And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:…
There are two names in Scripture conspicuous above all others, the names Jehovah and Jesus; the one stamped upon the Old Testament, the other upon the New. Jesus is "the name which is above every name"; it is the crowning word of Revelation. And the title Jehovah is that which lies beneath and sustains every other name, that on which all teaching about God contained in the Bible, and all true knowledge of Him, virtually rest. It is the foundation name of Scripture. With the name of Jesus we are very familiar. But the other word, the proper name of the God of Israel and of our Lord Jesus Christ, is too much overlooked and forgotten by the Church. And this greatly to our loss; for in declaring it to Moses God said, "This is My name for ever, and My memorial unto all generations." And this oblivion betokens the neglect of not a little belong-Lug to the fundamental teaching about God contained in Scripture; to which in turn we may attribute certain grave defects, painfully manifest in the religious life and experience of our times. I mean the lack of reverence, the decay of that sober, serious piety, that "fear of Jehovah" in which true wisdom begins. It is in rude and violent surroundings that great spiritual principles are often first asserted, and out of the throes of fierce conflict they come to birth. Upon this battle-field, with routed Amalek disappearing over the edge of the desert, "Moses built 'his' altar, and called the name of it Jehovah my banner." So he lifted up this mighty name and flung it forth as the ensign under which God's Israel should march through all its pilgrimage and warfare in the time to come. This great name of our God was, however, in later times overlaid and almost destroyed by superstition. After the age of prophecy had closed, when spiritual faith died down in Judaism, it ceased to be a living word in the mouth of Israel. Through fear of "taking the name of Jehovah in vain," the people no longer dared to pronounce it; and it is a saying of the rabbis that "he who utters the name as it is written, has no place in the world to come." But what does this mysterious word mean? I cannot give an answer beyond all dispute. Its origin goes back to the very beginnings of Hebrew speech and religion. The differences of interpretation, after all, lie within a narrow compass. Most interpreters have taken it to signify "He is." Others render it "He is becoming," "He goes on to be," or "will be." Others again, "He creates," "He makes to be." I have little doubt that the first is the proper, or, at least, the principal sense of the word, although no very clear or sharp line can be drawn in Hebrew between this and the second interpretation. But the third application, if it were certainly established, is at any rate subordinate to the first. "He is," therefore "He makes to be." Creation rests upon the being of God.
I. By the name Jehovah, therefore, GOD IS DECLARED AS THE SUPREME REALITY. So the Greeks render it, "He who is"; and John, in the Apocalypse, "Grace and peace to you from Him which is, and which was, and which cometh." No grace or peace, verily, from things that are not! "Say unto the children of Israel" — so He authenticated Moses — "I AM hath sent me unto you." The finite demands the Infinite; the chain of causes and effects hangs upon the Uncaused; all creatures unite to point to their Creator, and by their very being proclaim His, in whom they live, and move, and are." But I hear some one saying, "This is metaphysics; this is very obscure and transcendental doctrine, this talk about the Absolute and Uncaused. How could ideas of this sort ever have existed or been entertained in these early and barbarous times? But everything depends on the way in which you take notions of this kind. To ancient Israel — the true Israel of spiritual faith — this was no philosophical abstraction, arrived at by a process of difficult reasoning: it was the revelation of an immediate and self-evidencing fact. Behind all sensible objects, the forms of nature, the movements of human affairs — there He is! They discerned, they felt the presence of Another — the real, the abiding, the living God, breathing on their spirits by His breath, searching their hearts with holy eyes, as of flame; He who said to their souls, "I AM," and concerning whom they could say, as neither of their mortal selves nor of the fleeting world, "Yea, and of a truth, He is." Hence this name was a standing protest and denouncement against all idolatry. "The name of Jehovah," so their proverb ran, "is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe." "I am Jehovah," says the Lord in Isaiah, "that is My name; and My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images." You see the argument. If He is, then they are not. His very name annihilates them. It was this sublime and solid faith in the unity and sovereignty and spiritual reality of God, that lifted the Jewish people above superstition and the fear of worldly power. See the whole history of Israel gathered into a single incident. "Thou comest unto me," said David to Goliath, "with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied!" Here is the one immortal certainty, the Rock of Ages.
