What’s His Name?

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he LORD reminded Moses that He appeared to the forefathers as God Almighty (El Shaddai, אל שדי), but He did not reveal His personal name the LORD (HaShem): “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3-4).

This seems like a contradiction because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did know God Almighty by His holy name, “the LORD.” Abraham invoked the Name the LORD when he first entered the land of Canaan. He swore an oath in the name of the LORD. When the Almighty made the covenant between the parts with Abraham, He said, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” Abraham replied, “O Lord LORD (HaShem), how may I know that I will possess it?” (Genesis 15:7-8).

Obviously the forefathers did know His name, “the LORD.” If so, why did He say to Moses, “By My Name, the LORD, I did not make Myself known to them?”

Rashi reconciles the seeming contradiction. He explains that the LORD did reveal His name, “the LORD (HaShem),” to the forefathers, but He did not reveal the meaning of His Name to them. Rashi understands the name, “the LORD,” to imply God’s unchanging nature. The LORD is “I will be as I will be.” The unchanging God is faithful to keep His word. The Name of the LORD implies, “[I am] faithful to uphold [verify] my words (ne’eman le’ammet debarai, נאמן לאמת דברי).” He is the Promise Keeping God.

According to Rashi’s explanation, the ineffable name, “the LORD” implies God’s unchanging character, His covenant devotion, and His mercy. God revealed His name, “the LORD,” to the patriarchs, but He did not reveal the meaning of His name.

For example, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation with descendants as countless as the stars. He promised that the land of Canaan would be given to those descendents. He also predicted that Abraham’s seed would be enslaved by a foreign nation and ultimately liberated from that nation:

God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14)

The forefathers did not see these promises fulfilled. They knew the name, “the LORD,” but God did not reveal the essential meaning of that name in that they did not see the covenant promises fulfilled: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

In the days of Moses, the time had come for God to fulfill the covenant promises He made to Abraham. God was ready to reveal the essential meaning of His name: “I am faithful to uphold my words.”

This article originally appeared on the First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.