God's Name is a Character
Podcast Date: September 24, 2018
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: This is Jon from the Bible project. Today on the podcast, we're continuing a series about the complex identity of God in the Bible. In the last episode, we looked at a mysterious and confusing character called the angel of the Lord, and how in story after story about this character, he is...
Tim: ...so closely connected to God's own identity. In the narratives where this figure appears, it actually is hard to tell if it's Yahweh or distinct from Yahweh.
Jon: A character that poses a paradox that God's identity is so mind-boggling complex that He can exist in a way that just doesn't make logical sense to us. In this brain twister of God appearing as a character that's both Him and distinct from Him, this doesn't stop with the angel of the Lord. The same pattern happens over and over with God's attributes.
Tim: Here they are. God's name, God's glory, God's word, God's Spirit, and God's wisdom. They are attributes of God, but as we're going to see, there are biblical passages where the language used to describe these does the same blurring as the angel of Yahweh text. It talks about them and develop them in ways that sound odd in English and in Hebrew, and begins to talk about them as if they are distinct from Yahweh, but they are a manifestation of Yahweh himself.
Jon: So today on the podcast, we talked about the complex identity of God by looking at His attributes. Today we'll specifically look at two. The first one is God's name. You can think of this attributes like God's reputation. God's reputation is a big deal in the Bible. Such a big deal that passages about God's name seem to talk about it like it isn't just an attribute.
Tim: The name becomes personified. Like a person who lives in a house, Yahweh's name lives in the temple.
Jon: We'll also look at the attributes of God's glory - how when prophets see God's glory, they see fire, but also they tend to see...
Tim: ...a human figure. A human-like figure on a throne.
Jon: So we'll go through these stories and you can see for yourself how these stories create an ambiguity. This isn't just a fun mental exercise to do. This has a point which is this; the New Testament authors are tracking with all of this. They see it.
Tim: They're clearly drawing upon those mental categories to describe Jesus. Jon: We're going to unpack all of that today. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
So in this conversation, we're going to start talking about personified divine attributes.
Tim: Again, the big category is God interacts with the world through agents, mediators. We talked about human mediators - priests, prophets, Moses, David, whatever - then angelic mediators, and then there's unique category angel of Yahweh. Now it's another category. These are divine attributes: God's name, God's glory, God's Word, God's Spirit, and God to wisdom. Name, glory, word, spirit, wisdom. So they're all, you know, they are God. They are attributes of God - parts of God's appearance or character.
But as we're going to see, there are biblical passages where the language used to describe these does the same blurring as the angel of Yahweh texts. It talks about them and develops them in ways that sound odd in English and in Hebrew, and begins to talk about them as if they are distinct from Yahweh, but they are a manifestation of Yahweh himself. We're going to see the same shelf space that the angel of Yahweh sits on is going to be now filled with these things too.
Jon: So, when you use an attribute of someone...I'm just trying to get into this headspace. Tim: You're trying to think of an attribute. Jon's reputation goes before him.
Jon: Yeah, my reputation. I am reputation.
Tim: Your name. Which is what name means. Your name.
Jon: Okay. But you would never say like, "Hey, Jon's reputation is here."
Tim: Right. A lot of it is in the particulars. Once you read these texts, then you are like, "Oh, wow."
Jon: So that's the category of an attribute.
Tim: Yes, that's the category. Yes, that's right.
Jon: Okay. So start with that one, God's name.
Tim: God's name. God's name. So God's name is important part of the biblical story that it's unrevealed until—
Jon: With Moses?
Tim: Yeah. The moment where it's explicitly revealed in a story moment is at the burning bush. The name itself is interesting because the first expression, "What's your name?" "I am Who I am." "Okay."
Jon: How was the Hebrew...? Tim: Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Jon: Ehyeh.
Tim: Then Moses gets the version he would say to the people because he's not going to say "I am." So what he gets is the third person singular form. Yahweh. Not Ehyeh, but Yahweh. He is who he is.
Jon: So as God revealed His name he changed it on the fly. Tim: Yeah. Well, only God can say "I am."
Jon: God's name is actually something he could only mutter.
