And Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? “ And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
Moses said to God, “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?” 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” (Exodus 3:11-14).
And Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:1).
1. Is it possible to summarize the
meaning of a theophany?
2. Summarize the meaning of Yahweh
in the call of Moses.
3. Summarize the meaning of Yahweh
in the covenant with Israel.
4. Summarize the meaning of Yahweh
in their idolatry and forgiveness.
5. Summarize the meaning of Yahweh
in his word from the tabernacle.
6. Summarize the foundational self-
introduction of God in Genesis,
Exodus and Leviticus.
Yahweh — The Covenant God
Having read Genesis we are acquainted with the name; Yahweh. We heard it for the first time in the second telling of the story of creation in chapter two. But it is a secondary name throughout Genesis and we are not told what it signifies. It will take some theophanies to give birth to its full significance. That is exactly what God does in the book of Exodus. We are moving from the God who creates and from El-Shaddai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to this new name that will become God’s personal name throughout the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures.
God came to Moses after his first approach to Pharaoh had resulted in greater miseries and after the people have expressed their rage against Moses for the failure of his leadership (Exodus 5).
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand he will let them go, because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.’
God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name, the Lord (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them.’ (Exodus 6:1-3).
Now, he has begun to make himself known as Yahweh, and meaning and significance of this name will be the theme of the rest of Exodus and of all of Leviticus.
The First Theophany — The Burning Bush
Moses is eighty years old when he sees a bush burning and yet not being consumed. He went to see why and God spoke to him there. There his life was drastically changed. Nothing will ever be the same for him again.
Moses had always been special. He had been saved from death by the daughter of Pharaoh. He had been nursed and taught in all of the oral traditions of his people by his mother in his early years. He would write down those traditions later as the book of Genesis under the guidance of the Spirit of God. He was a part of the royal family, given the best education, and led Egyptian armies. He had sufficient credentials to hope to become Pharaoh someday. He had everything.
But the stories his mother had made him memorize now plague him. He hears about the slavery of his people and decides to leave the palace and to identify himself with those slaves. The book of Hebrews records his decision:
By faith , Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be know as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).
This text teaches us how to read the story described in Exodus 2:11-17. Moses made his choice and, as many who experience continual success, expected to be welcomed and given the place of leadership for his people. He was confident that he would be able, given his credentials, to lead them out of Egypt and back to the land of the patriarchs.
But he failed miserably and got out of Egypt ahead of the authorities who were committed to killing him. For the last forty years he has been thinking about his failure, dominated by a strong-willed wife and making a living taking care of a flock. This was a terrible come-down for a man with his credentials. He seems to have decided that his present life was the real Moses and the first forty years little more than a dream.
There were likely times when he wondered about returning to Egypt. When a reigning Pharaoh died, all exiles were allowed to return without penalty. While trying to find pasture for his flock in this desert, he often dreamed of the rich land in Egypt. If he would get new of the death of Pharaoh, he could return, get a little place on the river, get a job as a CPA, and do a lot of hunting and fishing on weekends. It would certainly beat life in this desert. Maybe, if he were lucky, his wife would choose to stay here with her family and he could even get away from her!
On the other hand, the four hundred years in Egypt (Genesis 14:13) were coming to an end. Perhaps he could go over to the main road from Egypt to the promised land and go there with his people. Maybe they would accept him this time.
Then he saw that burning bush!
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’
And Moses said; “Here I am.”
Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord 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 from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the home of the Canaanites…. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’
But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring
the Israelites out of Egypt?’
And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’ (Exodus 3:4-12)
He was trapped! He could not stay here. He could not get that little place on the Nile. He could not even join his people on their way to the land. He had to go back to the Egypt where he had left as public enemy number one. He would have to go back to his people who had rejected him back when he amounted to something. He would have to go back to the palace where they hated him for becoming a traitor. He has been recruited to do a totally impossible job.
He could think of a hundred reasons why he could not do this job. He had lost all confidence in himself. Forty years ago, he had volunteered with great confidence for this very thing—and he had failed before he had even gotten started. He couldn’t be an effective leader because he stuttered.
His people had rejected him forty years ago. Why would they accept him now? His resume was much less impressive now than it had been then. These last forty years put the lie to anything good in his resume for the first forty years. Anyway, his people already had their chosen leaders, men of great competence.
How could he bring the great numbers of his people to this place? He could barely find enough food and water to keep his flocks alive. Israel would eat all of the food in this miserable desert in one day. They would drink up all the water in one hour.
