Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Burning bush

Oh Lord.

We say this all the time. And hear it said around the world, around the clock, around...
but this word LORD is the name most often used in the Old Testament for the One who set the stars into space, who created man from dust and woman from his rib (if you're reading Genesis 2).

As in...well, Exodus 3 and the burning bush LORD. That's where Moses (and the rest of us) finally understand who it is who is in charge of all this, who called Abraham out, who protected Isaac on the mountain and found a wife for Jacob, who protected Joseph from his brothers and then from the wife of Pharaoh. Who it was who brought the whole family down to Egypt and multiplied them 400 fold. In all that time, through floods and famine and murders and babies born of the promise and born because humans couldn't wait for the promise, those sixth day creatures, those summation of His work--humans--didn't know who He was who was in charge of all this, who they were worshipping, when they remembered to worship at all.

So He burned up a bush to get one unexpected man's attention. I say unexpected because Moses is really the last person you'd imagine if you were drawing up a hero for his people. He wasn't raised to be a good Hebrew, after all. First physically hidden, then hidden in the palace itself, then hustled out of town, because when he finally got over being privileged he did it with a bang--by killing someone who was hurting one of his own people, a Hebrew. Yes, he finally acknowledged his heritage and then had to run away and hide. Not only this but this palace-raised Hebrew was so inadequate at speaking he couldn't actually do it. His brother had to be his mouthpiece.

Yep, there were a whole lot of reasons that this burning bush was unlikely. If any of us had been in charge, there's no way we would have chosen such a man to lead His people.

Or to have this most monumental of moments at the burning bush. In every lifetime, there are events so large that we know instantly where and what we were about when they took place. 9-11, for example. Any of us old enough will always remember that. Columbine. The Challenger Explosion. Kennedy's assassination (if you're as old as I am).  But there are moments that are so large that all of history stops and remembers. ALL the universe stops. Bethelem. Calvary. The Resurrection morning.

But first, this moment.

The moment when we learn God's name. His name. His very own, beautiful name.

When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked, "Who should I tell the people you are?"--what shall I call you?"--and God said, "I AM THAT I AM." Or YHWH in the Hebrew. Those 4 Hebrew letters are called the tetragrammaton (which simply means '4 letters'), and though Christians have turned that name into the word Yahweh, and use it easily, no Jew would dare pronounce those sounds, speak the Name of Almighty God.  Once when my sister-in-law was in a hospital, her doctor was an orthodox Jew, so I asked Him about the tetragrammaton and though he had been eagerly talking with me about the Hebrew alphabet just seconds before, the moment I mentioned, "The Name of God," he visibly started and backed away.  To him--to Jews throughout history--these four letters must not be spoken for fear of blasphemy.  His Name is that Holy, that Other. Historically, Jews used the word, 'Adonai' in place of the tetragrammaton.
Adonai is translated LORD, which is what we're used to seeing in the Old Testament. However, now Jews simply use the word 'el', which means God. Appropriately, amazingly, Adonai is a plural form of the word Adon, which may mean nothing to you, but thrills me to think that even in linguistics God reminds us that He is Triune.

So, YHWH. His name. "I AM THAT I AM."
This ontological statement of being is God's very name. I will be what I will be.
This is what we stake our lives on. He is what He is.
When we say, "Oh Lord," we are acknowledging that He is that He is.
When we pray, "Dear Lord," we are praying to the unchanging nature of the One who is. Who IS.

That we know His name, that we know His character--this should stop us in our tracks and keep us from using "LORD" like a let-out breath in our prayers. You know what I mean, don't you? "I thank you, Lord, and Lord, I just want to ask, Lord, that you, Lord..." It's HIS name.

He tells us a whole encyclopedia's worth about Himself in the Word, and even fills up that Name with another, human Name generations ahead in Bethlehem. But, as I say, that's in the future from this burning bush moment with Moses.

So take off your shoes, stand here with him, be awed by YHWH--I AM THAT I AM.

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