Argument for the Trinity #10: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 3: The Name of Yahweh

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series The Trinity Series

God has a name. It is Yahweh. As we saw when addressing truly biblical monotheism, while many could be called “god” in some sense, there is only one Yahweh.

There is a phrase, found many times throughout the Old and New Testaments, that is of interest to us here, though. That is the phrase “The Name of Yahweh”, or it’s shorter form, “the Name” or “My Name”. There are many times when this language is used, where we find similarities to what we saw with reference to “the word of Yahweh”

I cannot cover everything that Scripture says about this, but one thing I can share is that the Scriptures do speak of the name of Yahweh in several ways. Sometimes, it refers to God’s reputation.

Deuteronomy 28:10

And all of the peoples of the earth shall see that by the name of Yahweh you are called, and they shall fear you.

Here in Deuteronomy 28:10, The people are associated with the name of Yahweh, and so are feared, because His fearsome reputation is connected to them.

Sometimes, it refers to some things that are said or done by the prophets and other representatives, in Yahweh’s stead, as when an attorney speaks on behalf of his client.

Deuteronomy 18:22

Whenever what the prophet spoke in the name of Yahweh, the thing does not take place and does not come about, that is the thing that Yahweh has not spoken to him. Presumptuously the prophet spoke it; you shall not fear that prophet.”

Sometimes, it means something very similar to this, but more like “for the sake of Yahweh”, as when when we say we are doing something in someone’s name, but not necessarily because we were specifically asked to. Rather, we want to honor that person of our own volition.

1 Samuel 17:45

Then David said to the Philistine, “You are coming to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I am coming to you in the name of Yahweh of hosts, the God of the battle lines of Israel, whom you have defied!

So we cannot just assume that the “name” always means the same thing. There are many times when the most obvious meaning is that it is a way of referring to Yahweh Himself. Let’s just look at a few examples.

Psalm 124:8

Our help is in the name of Yahweh, maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 122:4

where the tribes go up, the tribes of Yah as a testimony for Israel, to give thanks to the name of Yahweh.

Isaiah 30:27

[ Judgment against Assyria ] Look! The name of Yahweh comes from afar, burning with his anger and heaviness of cloud. His lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is like a devouring fire.

Here the other possible meanings, such as the proper name itself, the reputation or the seat of authority of prophets just don’t really fit. Our help is in Yahweh Himself. That much ought to be obvious to anyone. We don’t give thanks to anything but the person of God Himself. And how can a name “come from afar”? This is very similar to “the word of Yahweh came to Abraham…” These are obviously referring to Yahweh Himself.

So with these various references in mind, we turn to some of the more interesting passages that seem to be using this language to be referring to God Himself but that is complicated by the fact that God is already in the scene somewhere else…

Exodus 33:18-20

And he said, “Please show me your glory.”

And he said, “I myself will cause all my goodness to pass over before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show compassion towhom I will show compassion.” But he said, “You are not able to see my face, because a human will not see me and live.”

Here we have an interesting passage where God says Himself what is said by many others at various times, namely that one cannot see Yahweh and live. This is curious in its own right based on what we saw before when He is unambiguously seen and even touched in the “embodiment” language found elsewhere. Here, I want to focus on verse 19, where Yahweh says He will do two things:

1. Cause all my goodness to pass before you, and

2. Proclaim the name of Yahweh before you.

It appears from the larger context that God does the first of these acts right away, in the next verses, and then the second happens the next morning and is recorded in chapter 34.

Exodus 34:5-7

And Yahweh descended in the cloud, and he stood with him there, and he proclaimed the name of Yahweh. And Yahweh passed over before him, and he proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, God, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding with loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love to the thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and he does not leave utterly unpunished, punishing the guilt of fathers on sons and on sons of sons on third and fourth generations.”

Now while it is grammatically possible in chapter 33 that “proclaim the name of Yahweh” is a reference just to the proper name, it seems strange since Moses already knows the name and because God could have easily just said proclaim “my name” just as He speaks at other times in this same book when obviously referring to His proper name, Yahweh (Ex. 3:13-15, 6:2-3).

It seems from the account here in chapter 34 that there could be two in the scene with Moses. One who is visible to Moses who stands with him and passes before him, but another, not visible to Moses, to whom the first is referring in the third person. The language is very awkward if He is just referring to Himself.

Whatever meaning the phrase has here, the grammar seems to have Yahweh speaking of “the name of Yahweh” as if it’s someone else’s name.

Probably the most interesting passage using this language in the Hebrew Scriptures is in Exodus 23, where it is combined with another title we will examine, the Angel.

Exodus 23:20-23

“‘Look, I am about to send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him, because he will not forgive your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, I will wipe them out.

Here at Sinai, after the giving of the law, God presents an embodied being to them, calling it an angel. As we’ve already seen, in the torah, the mere use of the term malak doesn’t even hint at a created being, much less prove one, so we have to use the context to see what is meant. God says His name is in the Angel. What does this mean? One is immediately struck in these few verses by two things. First the language about the angel seems high for an angel and it is strange how many times God’s words switch from first- to third-person while discussing this being: Listen to his voice. Do not rebel against him. He will not forgive. If you listen to his voice to do all I say (same sentence). I will be an enemy. When my angel brings you before the nations, I will wipe them out.

If you’re an Israelite listening to God speak here, would you be ever-so-clear in your mind as to who you were looking at? Remember that the events that have already occurred at this point in the history of Israel have had God appearing bodily, and possibly even in three bodies, not to mention the Angel of Yahweh, which we haven’t covered but has appeared repeatedly. There was no impediment to them believing this was another embodiment, and the language keeps them from concluding it’s just a lower spiritual being. If God had wanted to make the separation clear, He certainly could have cleaned up the language, but He didn’t. It’s ambiguous on purpose.

This isn’t even close to the most telling example, but you can see that from other places, the name of Yahweh is just another way of referring to Yahweh Himself, and when placed in the ambiguous language we see here, it seems to point to something special about this angel.

Series Navigation<< Argument for the Trinity #9: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 2: The Word of YahwehArgument for the Trinity #11: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 4: The Angel of Yahweh >>