God the Covenant Keeper (Yahweh)

Exodus 3:14

February 13, 2005 | Brian Bill

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d begin with “The Top Ten Lines” that may have been used by Adam when he courted Eve.

  1. You know you’re the only one for me.
  2. Do you come here often?
  3. Trust me, this was meant to be!  (I tried this one out on Beth when we   were dating – it didn’t work real well!)
  4. Look around, baby.  All the other guys are animals!
  5. I already feel like you’re a part of me!
  6. Honey, you were made for me!
  7. You’re the girl of my dreams! (See Genesis 2:21)
  8. I like a woman who doesn’t mind being ribbed!
  9. You’re the apple of my eye!
  10. Why don’t you come over to my place and we can name the animals?

As we’ve been learning in this series, a person’s name as used in the Bible is often equivalent to their personality.  For instance, in Hebrew the name Adam gave to Eve can be translated something like, “Wow!”  The meaning behind Moses’ name is “pulled out,” because he was pulled out of the Nile as a baby and would later pull his people out of Egypt.  

A change of name indicated a deliberate and decisive redirection in a person’s life, like when Abram (exalted father) became Abraham (father of a multitude), when Sarai became Sarah (princess of a multitude), when Jacob (deceiver) became Israel (a powerful prince), when Haddassah (myrtle) was renamed Esther (star), and Saul starting going by Paul.  In the Bible to know someone’s name is to really know the person.  Conversely, if you don’t know someone’s name you don’t really know that individual.  We could say that a person was somehow present in his or her name.  

After Adam and Eve were created, God revealed Himself using different names.  Adam had the authority to name the animals but only the Almighty reveals His names to His people for His purposes.  These names help us understand more about God’s personality and His promises.  He is One and yet expresses Himself as Elohim, which means that He is the Creator and Designer of the universe.  He is to be addressed as Adonai because He is Lord and Master of all.  When our problems seem insurmountable, He promises His peace as Jehovah Shalom.  And when we’re finally ready to surrender, we will praise Him as Jehovah Jireh, and discover Him as our Provider.

In the Old Testament, to do something in “someone’s name” or to “call upon” an individual’s name was very serious business.  When the Scripture directs us to call on the name of the Lord, we are inviting God to come right into our situation.  We read in Genesis 4:26 that it didn’t take long in the history of mankind for people to turn to God: “At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.” This is a good spot for us to pause and point out a few things.

  • Whenever you see the word LORD in all capital letters, it’s the name Yahweh.
  • This name is used over 6,800 times in the Old Testament, three times more than Elohim.
  • This name was considered so sacred that when scribes would write it, they would take a bath beforehand and then destroy the pen afterward.  
  • The Jewish people held this name in such high honor and immense awe that when they would come to it in their reading, they would not pronounce it.  In fact, it was so revered that it was only said out loud once a year on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the high priest in the most holy place of the Temple.  
  • As a way to set this name apart from any other name, when it was written the scribes used four consonants and left out the vowels, so that people would not inadvertently take it in vain: Y_HW_H.  This name is also translated as Jehovah.  

Your God is Too Small

Part of our problem today is that we’ve become too casual with God.  Instead of hesitating to even pronounce His name, we use His name flippantly.  God’s name has become part of our slang and is used more often in swearing than in supplication.  Many curse His name out loud; denigrating Him by making unfair accusations, or by simply thinking too little of Him.  The third commandment, found in Exodus 20:7 is a charge to not take God’s holy name in vain: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD [Yahweh] your God, for the LORD [Yahweh] will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” We are to not treat His name as “empty” or “nothing.”  Literally it means that we are to avoid “attaching to it emptiness.”  

In his classic book called, “Your God is Too Small,” J.B. Phillips writes: “The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs.”  That may be because for many of us, our view of God has not changed much since we were little kids.  Some of the images that we may hold include the following:

  • The resident policeman who is just out to bust us for our behavior.
  • The grand old man who just winks at our wrong-doing.
  • The managing director who controls everything.
  • The meek and mild God who is helpless to do anything about our situation.
  • Pastor Jeff suggests another common idea: God as the holy vending machine.

In short, Phillips rightly suggests that we have put “God in a box” and our box is pretty small [Hold up box].  We have shrunk Him down so much that our thoughts about Him are nowhere close to what the Bible teaches.  Some of us have made Him in “our image” instead of fully living out what it means to be made in “His image.”  Are you ready to take God out of your box of preconceived ideas?   In order to see the bigness of God, we need to understand more about what He goes by.  

