What Does YHWH mean?

In this short meditation on the Tetragrammaton, John Piper demonstrates that God declares His eternality and utter self-sufficiency by His Name, YHWH.

The One God is YHWH, but the Three Persons are also YHWH. Jesus is called YHWH in Jeremiah 22:36, for His Name will be, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”.

Jesus is God, and has always been from everlasting, for John 1:1 says, “the Word was God.” (Micah 5:2) We know none can become God, for He will not give His glory to another. (Isaiah 42:8)

Since He calls Himself, “I AM WHAT I AM”, or “I AM WHO I AM”, we know that all that God is, He has always been, and none made God or even added counsel to Him. John 1:3 declares that whatever was made, was made by Christ. Thus we see, Jesus, being eternal, was not made by His Father, nor Himself, since that is illogical.

The Tetragrammaton, YHWH, is explained by that preceding clause, “I AM THAT I AM.” And it is that larger clause I want to examine in the glorious light that John Piper sees in it.

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:14 KJV)

There, the verb “I AM”, that appears three times, is in the imperfect.

We have heard that the imperfect refers to ongoing or incomplete actions, especially in the future, however, it is not so simple. We will see that several features of the imperfect come into play in His Name.

The imperfect is subtle, even without the vav consecutive, which is not used in Exodus 3:14 and which we will not examine. The imperfect though, can refer to future, one-time, actions.

“I will make [imp.] a covenant with you.” (2 Samuel 3:13 NKJ)

Other times the imperfect can portray one-time actions in the present, though we could say these are incomplete.

“Hannah, why do you weep [imp.]? Why do you not eat [imp.]?” (1 Samuel 1:8 NKJ)

The ability of the imperfect to express simple, one-time actions, in the present and future, is connected to the more common power of the imperfect for ongoing action. There is, in both, a fullness of action which we don’t ascribe to the imperfect by saying that it only covers “incomplete” actions. The nature of the imperfect is shown not only in progressive, and uncompleted, actions, but in progressive, ongoing actions.

When God says “I AM”, He uses the imperfect because of its progressive, ongoing nature, without limiting that eternal fountain of Being to an incomplete, or still to be finished process. But this is entirely proper to the imperfect, though the name of this inflection is in contradiction to the idea.

The grammarian Gesenius says, “[The linguist] Driver rightly lays stress upon the inherent distinction between the participle as expressing mere duration, and the imperfect as expressing progressive duration (in the present, past, or future). Thus the words וְנָהָר יׂצֵא [participle] (Genesis 2:10) represent the river of Paradise as going out of Eden in a continuous, uninterrupted stream, but יִפָּרֵד, [imperfect] which immediately follows, describes how the parting of its waters is always taking place afresh.” [text citations edited]

The participle can describe a continuous action, but the imperfect can be employed to emphasize the ongoing nature in time (or we shall see, in eternity) of that action. Gesenius also gives the example of Genesis 2:6, which, “represents new mists as constantly arising.”

“But there went up [imperfect] a mist from the earth.” (Genesis 2:6 KJV)

The imperfect has a special use for continual or repeated action, which is called the frequentative. Again, the name here characterizes the imperfect well in some of its function, but does not do justice to its uses of a more continuous or ongoing nature.

But in the Tetragrammaton, we see the frequentative imperfect, expressing a kind of eternality. This mode of the verb can refer to the past, present, or future. And in some cases is used to speak of eternity, as below.

The LORD shall reign [imp.] for ever and ever. (Exodus 15:18 KJV)

or again, the frequentative in a continual present,

[The LORD] heareth the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29 KJV)

So the frequentative, despite its name, can mean an action not only frequent, or repeated, but continual and ongoing.

What is more, the imperfect often expresses actions that are contingent on certain factors, certain conditions. This contingent relation to a condition is expressed by particles like “perhaps”, “if”, “in order that”, “because”, “lest”, or as here in Exodus 3:14, “that”.

In Exodus 3:14 when the two imperfect verbs appear, “I AM THAT I AM” we see that the eternality of God’s being is conditional on His being, that is, He exists because of His own being, and solely to the end of His own being. [Thus the second I AM is also related as the end, or “in order that”, to the first I AM.] It is a strangely paradoxical contingency, unique among all beings, because His end and sufficiency and purpose, were always satisfied by His own innate being.

The imperfect that answers a contingency may be in response to an action, “b if a”. Other times, the imperfect rests on a contingent, “will, desire, judgment, premonition, or permission” in which case we may translate with auxiliary words, “shall, might, should,” etc. [From Kelley and Crawford’s Grammar]

Here God’s eternal existence reflects that “desire” and “judgment” which says “yes” and “I shall” to His own being.