Tim: Exactly, exactly. That's part of the point is that first person "I will be" or "I am what I am" only God can say "I am." If Moses is going to say the name, he can only say "He is" because Moses is not Yahweh.
Jon: It's an interesting name that depending on who uses it, you have to change it.
Tim: It's different. Yes, yeah. Even that speaks to the mystery and the holiness, the otherness of the name. I have a quote here from well-known German Hebrew Bible nerd, Gerhard von Rad, and he has a great section on the Divine Name in his Old Testament theology.
He says, "The name Yahweh was committed in trust to Israel alone among nations. In it alone lay the guarantee of Yahweh's nearness and of his readiness to help. This name shared directly in Yahweh's own holiness for indeed it was, so to speak, a double of his being."
And what he means double is the name is itself a literary imitation of God's own unique status because no one can actually say the name the way it ought to be said except Yahweh himself. So even when you say, "Yahweh," you're saying something like an imitation that participates in God's own holiness. And so the name had to be treated as holy. "Don't take it in vain." In the heart of Israel's worship, to call on the name of Yahweh was equivalent to true worship.
Tim: So here's what you find. There's many things. This would take too long if I walked through all of these. But there's one phrase in particular, it appears mostly in the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses is talking about, "Hey, when you all go into the promised land and set up a place of worship, a temple." This is Deuteronomy 12:4. Moses says, "Y'all are to worship at the place Yahweh your God will choose. God's going to choose one place, set up the temple there. From among all the tribes to place his name there for it to dwell or take up residence. That's where you will seek Him."
It's not ambiguous in English, it is ambiguous and Hebrew. "That's where you will seek it, the name, or that's where you will seek Him, Yahweh."
Tim: It's ambiguous. Just like in English we have two different pronouns "it" to be a non- animate like a rock in him. In Hebrew, you just have one word [unintelligible 00:08:17].
Jon: Is he referring to the name or is he referring to him?
Tim: Correct. And notice that God's going to put His name there. It's very similar to the angel of Yahweh. "My name is in him." So here, it's God's going to place His name in the space so it can take up residence there. The name becomes the subject of a verb.
Jon: The name becomes a thing that can live somewhere.
Tim: That can live somewhere, yeah. And then when you go there, you seek it.
Jon: Yeah. Like, I would never say, like, "Hey, guys, I'm just going to put my reputation here in this office so I can just be here, and I want you guys to just be aware of my reputations in this office. It's going to live here.”
Tim: That's right. "My name will live there." So weird. And this turn of phrase happens half a dozen times in this chapter. I have one other example. It's the same phrase though. “The place where Yahweh your God chooses to cause his name to dwell.” So the whole point is, the name becomes personified. Like a person who lives in the house, Yahweh's name lives in the temple.
Jon: So an attribute of God becomes personified in some way?
Tim: Yeah. So the question is, oh, is that just a literary figure of speech, turn of phrase? Well, consider the next divine attributes. God's kavod, his glory, which we—
Jon: His heaviness.
Tim: Yeah, we did a whole podcast episode on that. So, among the many nuances of meaning of this Hebrew word "kavod" literally means "heaviness." You actually had this analogy that stuck with me. It's so good. Where it's the meaning of kavod where it's describing a physical appearance or a physical manifestation of somebody's importance, of somebody's heaviness. And you talked about your room as a teenager.
Jon: What did I say?
Tim: You don't remember this?
Jon: I don't remember. Remember, I have a bad memory. My room?
Tim: You had this great analogy where you talked about your room as a teenager which would be like, decked out with all your favorite poster and sports figures.
Jon: I had my couch in there and I had my guitar and everything.
Tim: And then you'd come in, and you'd be like, "My kavod. This is my glory."
Jon: This is my glory.
Tim: These are the physical manifestations of your unique story and character, what you like and what you love.
Jon: That is good.
Tim: And so you don't even have to be there. Someone can walk in and see your glory.
Jon: I think we talked about one piece of my glory was those images that you kind of have to blow your eyes and then something pops out.
Tim: Oh, the 3d images?
Jon: The 3d image.
Jon: And it was skier, and I got it at the mall because I was so impressed that I could see it. I was just so mesmerized by those things too, though. I still am. I still don't get it.