Let’s turn to Exodus 3 where we are introduced to the meaning, the majesty, and the mystery of the name Yahweh.  The other names of God that we have studied so far were revealed to individuals in specific situations or simply stated in Scripture.  This particular name comes straight from God himself, and because it does, we must approach this section with some fear and trembling (as we should with all Scripture).  It’s my prayer that when we’re finished, we will never put God in a box again and we’ll learn that life is not primarily about who we are; but is about who God is.  In other words, He is God and we are not.

Breaking God Out Of Your Box

In order to grasp the greatness of God, we’re going to look at four hammers that will break God out of our boxes.  Moses has been tending his father-in-law’s sheep for about 40 years after killing an Egyptian for the way he had mistreated an Israelite.  God is now getting ready to call Moses to the task of leading the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt, and Moses isn’t too happy about it.

God is calling him to step out of himself, to leave his comfort zone and get to know what is really important

As Moses was moping around on a mountain he looked up and saw a bush that was on fire and did not burn up.  He decided to go over and take a closer look.  When he got to the bush, verse 4 says that God called out, “Moses!  Moses!”  Moses replied, “Here I am.”  God then told him to come no closer and to kick off his sandals because the place where he was standing was “holy ground.”  Moses not only unlaced his sandals; he also covered up his face “because he was afraid to look at God.”  Jack Hayford suggests that Moses probably liked his sandals because they were pretty comfortable.  God is calling him to step out of himself, to leave his comfort zone and get to know what is really important.

1. Yahweh is Personal (7-10).  

The first thing we see about Yahweh is that while He is holy; He is highly personal.  Look at verses 7-8: “The LORD [Yahweh] said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them…’”  Aren’t you glad that God sees our suffering and is moved by our misery?  As God hears the cries of His people He becomes very concerned about what they are going through.  Moses is no doubt thrilled that God is coming down to rescue them.  He’s probably thinking, “Go for it, God!  Right on!  It’s about time!”  But then he hears God say that He is planning to mobilize Moses for the rescue effort in verse 10: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

2. Yahweh is Present (11-14). 

God is not only personal, He is also present.  In verse 11,  Moses tries to bail on this assignment, claiming that he is just “a nobody.”  He feels incapable and unworthy.  In the next chapter, Moses tells God that he is not eloquent enough to speak to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10).  God responds in verse 12: “I will be with you.”  Moses was mortified by what he was being asked to do but God wanted him to know that He would be with him.  

Then Moses describes the absurdity of this request by conjecturing in verse 13: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’  Then what shall I tell them?”  Moses is wondering out loud why God’s people would listen to him so he’s asking God to reveal himself in a way that He had never done before.  Moses wants to know God’s name.  The Egyptians had numerous gods, all with names, but what does God go by?  Moses knew God existed but all he knew was that He was the God of his forefathers.  He needed a name, a title, something that would carry some weight with the Israelites and with Pharaoh.

It’s interesting that God doesn’t tie himself down with a name.  All he tells Moses is that He is who He is.  Look at verse 14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  These words can be rendered, “I will be what I will be.”  This name is from the Hebrew verb, “to be” and the four Hebrew consonants form the word Yahweh.  The one who has preexistence is also personally present with us.  He has existed in eternity past and He is present in the present.   

The same God who worked through the patriarchs was speaking to Moses at that very moment.  God delivered in the past and because He is who He is, He will deliver again.  The One who has always been is active right now.  This is fleshed out in Isaiah 43:10-11: “…so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the LORD [Yahweh] and apart from me there is no savior.” 

Over thirty years ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with a title that says it all: The God Who Is There.  Everything is dependent upon God.  There is creation and there is the Creator, nothing more.  And the created finds its purpose only in a relationship with the God who is there.  We could turn this into a prayer using these words: “Yahweh, you have always been.  You always are and You will always be because you are the God who is there.  You are who you are.  You are everything and anything I will ever need and I need not look elsewhere.”

3. Yahweh is Powerful (15-20). 

In Exodus 3:15, God declares that He goes by Yahweh: “This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”  God’s name is personal and present and it is also powerful.  Look at verse 19: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.” Moses is not being asked go alone in his own power.  He is God’s instrument and God will provide the power to accomplish what needs to be done.

In Exodus 33:18 we see that Moses has the courage to ask for a display of God’s power.  He doesn’t want to worship a God who is too small and so he says: “Now show me your glory.”  Moses will never be the same when Yahweh answers this bold request in verse 19: “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD [Yahweh] in your presence.” Just catching a glimpse of God will change you forever!

4. Yahweh is a Promise-keeper (6, 15-16). 

Three different times in Exodus 3, and once at the end of chapter 2, Yahweh recounts the fact that He is a covenant-keeping God.  Look at 2:24: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.” 3:6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” And verse 15 and verse 16 are identical: “The LORD, [Yahweh] the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob…”  

Yahweh keeps his promises because he is a covenant keeping God.  The idea of a covenant is an essential teaching of Scripture.  God made a covenant with Noah in Genesis 9, promising that He would never again destroy the whole world with a flood.  In His covenant with Abraham, Yahweh promised to bless his descendants through Isaac (Genesis 12:1-3).  In God’s covenant with David, God declared that one of David’s descendants would be the royal heir to the throne (2 Samuel 7:12).  This was fulfilled when Jesus, who was from the line of David, was born in the city of David.  

