Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming to Terms with the Tetragrammaton

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they as me, 'What is his name?" what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, "I am who I am" He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you'"
Exodus 3:13-14, NRSV

It has been quite the adventure reading my way through the Old Testament (OT) and reading the book of Exodus has changed that. Simultaneously reading Fretheim and R. Alan Cole has added quite a bit to that adventure in terms of presuppositions they both bring to the table, but more often than not when Freithem and Cole disagree I usually end up siding with Fretheim. Quite a while ago, I passed God's self-disclosure to Moses in the bush and in my other readings I had come to the discussion quite early on also, regarding God's revelation to Moses, chiefly concerning the naming of God.

What is in a name?
Moses asks the question, "Who should I say said these things?" Without going into much detail, this question seems to show that either the ancient people will be familiar with the name that God will give him or that they will eventually become familiar with this name.

As Fretheim notes, "The most common translation is given in the NRSV, 'I am who I am.' Other translations include: 'I will be what (who) I will be'; 'I will cause to be what I will cause to be'; 'I will be who I am / I am who I will be.'" (p. 63). Fretheim prefers the last of all of these saying, "The force is not simply that God is or that God is present but that God will be faithfully God for them." The argues that Israel will know God by his actions and presently with the liberation of the people from Egypt.

What can also be drawn from this divine name is that is not the all-inclusive name of God. Names in general do not give the totality of anything or anyone and so is the divine name of God. God is known or can also be known outside of this name, specifically in his actions (if we follow Fretheim's argumentation). Furthermore, as Fretheim argues, the act of giving a name makes God apart of a particular historic community. As part of this community in which this name will always be the name of the God who participates therein, this distinctive character of God (self-revealing and involved historically) will always typify the relationship between the named.

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