A few nights ago, in our time of family worship, we read Exodus 6, a chapter that serves as a prelude of sorts to the plagues which are about to befall Egypt. The chapter begins with God telling Moses that He will soon deliver the Israelites from their centuries of slavery. “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” God then explains this promise, telling Moses how He would deliver the people. He prefaces His explanation with a simple phrase: “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord.’” That phrase, “I am the Lord,” is repeated several times in the first nine verses of the chapter.
This is a passage often pointed to by people who feel they have discovered contradictions in Scripture, for when God says, “I am the Lord,” he also says, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” Yet, according to the Bible, God had used that name with the Patriarchs. By saying that He did not make Himself known by it, it seems that He is saying they were not able to see or understand the fullness of the name. But now, by delivering the Israelites, God will make Himself known as Lord. This name, Lord, is the “Tetragrammaton” which is translated into English as either Yahweh or Jehovah. Keil and Delitzsch explain this as follows. “[God] was about to reveal Himself to Israel as Jehovah, as the absolute Being working with unbounded freedom in the performance of His promises.” By revealing Himself as Jehovah, God would reveal something about Himself, namely, that He is a promise-keeping God.
Of all the uses of this phrase in the first few verses of Exodus 6, the one that most caught my attention was the final one. After all of His promises to the people, promises to bring them out from under the yoke of slavery, to exact judgment against the Egyptians, and to bring them into the promised land, God finishes with a small but powerful sentence: “I am the Lord.” As I read it, I paused briefly as I thought it was a peculiar phrase to use. Why, after making so many promises, would God simply state His identity? But as I pondered this, it became clear. I was reminded of some words found in the hymn “How Firm A Foundation” where the hymn-writer, John Rippon, asked simply, “What more can He say than to you He hath said?”
That is a good question. In this passage, what more could God have said? Why did He not say more? The reason is simple: God could not say more. There is nothing more that God could say to prove that He would fulfill His promises. He could not swear by anything, for what is there that is greater than Himself? He could not append the words, “I promise” to the end of His statement, for these would be meaningless compared to the greatness of His name. In saying “I am the Lord,” God gave the Israelites all the assurance they could have and all the assurance they ought to have needed. For when God reveals Himself as Jehovah, He is not merely revealing a name, but also His character. The character of God is inseparable from His name. God is Jehovah not only in name, but also in deed.
What more could God say than “I am the Lord?” Nothing. God is Jehovah, the promise-keeping God. We can have confidence that God’s character and His name can never be separated. This was true for the Israelites and it is true for us today.