Not by Name

Everybody enjoys a good western.  The good guys, the shooting, the cattle drives, the anachronisms.  An anachronism is anything that belongs in another period of time than which it exists.  Occasionally, western movies can be guilty of them.  Jet Contrails in the sky over a wagon train, hereford cattle on a drive, and even the occasional radar tower in the back ground of a posse chase.

Over the years, scholars have attacked the Bible because of alleged anachronisms.  Domesticated camels in Genesis, according to the leading Biblical archaeologist of the first 50 years of the 20th century, was an anachronism of biblical proportions (pun intended); however, recent research has proven the early domestication of camels and their place in the patriarchal narratives.(Camels and the Patriarchal Narratives)  The most often cited anachronism is the use of the name Yahweh in Abraham’s story.  Moses has been herding sheep for 40 years in the desert when he stumbles upon a bush that talks to him.  His instructions were to go to the most powerful man in the world and demand of him freedom for his people.  Moses excuses’ aside, he goes and is met with the expected resistance from Pharaoh.  When Pharaoh answers, Moses’ excuses turns into blame.

“Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O, Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people?  Is this why you sent me?  Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.'” (Ex. 5.22-23)

Moses complains to God and he voices his anger about the situation that he is now in the middle of.  But God’s reply to him is more an appeal to His character rather than the current situation.  Moses is looking for an answer to the problem and God, instead, reveals His identity.

“God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them.  I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens.  Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.'”(Ex 6.2-5)

Abram, back in Genesis 12-15, was spoken to by Yahweh (12.1), worshipped Yahweh (13.4), cut a covenant with Yahweh (15.1), and trusted in Yahweh (15.6).  Yahweh had a relationship with Abram.  So, then, why would Yahweh say that He did not make himself known to them?

The hebrew word for know” is the word yada’.  It is a word that conveys intimate knowldege, understanding, and experience.  Adam “knew” [yada] Eve (Gen 4.1) and the Israelites “experienced” [yada] all that God did in the conquest of the Promised land (Josh 24.31).  Yada is experience, knowledge, and wisdom…stuff that Abram dreamed about with the Lord.

Abram only had a theoretical knowledge of Yahweh.  Yahweh is the covenantal name of God…the close, personal name of God.  Abram knew about Yahweh, but hadn’t fully experienced Him.  Most of the time in Exodus, yada is used of God in connection with His power to save His people through the Exodus.  Yahweh’s full identity, his covenantal, personal, redemptive identity, would be shown in his work in delivering His people from bondage.  Abram didn’t have this practical, experiential knowledge, the yada of the Lord.


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