The imperfect not only involves progression or continuation, but the motives involved in actions. Thus we see that the jussive and cohortative are in the imperfect. These two verb forms are used when there is an urging, desire, determination, or permission to act.

Finally, the imperfect can answer a question, and He is the only one, by virtue of being the Truth, and the great Satisfier, who really can answer our questions.

The imperfect embraces questions perhaps because the question is uttered in a desire, or determination to hear an answer. As the Living Word proceeds from God in an eternal revelation, and the Son is said, proceeding from the bosom of the Father, to be in eternal generation, so God’s Name proceeds as a continual, miraculous, answer to that ground of His Being.

That answer is YES, and that answer is AMEN, and that answer exists in a kind of wonder of Life, which superabundantly resolves the questions “who?” and “why?” without a statement of the question, but also without a denial of the question. Yet God gave His Name as an answer to Moses’ question, “they shall say to me, what is his name? what shall I say [imp.] unto them?” (Exodus 3:13 KJV)

So God’s Name is an answer to our own question, but is there not also in the sufficiency and satisfaction of the “I AM” a living answer that overflows the cup of every potential question even in the Godhead?

Now Pharoah did ask that very question, yet like Pilate, did not learn the answer when He should have.

“Pharaoh said, who is the LORD, that I should obey [imp.] his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2 KJV)

But we all ought, with Jacob, ask “who are you, and what is your name?” for His Name is wonderful.

“Why is it that you ask [imp.] my name?” (Genesis 32:29 NAS)

For what Jesus told not Jacob, He does tell us through Moses.

Lanugo – The Struggle in the Womb

Lanugo –
(noun) a coat of delicate, downy hairs, esp. that with which the human fetus or a newborn infant is covered. A type of pelage.

Pelage –
(noun) the hair, fur, wool, or other soft covering of a mammal.

The two brothers, Jacob and Esau, were set apart from the womb. As the Lord said to their mother, Rebekah, “two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels.” (Genesis 25:23 KJV) From day one, each brother showed out a picture of what he would become.

Esau was born covered in red hair, like a garment. His hairiness was the basis of his name, “Hairy”, and connects him to the fur-clad animals he was expert at hunting. “Red” also became his second name, Edom, when he traded for the red stew Jacob fed him.

This red fur he was covered in at birth is called “lanugo”. This is the downy fetal hair, or animal pelage, which falls off the fetus’ body during gestation and is swallowed, where it remains in the bowels, until after birth, when the meconium is released. Since twins like Jacob and Esau, who shared the same uterine sac, must ingest their brothers’ lanugo in utero, Jacob had more of his brother in him than most.

Now Jacob was a “heel catcher” or “supplanter”. What Esau was by nature, Jacob shared in by proximity. It served Jacob to have more than a hair of familiarity with his worldly brother, who intended to kill him, and with his uncle Laban, who would cheat him. Nine months wrestling with Esau, and ingesting the pelage of his body, was a material inoculation that prepared Jacob to grasp both crafty and resourceful tactics when in need. He did so yet remained a man of God.

When people say take “a hair of the dog that bit you,” this refers to curing a rabid dog bite by putting a few hairs from that dog into the wound, or more recently, to curing a hangover with a bit more alcohol. Jacob never became a hunter or a murderer, but he showed a capacity for wrestling, and defending himself and his family.

When his brother was born first, Jacob caught him by the heel before he emerged. And within a handful of verses, he had won the birthright from him. Esau’s second name was a signal of his defeat, for the highest expression of that poor man was the lamenting cry he brought before his father, “hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Genesis 27:38 KJV) Thus the words of 2 Peter 2:19, with the power of a divine law, impress on him the name Edom because of his weakness before that red meal, “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (KJV)

On the other hand, Jacob acquires the name Israel by a victory of perseverance. What began with a heel hold, was fully wrought in that night of prayer and God wrestling, so that the Lord redeemed his first name, and crowned him with a second, Israel. This combines the words “prince” and “God”, or “contends” and “God”.

According to Strong’s, Israel means “to rule as God”, and Christ does promise that his children will rule with him. (1 Corinthians 6:2,3, Revelation 3:21) Yet there is still that law sovereign over Israel, “the disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” (Luke 6:40)

Jacob’s life was marked by restraint, and eventual reward. Esau, failing to get started on the right foot, never got started at all. Esau was one of whom it may be said, “and thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say, how I have hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof.” (Proverbs 5:11,12 KJV)

While they wrestled, did they also cry? For babies can cry in the womb, both with tears, and with the exercise of their mouths and lungs, though it does not produce a sound. Around the 30th week, babies can cry tears, about the time they may grasp objects and move about freely some.

