April 19, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. Joseph A. Pipa
Posted On April 23, 2018
Dr. Joseph A. Pipa is president and professor of systematic and historical theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of Did God Create in 6 Days?
Thank you very much for the opportunity of being with you here today at the chapel. We do love the work here and we are very thankful for the partnerships that we have now between Greenville Seminary and Reformation Bible College and, even before that, I prayed regularly for the ministry here, so all the more now. I’m very appreciative of your having me to chapel today. Open your Bibles to Exodus 3. We’ll read the first 15 verses of Exodus 3:
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, 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, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.
Thus far the word of the Lord. Let us pray. Almighty God, Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, we bless your name for your providence that gathers us here this day. We ask now that the Spirit who inspired these words would illumine our understanding and grant they be preached in the demonstration of His power, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
A few years ago, my wife and I were flying from Frankfort to Rome. We’re flying over the Alps. We looked out the window of the airplane and there was one peak that towered over the others. That was Mont Blanc, called the white mountain because it’s always covered with snow. It’s the tallest mountain in Europe. It becomes a symbol then for preeminence and excellence. Perhaps you know the Montblanc fountain pen with the little snowcap on it. I’ve always coveted one of those. It becomes a symbol for that which is excellent. Well, this morning I want to talk to you about the Mont Blanc of the names of God. It’s a name that God reveals here in Exodus 3, translated in our Bibles all in caps “LORD,” but translated from the Hebrew would best be known as Yahweh or Jehovah.
Now, you remember the context. The children of Israel have been for over 400 years now in Egypt. The Pharaohs came to power who do not remember what Joseph had done for Egypt. The covenant people were multiplying and the Egyptians were fearful that they actually could take over from within. They began a program of infanticide, trying to get the midwives to kill the baby boys. That failed. They then demanded that parents kill their babies. This young baby Moses, by God’s Spirit, his parents recognized that he was good and beautiful. They preserved his life. Then, again, with a very special plan, they put him in a wicker basket where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed each morning, praying that she would take mercy on that baby, which she did. She saved the baby. The parents— the mother nursed the baby and would have a relationship. [Moses] would obviously go to their home and begin to learn about the God of Israel while also being instructed in all of the knowledge and laws of Egypt.
He took it in his own hands to deliver the people when he was 40 years old. That, of course, failed. God sent him away. As the pressure increases, the people, as we read the end of chapter two, are praying and pleading with God for deliverance. That sets the background for what happens here as Moses is shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, there on Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai. God comes to him and commissions him. In that commissioning, God reveals then this name Jehovah or Yahweh, the Mont Blanc of the names of God. Now, what I want to do in our time today is show you that Yahweh is the eternal independent, self-existent God of the covenant who saves and keeps His people.
We’ll open this up under two headings. We’re going to consider the revelation of the name and some of the significance of the name. Well, the revelation of the name is given by God in response to two questions that Moses asks as God commissions him. Who am I and who are you? The first question is a very important question. Our culture doesn’t ask this question any longer, does it? It’s counterintuitive. Who am I? That’s a self-deprecating, no confident type of question. Surely there’s somebody better for this task than I am. Our culture is I am the important one. I am the center of intention, but Moses has learned his lesson and he asks, “Who am I?” Forty years ago, as I said, he thought he was sufficient to deliver the people of God, took it in his own hands to do so, murdered an Egyptian, was discovered, and had to flee. We could say then that God put him in the back of the cabinet, or in the attic of his house. He ended up in Midian, married a daughter of a priest named Jethro, and became a shepherd. Over those 40 years, he learned the importance of the question, “Who am I?” I’m nothing apart from God.