Tim: That's so cool. All right. There you go. That's one of the meanings. So God's kavod, one is the amazing mind blowing things, the physical phenomena, that would happen when God showed up somewhere. Smoke or glory, you know, fire, this brightness. There is a whole category of stories and language in the Bible around this physical appearance when Yahweh shows up. And this physical appearance once again begins to take on an independent life. It's as if God's kavod is Yahweh. It's his glory, but it's also distinct from Yahweh in the same way, in the same pattern.
So the first appearance of it actually doesn't use the word kavod or glory. It's in Exodus 24. It's all the fire and smokes happening on the mountain Sinai. It's crazy. After the Ten Commandments and the Israelites sign up and are like, "Yeah, sign us up. We're going to enter this covenant."
Then Exodus 24:9: "Then Moses went up Mount Sinai with Aaron and with Nadab and Abihu - those are his two sons - and with seventy elders of Israel." This is unique. All the other times Moses went up alone, but now he's going up with a priests and the elders. And then it just says, just point blank, "And they saw the God of Israel." And what did they see? "Well, under his feet, there appeared a pavement platform of Sapphire, clear as the sky itself."
Now you should as a Bible reader be registering, "I thought, you can't see God and live." That's what God says to Moses later. So they saw God, and then the narrator's like, "Oh, yeah, God didn't stretch out his hand against the nobles, the elders of the sons of Israel." "And they saw God and they ate and they drank."
Jon: Stretched out his hand, meaning strike him down?
Tim: Yeah. It's a special provision that so many people got to go see the physical manifestation of God. It doesn't call what they saw glory, but they are seeing very clearly physical manifestation - a pavement platform, a clear Sapphire precious gem platform.
Jon: It's random. Was this like above them? Are they under this thing? Are they looking up?
Tim: There you go. I mean, you're looking at I am. It seems to be. They go up to the upper part of the mountain, which is immersed in a cloud, they see a platform, and then that platform is supporting something on which the God of Israel sitting or standing.
Jon: Clear as the sky itself.
Tim: I mean, that's why they could see through the platform.
Jon: So it does seem like they—
Tim: Maybe like when you're a kid and you crawl underneath a coffee table or something that's glass and you look up. As a kid, it's my favorite thing to—
Jon: To hang out under there?
Tim: Yeah, and like do your cars on top. Anyway, okay. So they saw the physical manifestation of God's power and reputation.
Jon: Did they have some food with them? Tim: Yeah.
Jon: They brought a whole picnic?
Tim: They have a meal up there. They ate and drank. They're having celebratory covenant ceremony meal. It's a wedding feast. We have another couple stories of people seeing God on His throne. We didn't have a throne in Exodus.
Jon: Yeah, it's a platform.
Tim: Now, let's go. What are these other appearances of Yahweh like? Well, the Prophet Micaiah, who saw all the hosts of heaven, the armies of heaven, he says he saw Yahweh sitting on a throne. So what did he see exactly? Well, Yahweh sitting on a throne, he's a Divine Council, all these other beings. So we're kind of putting together this portrait here. When people have encounters with Yahweh, they see Yahweh sitting on a throne on top of a platform.
Jon: He wasn't necessarily sitting in Exodus. I actually pictured him standing. Tim: It doesn't specify.
Tim: But in Micaiah's vision in 1 Kings 22, he's sitting. The famous vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 6, he says, "I saw Yahweh sitting on the throne and he's lofty and exalted. The train of his robe fills the temple." So now it makes it clear he's having a vision and he's inside the holy of holies, which was itself a symbolic depiction of God's throne because he sits enthroned above the cherubim. And here the cherubim are not called cherubim, they're called burning ones - seraphim, which means fiery ones. All these crazy wings. And they're saying, "Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of his - and then here's our word - His kavod."
Tim: So in all these appearances, people seeing divine king in throne, on a high platform surrounded, flanked by...in English, we say angelic beings, but Angel means messenger. And these beings are not messengers right now. They are...
Jon: ...other kinds of spiritual creatures.
