God wants to deliver Israel and Moses wants to know God’s name. He tells Moses he is using a “new” name that reveals a new aspect of who he is, and it hasn’t been revealed until now. That name is Yehovah (YHVH). So, let’s look at what the Lord is trying to get across here. He said he appeared to the ancestors of Moses as El Shaddai, but now he will be known as Yehovah. So, the question is, what does El Shaddai and Yehovah mean? Let’s look at these names as just words first of all.
El is a shortened form of the word “Elohim.” God told Moses this is how he revealed himself previously to people. So, what does “El” or “Elohim” mean? In Gen 31.29 it says, “I have it within my power to do harm to you.” That is what Lavan told Jacob. In this verse, “el” is the word for “power.” That is what “El” or “Elohim” basically means when it is used as a divine name or title. This gives us something to go on when we look at the first commandment where it says, “You shall not have allegiance to any other gods before me.” That seems like it is saying that we should not believe in polytheism and that we are to look to “one” God. This implies that there are other gods, but what other gods are there?
This contradiction goes away when we go back and look at the Hebrew where it says we are not to have an allegiance to “any other Elohim before me.” We have seen that the definition for “elohim” is “powers” so this commandment means that we are not to have any other “powers” before the Lord. There are great “powers” in the universe that people worship. The sun is “powerful” and without it life would not exist on earth but we cannot worship the sun. El relates to God as powerful, and so God is the power (El) of the Jewish people (and all believers), and they are to have allegiance only to him. Moses tells Pharaoh in Exo 5.3 that he is the one that the Hebrews give power to, but other “powers” can exist.
El or Elohim can describe God but it does describe God as having no rivals. It is more of a general description than a name. God has told Moses that he was known as El Shaddai in the past, but what does that mean? Shaddai is not used in Hebrew except for a name of God. In reality, “shaddai” isn’t even a word but it is a contraction of several words. It basically means “enough.” The rabbis saw the name from “mi she’amar le’ olamo dai” or “the one who said to his world ‘enough.'” God has shown himself to be a very significant “power” in the past as “El Shaddai” and he showed “great power” at the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. But what does that have to do with Moses right now?
Power is an attribute of God but it is not who he is. What he is getting ready to tell Moses here is who he really is. The Lord is going to let his absolute power loose on Egypt in the coming ten plagues, but that kind of power is not who he is (El Shaddai). God makes use of power but that is not the essence of who he is. Yehovah is who he is.
Yehovah consists of the Hebrew letters “Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey” (Y-H-V-H) and if those letters were a word, what would it mean? In order to see what it means, we must look at certain words using combinations of these letters Rabbi Fohrman makes some interesting points here. If you look at the last three letters (H-V-H) it is the Hebrew word meaning “to exist.” Three out of the four letters (H-Y-H) spells the word for “was.” The entire Y-H-V-H is very close to the word “will be” (Y-H-Y-H). So, the name of God (Y-H-V-H) is almost the same as the Hebrew words for “was, present, future.”
Take those words for existing in the past, present and the future and overlay them. For example, in Hebrew, take the H-Y-H and lay H-V-H on top of that and the Y disappears into the V. Take that unified word and overlay Y-H-Y-H on top and you will have Y-H-V-H. This name denotes more than just “I was, I am and I will be.” It tells us something totally different. That concept doesn’t exist in the physical world. Rabbi Fohrman says, “who experiences time like that. You would have to be outside our world.”
Humans experience time like a tunnel, or like a linear line. We go through it on a path. The only way to experience time simultaneously is to be outside our “tunnel.” That is what the name Yehovah is telling us. He can do that because he created time. He exists outside of the physical aspects of creation that he created. Rabbi Fohrman gives another example on how to understand this concept.
People have always asked the question “Where is God?” In other words, if God exists, why don’t we see more of him? This is similar to the “little hat” and the “little shoe” wondering where “Parker” is. Everybody knows about the game of Monopoly. The “little hat” and the “little shoe” are tokens in that game, made by Parker Brothers. As the little hat passes a hotel on the game board, he asks the little shoe, “Do you believe in Parker?” The little shoe looks at the little hat with a confused look. The little hat says, “Look over there. It says ‘Made by Parker Brothers.’ So, do you believe in Parker?” The little shoe says, “Well, I guess I do. What about you?” The little hat says, “Well, I have been around here for a long time. I pass “Go” and I get two hundred dollars. I have been on every avenue and I have seen it all. I have even been to jail, but I have never seen Parker. So, I don’t believe in Parker, I am a Parker atheist.”
Now, if we overheard this conversation, what would you say to little hat? Would we say, “Little Hat, you have been looking for Parker in all the wrong places. Parker doesn’t live on the board, he created the board. The maker of a system doesn’t live inside that system. As a creator, you can interact with the system you made and you can even make the rules on how it functions. The creator can dictate how each piece will function. A creator can do all that, but he doesn’t live on the board. It is not his natural habitat. The board is the system he created on which the created pieces function, not the creator.” Is that what we would have told Little Hat?
Of course this is a metaphor. The board is the universe and when we look around we don’t see God the creator. We are looking in the wrong place. He is not human and the universe was made for humans, not God. The concepts of space, time, light, mass and energy is for man. God is not “aloof” or cut off from his creation. He can and has many times come in and interacted with it. That is what he is about to do in Egypt with the plagues. There are rules for mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology. The earth is not the natural habitat for God and that is why Israel is commanded to make a “Mikdash” for him in Exo 25.8-9. That is why the Lord is called “Ha Makom” or “The Place.”
The Lord says in the past he revealed himself as a powerful force (El), and sometimes as a a most powerful force (El Shaddai). But now he is going to tell everyone who he really is” Yehovah, the one who is “out of this world.” At the burning bush, God revealed himself as “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” as we have discussed (Exo 3.14). But he is outside of the physical universe so how can we understand him. We can’t touch or see him.
The Lord said that we can’t define him but he did say he was the God of Israel’s forefathers. He had a relationship with others, so he can have other relationships. As the Egyptian Redemption was about to begin, there was something that was about to be revealed. They would come to know God as Yehovah (Y-H-V-H), the creator of the universe who lives outside of it.
Now, God has always been the creator but this was going to be demonstrated in ways that had never been seen or done before. When God got done, there would be no doubt as to who he was. Why is it important to the Lord to be known this way? He had no competition. To answer this question we will need to look at the difference between Monotheism and Polytheism. Knowing this difference will have a major impact on our understanding of what the Lord was trying to accomplish in Egypt, with Pharaoh, and the Exodus.
We will pick up here in Part 85.