He knew the power of the Egyptian armies and the economic dependence of the Egyptians on these slaves. Pharaoh would never let these slaves go. Nothing could stand against his will. Nothing could stand against his power.
It was a totally impossible task. It was time to look at El-Shaddai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who always fulfilled his promises against all impossibilities. God had already reminded Moses of this. Now, he adds another promise and another name, again closely related to his self-revelation to Abraham.
Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me unto you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I say to them?’
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. (Exodus 3:13-14).
What a strange name! We would become uncomfortable around people who spoke in half sentences: I am, you were, he was, etc. We would always be waiting for the rest of the thought. But Moses remembered the stories his mother had made him memorize. He remembered that God had come to Abraham with the promise: “I am your shield and very great reward.” and later; “I am El-Shaddai, walk before me and be blameless.” “I AM” is not new. It is a blank check for everything Moses needs to do the impossible job that God has called him to do.
God gives Moses a whole box full of blank checks which already have the signature of the Living God. You are worried about your acceptance with my people? Don’t worry. I AM your acceptance. You are concerned with Pharaoh’s response for a permit to leave Egypt. I AM your permit. I will even arrange for you to take the treasure of Egypt with you as payment for you slavery. You are worried about finding food and water in this wilderness for all of my people. Forget it. I AM your provision of all that they will need.
Of course you are inadequate, Moses. That is why I can use you. Before, you thought that you were adequate and I could do nothing with you. You were certain to fail because this is impossible for you. Now that you have lost your great self-confidence, rest in me. I AM your good success. Just keep filling out those signed checks in every impossible situation.
About four years later, Moses stood in this same place along with the whole nation of Israel. God had honored all of those checks. I AM all that you need to do the impossible task to which I call you. And God had met every need. He had walked to Egypt and Israel had immediately accepted him as leader. He had gone to the palace and, after some significant persuasion, Pharaoh had let his people leave, with a significant amount of loot. God had fed them with manna and watered them from a rock. He had defeated their enemies and brought them here. Now, at this place where a bush had burned at that turning point in his life, Moses hears the I AM say:
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel; ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations, you will be my treasured possession. (Exodus 19:3-5).
In this episode, God has taught Moses and his people the first part of what he means when he introduces himself as Yahweh. He is the God who calls his people to do impossible things, but who is for them all that they need to do these impossible tasks. The whole history of God’s covenant people is a history of either recognizing their inadequacy and this wonderful provision, or a failure of confidence in Yahweh and a failure to accomplish the work that he called them to do.
He remains the great I AM for us. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. He calls us to holiness. He requires a thousand things of us that are totally impossible. If we think that we are competent to do that, we will fail as Moses did at age forty. If we recognize our incompetence and fail to do what he calls us to do, we will be failures. But if we recognize our incompetence and his gift of competence because of his provision, then we will succeed.
The Second Theophany — The Burning Mountain
God took Israel on a long detour when they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. It added hundreds of miles of walking through desert and wilderness territories and nearly two years to a two week trip. They were not ready for the challenges of the shorter journey. They did not know their God well enough yet. They would quickly forget the miracles. They needed to know him in the full sense of all that Yahweh meant and they needed to get acquainted with him as the Holy One. Even then, they needed another forty years before they were willing to let Yahweh be their “I AM”.
The first thing Israel needed was a covenant relationship with the God of their fathers, this I AM to whom Moses is introducing them. They had heard about him from Moses and had seen the plagues on Egypt, the parting of the sea, the provision of manna and water and the defeat of their enemies. Now, it was important for them to meet this God personally, to hear him speak and to know him.
So Yahweh came down to reveal a little of his greatness and glory on Mount Sinai. In good theophanic form, he got their attention so that they would hear his words and give them the weight that they demanded. He prepared them with instructions for cleanness and warnings about touching the mountain from which God would be speaking—twice. Then God came down!
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Yahweh descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder (Exodus 19:16-19).
Then God spoke:
I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol….
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…..
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…..
Honor your father and your mother….
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony….
You shall not covet (Exodus 20:2-17)
It was not a very long speech. But its setting and its content made it the greatest and most influential speech until Jesus began his ministry a millennium and a half later. The people recognize their danger. If God continues they will die (Exodus 20:18-19, compare Deuteronomy 5:22-29). So Moses became their mediator, listening to God and repeating his words to the people. This further revelation in preparation for the establishment of the covenant is included in chapters 21-23. God gives them some examples of the application of these ten commandments to their lives (21:1-23:19), and promises to lead them and care for them (23:20-33)
The climax of this great theophany comes with the covenant ceremony described in chapter 24. Moses is the mediator of the covenant. God gives the covenant and its stipulations and promises. The people listen and promise: “We will do everything Yahweh has said; we will obey.” (24:4 and 7). Moses took the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled it over the altar and the heads of the people and pronounced them God and people, husband and wife. Representatives of the people then celebrated the wedding feast on the mountain (24:9-11).
