“I will cause all my goodness to pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce the name of Adonai. Moreover, I show favor to whomever I will, and I display mercy to whomever I will. But my face,” he continued, “you cannot see, because a human being cannot look at me and remain alive. Here,” he said, “is a place near me; stand on the rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you inside a crevice in the rock and cover you with my hand, until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, and you will see my back, but my face is not to be seen.”-Exodus 33:19-23
In verse 19, the Lord tells Moses that He is going to “proclaim the name of Adonai”.
But darn it, that’s not really correct!
What it actually says is that He is going to “proclaim the name of YHVH“.
This touches on an area I feel strongly about and I’ve never really agreed with the Jewish tradition of refraining from speaking the Lord’s Name out loud.
I just don’t think it’s Scriptural.
In the original Hebrew, the Lord’s holy name is written over 6000 times in the Scriptures and there are plenty of verses where we are given the clear command to call on or do something in His Name.
Why in the world would the Lord ask us to call on or do something in His Name if He didn’t want us to use it?
I mean right here the Lord is telling Moses He is going to proclaim His own Name, YHVH, through Moses.
I don’t think many of us who grew up in the West understand but what’s actually happening here is that God is revealing His nature to Moses.
Here’s the thing.
In the Middle Eastern culture, to give somebody your name is to reveal your character to that person.
A person’s name and his or her character are considered to be one and the same.
God is also telling Moses He is too holy even for him to look upon His face.
The Lord then goes on to say “I show favor to whomever I will, and I display mercy to whomever I will”.
This phrase is also interesting.
I certainly don’t believe it reflects any capriciousness on the Lord’s part.
Rather, I think what God is saying here is that many times the decisions He makes are going to be beyond our human intellect and ability to understand.
One of my favorite verses speaking to this is…
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways,” says Adonai.
“As high as the sky is above the earth
are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Finally, Exodus 33 ends with that enigmatic verse “you will see My back, but My face will not be seen” from which volumes of theology have been spun out.
What’s happening here is the Lord has directed Moses to stand in a crevice and God Himself will cover Moses’ eyes so that he does not see the Lord’s face.
However, when God passes, Moses will see God’s back.
What exactly does all of this mean?
And based on what many commentaries say, it seems like nobody else knows either.
Just a lot of unsatisfactory allegorizing going on.
It was actually quite natural for the ancient Hebrew monotheists to imagine the Lord in physical terms.
But I wouldn’t assume it implies conceptual naïveté on their part.
I believe what the Hebrew writers were getting at is that the Lord’s intrinsic nature is inaccessible, and possibly intolerable to our finite minds.
But that doesn’t mean we are unable to catch a glimpse of His attributes which display His Goodness and loving intentions towards us.
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN EXODUS CHAPTER 34