It’s a very important question. It’s a question that you need now to learn as young people, to ask, “Who am I for studies, for marriage, for raising a family, for whatever call in a career God has before me? I am completely insufficient for these things.” God’s answer—two wonderful promises. The most fortifying promise probably of the Bible is, “You’re right, Moses. You’re a nobody. I am with you always.” What a wonderful thing. I am with you always. Think how God has used that promise throughout Scripture to encourage His people. There’s Joshua in the same situation 40 years later. Joshua is being commissioned now by God and Joshua is wondering, “Who am I?” God says, “I am with you always.” Of course, the greatest statement of that promise is given by the Savior Himself to His church, to the apostles when He commissions us to take not just a piece of land but the entire world. He concludes that great commission with, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
There’s the apostle Paul in Corinth, perhaps the most wicked city of his day, wondering, “Now how’s the gospel going to play here? It works fine in Peoria, but in Corinth …” Paul was somewhat fearful of something. The Lord comes to him and he says, “Don’t fear.” What does He promise? “I am with you. And I have yet many people in this city.” God is telling Moses that He is going to be present with him in the task. Now, because of that, God can guarantee the outcome of the task. That’s the second promise in response to the question, “Who am I?” God says then to Moses in verse 12, “This should be the sign to you that it’s I who have sent you. When you’ve brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” That’s a strange sign. Normally signs in the old covenant are things God gave to confirm a commission, Gideon’s fleece, Hezekiah’s sun moving back on the sundial. This is a sign that God says will take place at the end of the commission because it’s God who makes the promise. He says, “Here’s the sign. You can bank on it. I will bring you and the people to this mountain.”
Now, that lays the foundation for what lies behind the answers to, “Who am I?” That is the answer to the question, “Well, who are you?” After answering the first question, Moses then asks the second question, verse 13, “Behold, I’m going to the sons of Israel. I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am.” He said, “Thus you shall to say to the sons of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.'” Now, what Moses is really asking for here are some credentials. The people knew God. It’s obvious. In the end of chapter two, we find them praying to God as God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, according to old promises, that He would deliver them. We imagine that much superstition and idolatry has filtered into their life as we see in the wilderness wanderings, but Moses is not saying, “Who are you?” in terms of what God are you. He’s basically asking, “What are my credentials?”
You know, when a newly appointed ambassador goes to a foreign country, the first thing he does is meet with the president or prime minister of that country and he presents his credentials. He’s come as an ambassador of the President of the United States. He will speak then with the president’s authority. That’s really what I think Moses is doing here. He says, “All right. What are my credentials? By what authority?” God gives him the strangest answer in the world, doesn’t he? A verb. “I Am who I Am. Tell them that I Am has sent you.” Now, it’s from that verb that we get the four Hebrew letters that we don’t really know how to pronounce because the Jews and their superstition wouldn’t pronounce the name Yahweh or Jehovah, so they usually use the vowels from another name for Lord, “Adonai.” Even today, a lot of the Old Testament scholars will pronounce the name Yahweh “Adonai”, but it is in your Bibles, I said, the word that is all in caps, “LORD.” Any time you read caps “LORD,” that is this word, “I Am who I Am,” except one instance. That’s when it’s used with the other word Lord, “Adonai.” That will have a capital L, lower case O-R-D, but GOD will be all caps. When you see that, that’s this name.
I’m telling you that because part of my purpose is to get you to pay attention to the names of God as you read the Bible. Could we play what I call religious hopscotch? The names, we just jump over them, don’t we? When, in fact, whatever name the Spirit is using in any particular context is related to what God is saying to Himself or us in that context. Pay attention to the names. For example, we’re introduced to this name Lord or Jehovah here to Moses, but he uses it as early as Genesis 2. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s the covenant name and Moses is writing a theological history. The names are very important. This is the name Yahweh translated in your Bible capital LORD.
Well, let me give you four significant things about this name. In the first place, that which is spelled out in the commissioning, “I Am,” or, “I Am who I Am,” basically is a claim that God is the eternally self-existent one, independent, having no origin. That is illustrated in what attracted Moses’s attention in the first place. That’s why I read those first nine verses. He’s there on the mountain with the sheep. He probably sees at the top this strange fire. He goes up to look at the fire. There’s a bush burning but the fire is not consuming the bush. We’re actually told that the angel of Jehovah speaks out of the bush and that God told Moses to take off his sandals. He was on holy ground.