God has done a wonderful thing. He has established a close and unique relationship between himself and Israel. He is now their God as distinct from his relationship with all of the other nations. They are now his people in that same unique sense. Hosea and Jeremiah will use the picture of marriage to teach the significance of this covenant to Israel several hundred years later.
Yahweh is also the Covenant God who binds himself to his people in this powerful way. He adds this dimension ot the promise included in his new name; I AM. Yahweh is not only the one who will be all that his people need to do the work that he calls them to do and the witness to the world that he calls them to be. He is also the God who marries Israel to himself and gives them this name for their use only. He is now Israel’s husband and covenant partner who delights in this wonderful and intimate relationship.
The Third Theophany — Rebellion And Forgiveness
With the completion of the covenant, Moses turns to the tabernacle throughout the rest of the book of Exodus and the entire book of Leviticus. Included in these chapters are three powerful pictures of Israel’s God. The first two complete the meaning of Yahweh. The last one introduces Israel to the holiness of Yahweh her God.
Chapters 25 through 32 list the instructions that Yahweh gave to Moses for the building of the tabernacle. These are completed with a description of the keeping of the Sabbath. Chapters 35 through 40 describe the building of the tabernacle according to Yahweh’s instructions, beginning with regulations for the Sabbath. In between, we read about sin and forgiveness, a radical breaking of all of the commands and a shattering of the covenant and the marriage. For a while we are not sure whether God will let his former covenant partner and wife die in this wilderness or whether he will find some unexpected way to restore the covenant/marriage.
Chapters 32 through 34 are placed to teach us the significance and the limitations of the tabernacle and its way of approach to Yahweh and fellowship with Yahweh. The significance of this section is that it teaches Israel that she will not keep her covenant vows. Only forty days after she made them she has broken all of them and the covenant is shattered. Therefore, any approach to Yahweh must be by his grace alone. Unless he makes a way for covenant breakers to be restored, it is all over. But the offerings of the tabernacle make no provision for planned sin, for clear and knowing disobedience of Yahweh’s commands. If the offerings in this tabernacle are all that is available, they will never meet Israel’s needs.
On both sides of this section are descriptions of God’s provision of the Sabbath. God has provided a day of reflection in every week. The Sabbath is a day for men to turn from their daily responsibilities to think about the significance of their being in the image and likeness of God, to lift their eyes from the ground to the heavens. This close connection between chapters 32 through 34 with the tabernacle and the Sabbath throws a great amount of light on all of these themes.
It takes a few minutes for us to read the instructions for the building of the tabernacle recorded in Exodus 25-32. It took Moses forty days to listen and record those directions. It was a long and difficult wait for the people who had just lived through one of the most impressive theophanies in history and had just committed themselves to a marriage with the Living God. And now….nothing. They waited for Moses that first day to hear what would happen next (they had never read the book of Exodus so that this was all new to them). He did not come down the second day either, or the third, or…. He did not return after one week, or two, or three, or four, or five weeks.
They gave up. He must have died up there. Or perhaps he went up one side and down the other and was long gone. They could not send a search party to look for him because anyone who even touched the mountain without a personal invitation from Yahweh would die. They believed that Yahweh had broken his covenant with them and they were free to forget it. They made themselves gods and celebrated in a wild orgy that broke all of the commandments of Yahweh (See 32:1-6 and 23). And then Moses came down!
Moses knew the situation before he came down to them from the mountain. Yahweh told Moses what Israel had done. Yahweh had also shown Moses how he responded to the sins of his people.
Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…. I have seen this people,’ Yahweh said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make of you a great nation (Exodus 32:7-10)
Moses plead for his people as Yahweh had intended —“your people, whom you brought out of Egypt.” He reminded Yahweh of his reputation in Egypt and of his promises to the patriarchs (32:11-13). And his intercession was successful! “ Then Yahweh relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).
But rescue from total destruction did not mean total escape from the results of their sins. Moses had just received the two tables of the ten commandments from Yahweh. Now he threw them down and shattered them to picture what the people had done in breaking their covenant promises. He ground up their idols, sprinkled the dust on the water and made the people drink it. Then he commanded those who understood the seriousness of covenant breaking to kill their brothers, friends and neighbors and about three thousand died (32:27-28). Then Yahweh sent a plague upon the people (32:35). In all of this he reminded them that the wages of sin was still death. Some had to die to remind the rest that they all should have died that day. And the danger was still not over. No one knows what Yahweh will do next. They do know that they have no excuses and they have nothing that they can offer to God. They can only wait and hope for some miracle of forgiveness.
