validates the divinity of Jesus. When we live and preach our conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, is God, is Yahweh to the world, our conviction is what will be convincing to them.
And that’s inextricably tied to the second reason that Jesus wants us to be one in purpose.
- Jesus wants the world to know that he has loved his followers just as the Father had loved him. The Father’s purpose is love. And Jesus’s purpose is love. And Jesus wants us to be one in purpose with him so that we will be a demonstration of God’s love in this world.
I say that God’s love is inextricably tied to the idea that Jesus was sent from the Father, because of this. The testimony of the world about Christians is that Christians are judgmental people. When people feel judged by Christians, they feel rejected. And if they feel rejected, they conclude that our faith is not valid. That is, they refuse to believe that Jesus is who we say he is. But, Christians are not called to judge the world in this time. We are called to love the world. Judgment will come in the end. That’s not for now.
Jesus wants us to be one in purpose with him and the Father not so that we can judge. That’s nowhere in this passage. But, Jesus said twice, that our oneness with the Father is so that we love. He specifically says that we are one so that the love the Father has loved Jesus with may be in us, the church.
I’m sure you have plenty of people in your life that you would like to see follow Jesus. Your task is not to judge them, to condemn them, but to love them, so that they will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father. Just two verses before this passage, Jesus said,
John 17:18 (CSB) — As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
This is the unity of purpose that we have been sent into the world to make the love of God through Jesus Christ know by the love that we have for the people God created. Our conviction proves Christ to the world, but so also, our love proves Christ to the world.
And then, our third reason.
- Jesus wants us to be one with him and with the Father so that we will go with him where he is going and that in so doing we will see his glory that was given to him by the Father. Jesus wants us to be one in purpose so that we will go with him to his eternal kingdom where he sits on the throne, ruling righteously over all things. This is heaven. This is the new earth. This is the new creation. It’s the reason that most of you came to faith in the first place. You didn’t want to suffer eternal condemnation and rejection from the Father so you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ so that you will be able to spend eternity with Him in glory.
Every time we love and every time we proclaim the faith we are so convicted of, we reach towards Christ’s glory.
So, What’s in a name?
We call ourselves Christians because the name of Christ is in us. Just like the name of Yahweh was in the angel, the name of God is in Jesus Christ and the name of Jesus Christ is in us. We aren’t fearful of the mission that God has called us to like Gideon because the name is in us. We are one with God.
And the name within us compels us forward to love the world just as Christ loved us and just as the Father loved Christ. We are compelled to demonstrate the reality of Jesus to the world around us so that they will believe. And as they believe they will also become one with Christ and one with the Father and one with us so that on the day when Christ returns, we might go together to be with Christ where we will see Him in glory forever.
That’s what is in the name.
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