Our culture is more familiar with contracts than with covenants.  While there are some similarities, there are at least three differences.  Covenants are:

  • Permanent.  A covenant is a permanent arrangement; contracts have an end date.
  • Total.  A contract generally involves only one aspect, while a covenant covers a person’s total being.
  • Costly.  The word itself provides some additional meaning as it comes from a root word which means, “To cut.”  This sounds strange to us, but when two parties would enter into a covenant, they would pass through an aisle with bodies of slaughtered animals on each side.  The idea behind this is that if any party breaks the covenant they would be in danger of becoming just like the cut up animals.  In Exodus 24:3-8, Moses sprinkled the blood from the animals on the altar and on the people to demonstrate the covenant they had entered with God.

When God makes a covenant, He keeps it.  When He makes a promise, you can count on Him.  Psalm 105:42: “For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham.”  Psalm 119:50: “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”  

The Ultimate Box Breaker

Yahweh is personal, He is present, He is powerful, and He keeps His promises.  When we catch a glimpse of Him our view of Him should enlarge, and our worship of Him should be filled with more reverence and more rejoicing.  If you really want to have your box blasted away, think with me about what Jesus said about Himself.  Jesus took this majestic name of God, and as John Piper states, “Wrapped it in the humility of servanthood, offered Himself as an atonement for our rebellion, and made a way for us to see the glory of God.”  

As we’ve already established, Yahweh was an unpronounceable name for God’s people.  

Here’s something very interesting.  The rabbis taught that one of the signs that the Messiah had come would be his ability to pronounce this name.  Jesus not only said this name outloud, He deliberately delineated Himself as the bearer of this name in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was born, I AM.”  And then on eight different occasions, Jesus used this same phrase, “I am” to define who He is and to describe what He came to do.  Those who were paying attention should not have missed the obvious connection when He said: “I AM the…Bread of Life, Light of the World, Gate, Good Shepherd, Way, Vine, Alpha and Omega, Resurrection and the Life.”

Keeping Our Covenants Today

Friends, when we get to know what God goes by, we will revel in how personal He is, we will lean on His presence, we will experience His explosive power, and we can count on His promises.  And when we enter into covenants, He expects us to keep them.  Before I move on, I want to acknowledge the fact that some of you are not married and the topic of marriage brings up pain for you.  Please know that you matter to God whether you are married or not, and if you are single you are not somehow second-class.  Some of you want to be married, and through no fault of your own, you’re not right now.  Others of you may have the gift of singleness and you’ve been slighted by the church.  I apologize to you if I’ve done that, or if our church has treated you poorly just because you’re not married.

Thousands of churches around the country are giving attention today to the covenant of marriage.  The governor of Arkansas is leading a group of more than 1,000 couples tomorrow on Valentine’s Day, to convert their traditional marriage into a covenant marriage, designed to strengthen their bond spiritually and make it more difficult to separate or divorce.  The Covenant Marriage movement lists these key elements, many of which come right out of our study on the names of God.

“We desire for couples to understand the purpose of marriage from God’s perspective; the promise of God to be with them; the power of God to enable them; the peace of God that will sustain them; the protection of God for those who rest in Him; the provisions of God flowing through them to each other; the pleasure God desires for them to experience as a couple; and finally, the perseverance God provides to keep them moving forward.”

To follow God’s way always involves a cost, but it’s worth it

Since we’ve established that Yahweh is the covenant-keeping God, I want to encourage those of you who are married to renew your covenant to your spouse and to your God.  Malachi 2:14 refers to marriage as a “covenant” between one man and one woman for life.  If you’re not married, and you’re living with someone who is not your spouse, honor Yahweh by separating until you are ready to make an unconditional covenantal commitment.  I realize that our culture believes differently on this and you may even think that God is just a killjoy.  Remember this.  God wants what is best for you and He has designed marriage to be the place reserved for physical intimacy.  Perhaps you think that it’s cheaper to live together — and it might be in the short term.  But it actually is more costly in other ways.  To follow God’s way always involves a cost, but it’s worth it.

I want to introduce you to a young couple that is seeking after God’s own heart.  They are committed to exceed the norm, to go above the average relationship, and establish a marriage that will stand the test of time.  Their story is raw and real and full of hope for anyone who is hurting today.  

Yahweh promises to be there for us because He is personal, present, powerful, and a promise-keeper.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?