Moses stands again between sinful Israel and her angry God.
The next day, Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to Yahweh; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
So Moses went back to Yahweh and said; ‘Oh what a great sin these people have committed. They have made themselves gods of gold. But now,
please forgive their sin—but if no, then blot me out of the book you have written (32:30-32)
But God would not accept Moses’ offer to die for his people. A millennium and a half later, God would accept the death of another man (who was God incarnate) for the sins of his people. God did go part way with Moses however. “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you…. If I were to go with you even for a moment I might destroy you on the way” (33:3 and 5).
Moses came before Yahweh again to plead for his presence with them in the promised land.
Moses said to Yahweh, ‘You have been telling me, Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, I know you by name and you have found favor with me. If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.
Yahweh replied. My Presence will go with you and I will give you
rest…. I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name (3:12-13 and 17).
Moses had received all of the impossible things that he had asked for his people: They were not totally destroyed. God would remember his promises to the patriarchs and still give the land. And now he would also go with them into this promised land. It was beyond his understanding. It stretched his faith. He needed a theophany from Yahweh to demonstrate the truth and content of this great promise of forgiveness and restoration. He asked: “Show me your glory” (33:18) And Yahweh did!
Yahweh invited Moses to come up to the mountain, likely to the same spot where he had spoken from the burning bush.
And Yahweh said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, Yahweh, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
Then Yahweh said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen (33:19-23).
Moses obeyed and on the next day Yahweh kept his promise:
Then Yahweh came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, Yahweh. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (34:6-7).
When Moses came down from the mountain after this theophany, “He was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (34:29).
Yahweh had restored the covenant fully! It was not because of anything good or worthy in Israel, but totally because of his covenant love and compassion, because of his name, his reputation, and his promises. This is the greatest revelation of God’s grace and forgiveness until he demonstrates it in a cross and a glorification of Jesus Christ fourteen centuries later. This forgiveness and restoration are grounded in that future Messianic work. Without that, there could be nothing but wrath and death.
So, Yahweh has added a new fulness of meaning to his personal name. He is the One who will be all that we need to do the impossible tasks to which he calls us. He is the God who chooses to stand in a covenant relationship with his people, marrying them for better or for worse. Now, Yahweh also describes himself as the God of compassion and love who forgives his people when they confess their sins and cry out to him for mercy and help.
In this episode we learn what the tabernacle and the Sabbath are all about. This is Yahweh’s theological interpretation of both tabernacle and Sabbath.
The Fourth Theophany — Yahweh Tabernacles With Israel
Yahweh had given the instructions for the tabernacle in chapters 25-31. He had described its theological significance in chapters 32-34. He described the building of all of the parts of the tabernacle in 35-39. Now in chapter 40, Moses erects the tabernacle. It will be taken down and erected again dozens of times through the journeys of the next forty years, and several times after they enter the promised land. But this first setting up of this meeting place with Yahweh has a special significance.
Yahweh leaves the sacred mountain and comes down to tabernacle with his covenant people.
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out, but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of Yahweh was over the tabernacle by day and the fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels (Exodus 40:34-38).
Yahweh, who is at the same time Elohim and El-Shaddai, has come down from heaven to speak to Israel and now to live with them and to travel with them. These people had trembled at the shaking mountain covered with fire and smoke and lightning and thunder and the voice of a trumpet, and the voice of God that threatened to destroy them. Now this same God lived in a tent in the middle of their camp. He was Immanuel, God-with-them.
Nothing so great will happen again—other than his similar coming to the temple of Solomon—until in an even more spectacular event: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (tabernacled) among us” (John 1:14). Without that future event, this one could never have happened.
God has come down to live and travel with his covenant people as described in the last chapter of Exodus. With that theophany, we have learned about the closeness and immanence of God that is revealed in this great name. Now we must learn that immanence is not a contradiction of transcendence. The immanent God is the transcendent God. He is always both, and always both at the same time. So, when he comes down to the tabernacle, he must immediately begin to teach Israel his moral and ontological transcendence.
The book of Leviticus begins with Yahweh speaking to Moses out of the tabernacle: “And Yahweh called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” (Leviticus 1:1). The primary message of the book of Leviticus is a revelation of the way sinners can approach and have fellowship with a morally transcendent God. It is a liturgical solution to the problem that was dealt with theologically in Exodus 32-34.