Now, Agar will say in Proverbs 30 there’s four things that can never be satisfied and the fourth one is fire. Fire never has enough fuel. Fire needs fuel to burn. You take away the fuel, no fire. A bush that is apparently on fire but the fire is not consuming the bush is a theophany. It is an appearance of God illustrated in the name, isn’t it? What is a fire that doesn’t need fuel but something that is self-existent? What a beautiful picture of this name of the I Am, the eternal, independent, self-sufficient being of God who is and who needs none other. Well, the second significance of the name as we look here and at the rest of Scripture is it becomes the name by which God distinguishes Himself eventually as the triune God who alone is the true God.
I like to say that the name translated G-O-D, God, from Elohim, Genesis 1:1 and used some 2,000 times in the Bible is God’s last name. That’s how he introduces himself to us there in the beginning of the Bible, but pretenders took that name. It’s also used in the Bible in the old covenant for false gods who pretended to be gods. Then, in Psalm 100, as the Psalmist concludes this great little section here of these messianic kingdom psalms, we read in verse three, “Know that the LORD himself is God.” Now, you see that the LORD is capital L-O-R-D. He is God. There’s many who claim the last name of God. There’s only one who has the personal name of God. That is Jehovah. You see that. He is the true God. He spells that out in Psalm 96:5-6, “For all the gods,” that’s the same word that’s translated “God” elsewhere. “All the gods of the peoples are idols, but Jehovah made the heavens, splendor and majesty.” Verse four, “Great is Jehovah, greatly be praised. He is to be feared above all gods. All the gods of the peoples are idols. Jehovah made the heavens.”
You see, it’s the name that distinguishes Him as the true God, but it lays the foundation then for the reality that the true God is triune. We know that God the Father is Jehovah, but notice who speaks out of the bush, the angel of Jehovah. Then it says, “God said to him.” And the angel of Jehovah is the appearance of the second person of the godhead, intimating what John will spell out for us in John 1:1, “In the beginning, from eternity was the word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” That’s the angel of Jehovah. Isaiah 40:3 prophesied that the herald will come and prepare the way for Jehovah. Mark tells us in Mark 1:3 that John came before Jesus and quotes that passage. Now, many liberals will say Jesus Himself never claimed this. It was just His followers, but you remember that beautiful conclusion of John 8 where he’s in a dialogue with the Pharisees and trying to convince them they are in bondage to sin and to Satan. He’s claiming that they didn’t behave like father Abraham, that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. “You’re not yet 50. How did Abraham see your day?” You remember the answer? “Before Abraham was, I Am.”
He took this name for Himself. They come to arrest him and often our Bibles add a predicate but it’s not there. “Who do you seek? Jesus of Nazareth.” “I Am.” They fall to the ground. God the Son is Jehovah. Then, God the Spirit. In Isaiah 61 verse one, the messianic promise says “The Spirit of Jehovah shall anoint the Messiah.” That helps us understand that somewhat difficult passage in 2 Corinthians 3 where the apostle teaches us that the Spirit is Jehovah. Last couple of verses, “We, all with unveiled face,” verse 18, “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord and being transformed into the same image from glory to glory just as from the Lord the Spirit.” The word “Lord” in the New Testament, of course, is what translates “Jehovah” in the Old Testament.
It shows that He is the preexistent, self-existent, independent God. It shows that he is the true God who is triune, which we’ll eventually learn as we work our way through the Bible and come to the New Testament. Then, the third thing it shows us about Him is that He’s the God of the covenant. He’s the personal God. It said it’s His first name. He’s the personal God of the covenant. We see that in verse 15 then where God says, “This is my name forever. This is my memorial name.” New American Standard I think more accurately translates this than the ESV, “My memorial name to all generations.” God was known primarily in the patriarchal period as “El Shaddai,” God Almighty, known of course as “Elohim.” He says now this name of Jehovah or Yahweh, I’m taking this as the name of the God of the covenant. Look at every covenant enactment from covenant of works in Genesis 3 through all the administration of the covenant of grace that are given to us by Jehovah.