Tim: And what they're announcing is the whole earth, everything, including the scene is a manifestation of God's glory or kavod. So the sun tells of God's kavod, or the earth tells of his kavod. And then what am I seeing right here is the purest form. They see a human, a human figure. He's sitting. It's a humanoid figure sitting on an actual throne. And they say, "I saw Yahweh."
Jon: Got it.
Tim: Then you get to Ezekiel 1. Holy cow. Lots going on here. Jon: Yeah, Ezekiel is a little weird.
Tim: Yeah. So Ezekiel is a priest. He's been a priest in training and Jerusalem for his whole life. So he's been in around the temple. He's a priest. He's a priest nerd. The book of Ezekiel opens, he's been shipped off into captivity in Babylon, you see him by irrigation canal. In Ezekiel 1, he sees something that by the end of it, he's going to call the glory of Yahweh. A kavod of Yahweh.
So here's how the scene opens, "It came about in the thirtieth year..." It doesn't specify of what. A lot of people think it's his 30th birthday year and that he mentions it because it's the 30th year that he would have been installed as a priest. He had to be 30.
Jon: First day of the job.
Tim: But he's sitting by a river in Babylon. It would have been his first day on the job, but now he's a prisoner in Babylon. "On the fifth day of the fourth month, I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, and the heavens were opened and I saw visions of Elohim. I looked, and a storm wind coming, big cloud, fire." And already we're thinking, "Oh, Mount Sinai." But then there's fire flashing, and a bright light all around it, a big storm cloud approaching. But then in the middle, there's something glowing and metallic. So what he sees, a platform, a metal platform approaching.
First, he sees these glowing creatures, multiform animal creatures. He calls them the living beings, or the living creatures. And then they're all vertical and their wings are both flying and the wings are touching each other to support something. And what they're supporting is a platform. Literally, it's the Hebrew word Rakia, which is the same word for the dome. The sky dome means a solid thing.
Jon: It's a creature dome.
Tim: Yeah, it's a platform, and the platform was like the awesome gleam of crystal. We already have a category for God sitting or standing on a platform that is crystal and you can see through it. That's what the elders saw.
Jon: Is that type of a crystal?
Tim: The precious gem.
Jon: For some reason it's blue, right? Sapphire is blue. Tim: I thought so. But then it says it's clear.
Tim: So clear blue.
Jon: It's clear as the sky.
Tim: Yeah, sapphire is blue. Oh, clear like the sky, which is blue. Now, verse 26: "Above the platform, over the heads of these crazy beings, there was something like a throne. It was also Sapphire in appearance: and on the thing that resembled a throne, really high up was a figure like the appearance of a human - adam. I noticed the appearance from His waist loins and upwards was just pure light glowing metal fire all around. So he can't see from the waist up. All he sees is this glowing light. "But from the waist down, I saw also fire and there was radiance all around him like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. That was the appearance of the radius around it."
And then he summarizes, and he says, "This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. And when I saw it, I fell on my face." And then who start speaking to him? Yahweh. So, he says, "I saw a vision of Elohim." That's how he begins it. Then he says, This whole thing I saw, and this human-looking figure on the throne, he calls it the kavod Yahweh - the glory of Yahweh.
Jon: The likeness of the glory of Yahweh.
Tim: Yeah, this is the appearance of the likeness. He always says "likeness" or "the appearance of" and sometimes he doubles them up - the appearance of the likeness of. So he's hedging. He's saying, "I saw it, but it was like. It was like this. It was like that." So he sees a human-like figure sitting on a throne which maps on to all these other stories, and he calls it the glory of Yahweh.
And then the human figure start speaking to him, and it's Yahweh. So Yahweh can appear. And it's Yahweh but it's the kavod of Yahweh. The physical manifestation of Yahweh.
Jon: It doesn't say that the human fingers are speaking. It just says, "When I saw it, I fell on my face and I heard a voice speaking."
Tim: That's true. Yeah, that's right. Then what happens is, "I heard a voice speaking, and he said to me, 'human, get on your feet.'" This is Ezekiel 2. Sorry, I didn't print this out. "And as he spoke to me, the ruakh entered me and set me on my feet." Then it goes on to speak, and eventually says, "Thus says Yahweh." So it's Yahweh appearing as a human. This whole thing is called—
Jon: The appearance of human.