The Hebrew word for holy (qados) in its various forms is used 121 times in Leviticus. Ezekiel uses it 89 times, followed by Exodus (74), Numbers (69), Isaiah (65), Psalms (65) and Chronicles (55). No other book uses the word as much as 20 times.1 All of these books tie their usage closely to the tabernacle or the temple.
The Approach To Yahweh
God’s closeness will be a constant temptation to take him lightly. Familiarity will tend to breed contempt. When God first came to the holy of holies, the people certainly walked and talked softly. After a while, they took Yahweh’s presence for granted and were free to sin in his presence. By the time of Eli, some three centuries later, Eli’s sons “slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting”
(I Samuel 2:22).
Yahweh is not satisfied with just anything from those who come to him. He demands that his people come to him in the way prescribed by him in great detail. He does not let people plead ignorance. He does not let them improvise. He is God and he demands to be treated with respect. And that means following his order and orders in total faith and obedience.
The Death Of Aaron’s Sons
The laws of the various offerings, the laws of cleanness, the laws of the priests, the holy times, the holiness code, and the repetition of the covenant prescriptions and promises all stress Yahweh’s holiness and keep the serious believer from making errors that could take their lives. The sons of Aaron fail to take his holiness seriously and they die. This judgement near the middle of Leviticus is a powerful example of what holiness means.
Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, took their censers, put fire in them, and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before Yahweh, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of Yahweh and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what Yahweh spoke of when he said:
“Among those who approach me
I will show myself holy;
in the sight of the people
I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Throughout the biblical Story, God does things in a carefully ordered and structured way. In this tabernacle, he reminds us of the structure of creation and especially of the garden. There, God met with his people. When Adam sinned, he and Eve were exiled from the garden. It is most likely that Adam and his family worshiped God and offered their sacrifices at the gate to Eden. But Eden is long gone. Now the tabernacle is here to replace it with a new holy place where the Creator meets his people.
The holiness of God must be taught every time we come close to God, or we will misinterpret that closeness. God teaches it here in Leviticus. Solomon will teach it at the dedication of the temple. Sin will destroy the tabernacle in the days of Eli and the temple at the end of the history of Judah. The Chronicler will trace history from Adam to the decree to return to the land and will see the Davidic Covenant and the dedication of the temple as the high points in the history of the world, picturing and promising the great kingdom and temple to come.
At Pentecost, God will form a new people of God. This time God will make them; collectively and individually, his tabernacle. Paul wrote of this to the Corinthian house churches: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
It is particularly in this context that the Spirit of God is given a new name—The Holy Spirit (some 93 times in the New Testament). Holiness needs to be taught every time we are close to God; whether it be a new tabernacle or our new birth.
The personal name for the Living God is Yahweh, normally translated as LORD in our English Bibles. Its meaning is not found in its etymology, but in the book of Exodus. It’s meaning is the whole center of the book of Exodus. These four theophanies dominate the book. Each tells something new about this God who introduces himself with this name. It has been used before, but people did not know much about what it meant. Now they do.
The word Yahweh is used more than any other single word in the Hebrew Old Testament, some 6828 times.2 The New Testament authors replace it with Jesus which means, “Yahweh is our Savior.” They follow the practice of the LXX by using Lord (Kurios) In quotations from the Old Testament and in its use as a narrative name for the Lord Jesus Christ.
We do not need to show the excessive reverence of some of the Jewish scribes for this name. It is a gift of God to us for our use in knowing Him. We do need to recognize its meaning in both testaments. Its use is often of high significance in understanding the full meaning of many biblical texts.
When we studied the name “Elohim” (God) above, I gave the first six verses of Psalm nineteen as an example of the reminder of God’s great work of salvation. Now we can turn to that same Psalm to see the different significance of Yahweh.
The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of Yahweh are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The Commands of Yahweh are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is pure,
The ordinances of Yahweh are sure,
and altogether righteous….
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:7-9 and 14)
You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
A Turning Point
With this revelation of the holiness of Yahweh who is also Elohim and El-Shaddai we have come to a turning point in the self-revelation of the Living God. Israel was led on this long detour to the promised land so that they could be introduced to their God in this way. Such an introduction was absolutely necessary if they were to enter the promised land as the covenant people of the Living God. As soon as this complex introduction is completed, God begins to organize them for their departure to the land. The foundational self-revelation of God has come to an end. Now we will see how that is to be lived out in the rest of God’s Story.