He now is pledging He’s going to enter into this personal relationship with His people as Jehovah. It’s as Jehovah that He’s going to save them from Egypt. It’s as Jehovah that He saves His people. The great mark of Jonah is salvation from beginning to end, is of Jehovah, or Joel says, “All who call on Jehovah shall be saved.” When Gabriel says, “Name this baby Jesus,” you know what that means? “Jehovah saves.” The God of the covenant is remarkably the God who came and took to Himself a human nature and dwelt amongst us; obeyed the law of God perfectly for us, and then offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for sin, for all who will believe in Him shall be saved. What does Jeremiah call Him then? “Jehovah, our righteousness.” In the covenant, He is your righteousness as you rest in Christ alone, which leads into the fourth thing.
That is, He finishes everything that He begins. He who is self-existent and independent needs no one else, will accomplish all of His good purposes. We circle back to the second answer to, “Who am I?” He says, “I am with you and I will bring you to this place.” That’s Jehovah who stands behind now the great promise and declaration that “I accomplish everything that I will or I promise to do.” Isaiah is very much a commentary on the name Jehovah. Read it that way the next time, but you remember the signature that God uses in Isaiah when He promises the gospel in chapter one, the great Sabbath promises in chapter 58, “the mouth of Jehovah has spoken.” Jehovah stands behind all that He declares. That’s why you can know that He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion. You cannot lose your salvation because Jehovah, the Savior, the God of the covenant finishes what He starts.
In the next chapter, Philippians, he says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you, both to will and do His good pleasure.” You’re fearful. You wonder sometimes, “How am I going to make it with this temptation? The Christian life is so difficult.” Yet, God is the one who stands behind Jehovah, the triune God, says that He, in Him, is all the grace that you need to persevere. It’s also true for the church, you see. These are dark days for the church in the West, in our own country, so much declension spiritually and morally. Around the world, even as we’re here today, a pastor-missionary in Turkey is on trial for his very life, and persecution in North Korea and Cuba and all around the world. Do we despair? No. Jehovah said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jehovah said, “I build my church upon this rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s why I chose this hymn.
It’s actually, the hymn itself is, all the words are out of Isaiah, but just think about some of the stanzas. “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for you faith in His excellent word. What more can He say to you than He has said, you who unto Jesus have fled? Fear not. I am with thee. Be not dismayed. I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by My righteous omnipotent hand.” The conclusion, which we didn’t get to sing, “The soul that, on Jesus, hath leaned for repose. I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no never forsake.” That is Jehovah. That’s the significance of the name. He’s the self-existent, independent God who has saved you and will keep you, and will keep His church and accomplish all of His glorious purposes.
Do you see why I call it the Mont Blanc of the names of God? It towers over all the others. It towers over us. It’s the dynamo of our faith. Now, most of you probably knew all of this, but what I want you to do is have a new appreciation for it. Perhaps like the kid that finds in his grandfather’s box of possessions a Montblanc pen and doesn’t realize what it is that’s in the drawer or maybe the family that’s got a family heirloom that’s passed on from generation to generation, it’s a nice picture of a knight, pay no attention to it until one day a visitor comes in and says, “That’s a Holbein.” They’ve had this treasure. They didn’t realize it. The treasure of the Godhead is brought to us in this name Jehovah. I want you to cherish Him through that name.
Some of you here today probably don’t know Him personally. You know a lot about Jehovah, maybe, but you’ve yet to close with Him in the way of repentance and faith. Now, Mont Blanc’s a scary place and people die there every year. Jehovah who, to those who are in Christ, is a wonderful refuge. I love that line from C.S. Lewis, “Is he safe? No, he’s not safe.” He’s not tame, I guess was the question, but he’s good. He’s good to you that call on him in Christ, but listen to me. He’s not tame. He’s not safe. Mont Blanc is not a safe place for the person who is not covered and protected. If you find yourself today not in a personal relationship with Jehovah, then I encourage you even now that you repent and take hold of the triune Jehovah God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom alone is this eternal salvation that shall not fail.
Let’s pray. Almighty God, Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, we bless you and your holy name. We thank you so much, Lord, for this revelation of Yourself. May our hearts, minds, souls, thrill to it for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Transcripts are lightly edited.