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Naming the Sacred: Further thoughts on Shemot
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Naming the Sacred...

Further thoughts on Parashat Shemot

by John J. Parsons

In our Torah portion this week, Moses encountered God in the form of a Paradox – a bush that burned but was not consumed – and from the midst of this fire a Voice was heard, summoning him to lead his people out of Egypt (Exod. 3:2-4). At first Moses protested the call, offering various excuses why he was unfit for the mission, but when he finally began to relent, he asked: "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God's answer is mysteriously wonderful: "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'Ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you'" (Exod 3:13-14). The sages have said that this phrase could mean "I AM who I am," or "I will be who I will be," based on the Hebrew verb hayah (הָיָה), which alludes to the name YHVH (יהוה). However, since the name YHVH is not written with vowels and the transliteration is uncertain, focusing on the phonetics misses the point that God is the Source or Ground of all Being, the Sacred Essence of all that is real – the One who is and was and is to come" (Rev. 1:8). God is "ein sof" (אֵין סוֹף), the Infinite, the Unfathomable, the holy mystery of all. Every predication of existence is bound up in His power (Acts 17:28).

The LORD (YHVH) is ultimately "unrepresentable," and therefore we are forbidden to make idols, icons, "graven images," or "likenesses" that attempt to "finitize" his reality (Exod. 20:4; Lev. 26:1). God is always greater than which you can think or imagine (Isa. 55:8-9; 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). Paradoxically, our language and knowledge of God is incapable of adequate correspondence, and therefore we must "see through a glass darkly," relying on analogies, allusions, figurative speech, indirect modes of communication, and so on.

Despite all this – despite our inability to fully express or represent our intuitions, experiences, dreams, and imaginations of the divine – we nevertheless can (and do) "dialog" with God in personal terms, using everyday language of the heart. Moses, for example, talked with God throughout his experience at the burning bush – both before he asks for God's name and after. Indeed, YHVH continues: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), the God of Isaac (אלהֵי יִצְחָק), and the God of Jacob (וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:15). In other words, though God's essence is mysteriously transcendent, and his name is "ineffable," he is immanent within human history and is revealed in the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs, in the history of the Jewish people, and in the ongoing conversation of those who are of genuine faith in Him. Indeed, even in olam haba, the world to come, the LORD God will be known in the face of Yeshua (בִּפְנֵי יֵשׁוּעַ), the anointed King of the Jews, in heavenly Zion, where the names of the tribes of Israel will all be remembered (Rev. 21:12).

Note:  Despite all this "theological talk," we simply trust in the love and kindness of God revealed to us in the face and name of Yeshua, our Lord. We call God our "Abba," our Father, and we look to him to shepherd us every step of our sojourn here on earth...

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