Tim: Yeah, the appearance of human. The whole thing's called the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.
Jon: Quite a mouthful.
Tim: I know.
Jon: The appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.
Tim: So there you go. Put the name and the glory together. "I will put my name and it will live there." And then the kavod can take up residence in the temple, is what Isaiah sees. And when he sees it, what he sees is a human figure, a human-like figure on a throne.
Jon: Which story was that? Tim: Isaiah 6.
Jon: Oh, right.
Tim: Which maps on to what the elder saw at Mount Sinai, which maps onto what the prophet saw in his vision - Micaiah. Throne, throne, throne. We already have that - Divine Council idea - but here, it's all this other intensity now added to it, and it's given a title, the kavod, the glory of Yahweh. It's the thing. It's the manifestation of Yahweh that's in the temple, which is what Yahweh said is his name. The place where I will put my name so it can live there.
Jon: So when God talks about kind of inhabiting the temple, he says, "My glory will fill it." We didn't look at a verse that says that but that's pretty common. Right?
Tim: I put one right after Ezekiel on Psalm 26:8.
Jon: Okay. Psalm 26:8: "I love the house where you dwell, the place where your glory dwells."
Tim: So, "Where you dwell" the parallel poetic line is "where your kavod dwells." Synonymous.
Jon: That makes sense. That would be synonymous. If you would say that my attribute is my stench and you say, "That's Jon's house. That's where his stench is," you'd be like, "Okay, it makes sense."
Tim: Yeah, totally. The glory and the name don't start talking necessarily like the angel of Yahweh does, but it's interesting turns of phrase.
Jon: "My name will take residence there" is weird turn of phrase.
Tim: My glory, my kavod dwells there and I dwell there. You dwell there Yahweh and your kavod dwells there.
Jon: And then what Ezekiel sees is the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.
Jon: I guess I've always taken that phrase "the glory of God" just to kind of say, "I'm seeing God but when I talk about it, I'm just emphasizing how glorious it is. So I'm seeing the glory of God.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. It's God's appearance, which is glory.
Jon: But you're saying, with the name, it seemed like you were explicitly saying, "Okay, it isn't this weird? It kind of has its own character. And glory, I'm not seeing it quite as much.
Tim: No, not here. It's an entity, but it is the physical manifestation and it's a human-like figure on the throne, which the only other human-like figure we've come across in the Old Testament story is the angel of Yahweh.
Jon: Yeah. God said, "I'll put my name in."
Tim: Yeah, God says, "I'll put my name to dwell in the temple, and I'll put my name in that angel." And in the burning bush with Moses, there was some glory going on there. Fire, fiery bush. Just all these start merging together, and what they have in common is a physical manifestation of a human-like figure that is intense. And there's all these crazy phenomena. Angel, name, glory. There you go.
Tim: So, let's just pause with this one. I want to just start bringing in the Jesus stuff because there's pay off here. We're doing all this work and there's extreme pay off when you start reading the New Testament. In John 17, which we'll come to more than once, once we start talking about the Trinity in the New Testament, John 17 is Jesus' often called high priestly prayer. Dude, this thing, I don't even—
Jon: I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Tim: Right?
Tim: Look how it opens. "Father, the hour has come - he's about to go get arrested - glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you." There's our glory word. "Do something to me that will display my glory and I'll do something that will display your glory. Even as you gave him, your Son, authority over all flesh that to all you have given him he may give eternal life. And here's eternal life, that they may know you, the only - their Shema language - the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you've sent." Notice how God and Jesus are now just sitting there next to each other.
I glorified you. I was the manifestation of your glory here on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me, manifest my glory together with yourself. So show my glory along with your glory, the glory that I had with you before the creation of the world. I've manifested your name to the men that you gave me out of the world. They were yours.
Jon: NIV just says, "I revealed you to those who you gave me."
Tim: Oh, it's your name. "I've revealed your name" which once their merging God's name with God's own self there. They're paraphrasing. "I manifested your name to those—
Jon: There's a footnote in the NIV that says that it's the name. It's name. Tim: Oh, they do say it in the footnote?