II. THIS GLORIOUS NAME PROCLAIMS THE ETERNITY OF GOD. His reality is our strength; His eternity our consolation. If you turn to the French Bible you will find Jehovah translated, in place of our English "Lord," by l'Eternel, "The Eternal." This rendering is often singularly apt and true, as for instance in Psalm 102., where the Psalmist in melancholy mood is sighing, "My days are as a shadow that declineth, and I am withered like grass." But he remembers the name of his God, and he continues: "But Thou, O Eternal, sittest King for ever; and Thy memorial is unto all generations." And from that point in his song he mounts up as on the wings of eagles. God's name is the He Is — a timeless present, a perpetual now. John expands it backwards and forwards into the everlasting past and future: "Grace and peace to you from Him which is, and which was, and which cometh." Men live and die; empires rise and fall; worlds and systems of worlds run through their courses, and dissolve and vanish like a puff of smoke; still He Is; always He Is; the unchanged, the abiding God, whose being fills and constitutes eternity. There is no thought so sublime and overwhelming to the human mind as that of the eternity of God. But there is none more restful, more soothing and satisfying. "We which have believed," it is written, "do enter into rest." Here we touch the calm of eternity, the "Sabbath of God." We have found a haven which no storm can ruffle, a rock to build upon which no earthquake will ever move. You find great religious minds, like that of St. in his Confessions, constantly returning to this thought as their solace and shelter, hovering round it as birds about their nest; here they find an ever-renewed spring of mental strength, of spiritual joy and courage. The Jews have been not unfitly called "the people of eternity." Their monumental endurance, the toughness and indestructible vitality of their national fibre, are due, to no small extent, to the force with which the doctrine of Jehovah has possessed them. It would seem that the revelation of personal immortality was not made in the early ages to the men of Israel, that their souls might be the more completely filled and absorbed with the thought of God Himself — His being, His character; that they might find in "Jehovah the portion of their inheritance and their cup."
III. JEHOVAH IS THE SPECIFIC NAME, THE PROPER AND PERSONAL NAME OF THE GOD OF REVELATION AND REDEMPTION. It is, so to speak, the Divine autograph written across the face of Scripture; it is nothing less than the signature of the Eternal attached to His covenant of grace; its very presence on the page, the sublimity of its import, and the transcendent dignity and force with which it is employed, fill the mind with awe, and compel one to say as he reads and listens, "Surely God is in this place." To the believing Israelite this name was a summary of revelation past. The call of Moses, the judgment upon Pharaoh, the passage of the Red Sea, the lawgiving on Sinai, the conquest of Canaan — all these and a thousand glorious recollections clustered round this immortal name, and served for its verifying or illustration. And it was at the same time the basis and starting-point of future revelations. Having learnt to say He Is, they could go on to say: "He is just, He is wise, He is faithful, He is merciful and gracious — Jehovah of Hosts, Jehovah our Righteousness, Jehovah our Peace, Jehovah our Banner." In Himself unchangeable, in His manifestations to mankind God is perpetually new. He is ever advancing and unfolding Himself to His creation. The "He Is" of the Bible is no frozen, silent Impersonality, like the Pure Being of Greek philosophy, or like Spinoza's Infinite Substance. This is the name of the living, self-declaring God, whose revelation is the single stream that runs through all cosmical and human history, the working of whose counsel forms the process of the ages. His name, like "His mercies," is "new every morning."
IV. Finally, this glorious name of God IS A CREED, A CONFESSION OF FAITH. God says to Moses, through Moses to Israel, through Israel to the world, "I AM": faith answers back, "He Is"; and "this is His name for ever, and His memorial unto all generations." Pronouncing it in spirit and in truth, we "set to our seal that God is true." It is the communion of heaven and earth, the dialogue between man and his Creator; it is the Church's Amen answering back to God's self-affirming Yea. And "Ye are My witnesses," saith Jehovah, "even Israel whom I have chosen." Despite its apostasies and its chastisements, nay, even by virtue of them, the Jewish nation has proved itself the people of Jehovah, the witness of the true God. Israel has made the nations hear the voice of her God; and now they are sitting at the feet of her prophets, learning of His ways. It is the flag of conflict, the symbol of a faith which has the world to overcome. So our text continues, with a prophetic symbolism that has proved itself all too true: "And Moses said, Jehovah hath sworn that He will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." "All nations compassed me about," said Israel, in worldly power the smallest and least considerable of the peoples — "Yea, they compassed me about; but in the name of Jehovah I will destroy them!" And what is more, she has done it; her faith, her Christ have done it I Those gigantic and cruel empires of the East, with their vile and sensual idolatries, have passed away for ever. Isaiah sang their doom ages before: "They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise. Therefore hast Thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish." Fact is stranger than fiction. The true God has lived down the false ones. The "He Is" must displace the "are nots." As it has been, so it will be. Moloch and Belial and Mammon — the gods of hate and lust and greed, the gods of this world that still rule in the nations and blind the souls of men — oldest of all false gods, which men formed out of their own evil passions, before they set them up in wood and stone — as the Lord liveth, they shall surely perish! If the Church is worthy of her faith, she will say like David, "In the name of Jehovah I will destroy them." And these latest idols, which our fathers knew not, of modern nature-worship and scientific materialism, will they fare any better, do you suppose? The name Jehovah, we have said, is a confession of faith. It is a personal confession, which only personal experience qualifies us properly to make. It is not enough to read it in the Bible, to understand and assent to its theological and historical import; God Himself must pronounce His own "I AM," must "speak into our soul His name." Jesus is to us the revealer of Jehovah. "I have declared unto them Thy name," He said to the Father in leaving this world, "and will declare it." The name Jehovah — the Absolute, the Eternal, the Creator, the living God — Christ has rendered into the tender yet no less awful name of Father.
(G. G. Findlay, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
WEB: Moses built an altar, and called its name Yahweh our Banner.