“So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands. When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against YHWH your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that YHWH had commanded you. So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes.
Then once again I fell prostrate before YHWH for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in YHWH’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of YHWH.”
-Deuteronomy 9:15-19 (NIV)
I’m no scholar, and I don’t know much about the name “YHWH”. What I do know sends shivers down my spine. The Hebrew word is referred to as the “tetragrammaton” by Bible scholars, and the English consonants are an accurate representation of the word as it was written in Hebrew. The reason the Hebrews wrote God’s name with all consonants was because it was not usually pronounced, but was usually read as “Adonay”. We continue the practice today and write it in our Bibles as “LORD” in all capital letters. The ancient Hebrews revered the LORD greatly, and were exquisitely careful not to use his name in vain. The original pronunciation was probably close to “Yahweh“.
Traditionally, Moses is considered to be the author of the first five books of the Bible, and he refers to God as YHWH as early as Genesis 2:4, in the creation account. Moses himself first heard the name of God when God met him at the burning bush and called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt:
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’
God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.’
God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “YHWH, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’ “
The word “Yahweh” is similar to the Hebrew for “I am” and so probably refers to the phrase “I AM WHO I AM.” Other acceptable translations (so I’m told) are:
“I AM THE ONE WHO IS.”
“I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.”
Moses must have been trembling with nervousness. The phrase indicates God’s self-existence. He depends on nothing else for his existence, because everything that exists was created by him. God has always been. He defines himself, and his actions are not bound by anything except himself. He is good because he is God, and he is the only possible definition of good–or of anything that is absolutely true.
Moses, having just come down from the mountain with the covenant between God and Israel, was right to fear the “anger and wrath of YHWH.” And we are right to fear God also, since each of us has, like Israel, behaved in a way that is inconsistent with God’s goodness. Each of us knows this, and each of us has an idea of what’s good and what’s evil. We all know that we do imperfect things sometimes.
But Jesus, the Great Light, has come and changed our relationship to God. Through Jesus, we can come to God and have our imperfections forgiven. He will cleanse our lives and give us new life if we have faith in him. I’ll quote Hebrews 12:14-29 (the full passage is beautiful, but here I’ve quoted only the essential phrases to be concise):
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’. “