Tim: Go down to verse 11. "I'm no longer in the world yet they are in the world and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, the name which you've given me that they may be one as you and I are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, the name that you gave me, and I guarded them."
So notice how all this is being brought together here. The name, the glory. It's specifically the name and the glory.
Jon: So Jesus has this sense, this identity that Yahweh has put his name in him?
Jon: And what we've seen in the Old Testament is that God did that with the angel of the Lord.
Tim: Yeah, my name is in that. That human-like figure that appears and walks and talks—
Jon: In a way that united them. And Jesus is saying here, "You did that and it united them," and that he then kind of by extension, did that to his disciples. He put the name on them, whatever that means, to bring them into that unity.
Tim: "You and I have got this thing going, Father. Your name is my name. You've given me your name. And you and I are one. The one God Father and Jesus."
Jon: You and I are one. That’s what He says huh...
Tim: Verse 3, there was the Shema coming in. "This is eternal life that they may know you the one true God and me." It's just right there.
Jon: But he doesn't say that they are one together. He just says—
Tim: No. He's already said it. The father and I are one. But here to say, "Here's eternal life that they know you the one true God and that they may know me."
Jon: And he's using this word "glory" to say, like, "I bring you glory, you bring me glory and I shared in your glory before the world began."
Jon: Which is crazy thing to say.
Tim: We'll talk about that. Actually, that's the next divine attributes, the word, and wisdom that we'll talk about.
Tim: But the point is, is that clearly Jesus, and then you should go on read Paul, they've all noticed all this stuff and pointing out to you, and they see it as categories for talking about Yahweh and distinct from Yahweh. And whether it's the angel, the name, the glory. And they're clearly drawing upon those mental categories to describe Jesus. So this is a great example where a whole bunch of different things gets brought together.
And, you know, you can just read it and it's cool, even if you don't have any of that background.
Jon: Which I've done every single time before this.
Tim: You're just like, "Wow, the word glory is huge.
Jon: I mean, it's cool, but it's always confusing. Every time I've read this chapter, it's kind of like, "Wow, I don't really understand this but Jesus really is getting mystical here and he really cares for his disciples."
Tim: And it's a lot of glory. A lot of glory action.
Jon: A lot of glory action.
Tim: I mean, seriously— I glorify you, you glorify me...
Jon: It's one of those of words, honestly, when that word shows up my eyes glaze over a little bit because it's just one of those words.
Tim: There's all these physical manifestations of God's importance and power in the past, they were always throne, divine and lifted up on a throne. Dude, divine and lifted up on a throne, right?
Tim: It's what all these people see. Then earlier on in the speech, when Jesus knows he's about to get arrested, in chapter 14, he says, "Father, glorify me, this is the hour. Right here, you're going to glorify me." The single most common phrase in the Gospel of John to refer to is being crucified, is lifted up, high and lifted up on his throne.
So the whole motif of the gospel of John is that the perfect manifestation of God's kavod...just like I go into your room, and I learn who you by looking around. John's whole point he creates this narrative arc throughout the gospel of Yahweh exalted high and lifted up on his glorious throne is what you are seeing when you see Jesus being hoisted up onto the cross. Holy cow. You're actually seeing who God really is in His essence when you look at Jesus on the cross. That's the claim that the whole gospel is making. A crucified Jewish man is the glory of the Creator of the universe. That's the claim that he's making. So profound.
Jon: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Bible Project podcast. We'll continue next week with a couple more attributes of God. The conversation gets even more fascinating.
Today's episode was produced by Dan Gummel and today's music was made special by Tae the Producer. The Bible Project is a nonprofit studio in Portland, Oregon. We're completely crowdfunded, which means that this podcast, all the videos and other resources we make are completely free because of the generous support of people just like you. So thanks for being a part of this with us.
John: Hi, this is John Tomada from Barrigada, Guam. I use The Bible Project especially with my kids on Saturday mornings, and I tell them that it is the new Saturday morning cartoons. And also I use it teaching soldiers at the Guam Army National Guard. I show them videos and encourage them that the Bible is alive and well. We believe that the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. We're a crowdfunded project by people like me. Find free videos, study notes, and more at thebibleproject.com.