As Hebrews speaks of Melchizedek as eternal, because he had neither birth nor parentage, so the struggle between brothers began before they began, revealing a battle that precedes personal existence. Thus it is a type for the struggle between the Son of Man and the Devil.

As Jacob ate up Esau’s downy red fur, so did Jesus Christ bear and put on our sins in their most accursed form. In the exchanged life, our own wretched garments, become those white robes of the Lord’s own good deeds. The same picture is found in Zechariah 3, where Joshua the High Priest is shown under Satan’s accusation to wear filthy garments. Yet that scarlet, and that stained, is exchanged for the snow white and the regal.

The word “gestation” is also helpful here, for it signifies 9 months of the child’s formation, but it also means “to wear clothes or ornaments”, and that “exercise by which one is borne or carried, as on horseback, or in a carriage, by passive exercise, and without his own exertion”. Even when we first become ourselves, our very being already undergoes an exchange of destiny-shaping in His hand.

Inside Rebekah was the travail of two peoples, progressing to another world, to two distinct worlds. Huge and important was her womb, and condensed as a soul. This woman was full of water, and full of ships on the water. She held floods like Sheol, and like the grave of Jonah before his faith breakthrough. (Psalm 69) In these floods there were tears, and there was an exchange of garments.

Pre-Marital Sex or Rape?

Torah Teaching in Deuteronomy 22:13-29

There are 6 different legal cases that give rulings on sexual indiscretion between Deuteronomy 22:13-29. They lay out some general divisions in the law through case example. The final seven of those verses are below, divided into the three cases we will consider here.

Case #1

“If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:23,24 KJV)

Case #2

“But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.” (Deuteronomy 22:25-27 KJV)

Case #3

“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28,29 KJV)

The first case is of a man who has humbled his neighbor’s wife by sleeping with her. Though she was only betrothed, she was considered a wife because betrothal in that world was one stage of marriage. So that first case is adultery and is punished by death. The second case is rape of a betrothed woman. The man is punished with death and the woman is considered innocent. The third case we will examine more closely, but I contend is simply consensual sex between two unattached people. The man is required to pay her bride price, marry her, and never divorce her.

Law students do not only study the laws themselves, but rather cases and judgments. Likewise, God’s written law was not constructed as a totally abstract system which covers all possibilities. There is strategic economy to what cases are given. Thus the labels of the crime are not provided, but the judges are to study the principles in play.

So what are the facts of the third, “controversial” case, which some maintain is rape? The NIV translates verse 28, “if a man happens to meet a virgin…and rapes her…” However the Hebrew verb does not necessarily imply such violence. It can be used to describe taking hold of a garment or playing the harp. The King James Version here translates the word as “lay hold”, while the New American Standard Bible has “seizes”. A few verses earlier, at Deuteronomy 22:25, in discussing rape, a different verb is used: חָזַק , which perhaps should be translated, “to force.” (KJV) So we see intentional differentiation between these cases.

The rape case in the field, gives the law for rape, and it defies common sense to consider the third case as rape because it would be contradictory.

The text shows that the incident in case 3, happened around a witness, but she did not cry out. They were discovered. Nor is it “he was found out”, but it describes both of them being found. Whatever he was doing wrong, she was also doing.

Why would scripture even need to explain that not only a betrothed woman is innocent who is raped (case 2) but also a non-betrothed (if that is case 3)? But we see from case 2 how God regards rape.

If someone rises up to slay my betrothed daughter then the rapist is considered as a killer and is put to death, but if he does that to my unmarried daughter it is nothing? No, even if we are inconsistent God is not.

If this were rape, should she be found, she would be forced to marry her rapist. But if she kept the violence to herself and was not found, she could be killed later for lack of proofs of virginity. So there would be no justice either way.

If case 2 and 3 are both rape, then the first rapist (in the country) is sentenced to death for having sex with an engaged woman, not for raping her. According to this reasoning, raping her is pretty much fine. Then if she had not been engaged when he raped her that could have been taking a step toward marriage.

But God says the rape is akin to murder. (Deuteronomy 22:26) No, the difference here is not between a rape of a betrothed and unattached woman, but the difference in consensual sex with a betrothed (case 1) and unattached woman (case 3). In the first case, it is adultery, and in the second case, there is responsibility one bears in sexual behavior.

This series of cases is sufficient to interpret many other cases. It demands that the court establish by evidence if it was rape or consensual. It provides the principle of defending the victim, condemning the “adulteress”, (betrothal was a form of marriage), and forcing a man to marry his lover if they are caught and not divorce her. This last law for lovers caused both parties to consider the consequences of their affairs.