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Yom Kippur and Divine Power

The Power of Mercy

Attributes of God's Name Revealed in Yeshua

John J. Parsons
Hebrew for Christians

I mentioned the other day that there were two revelations of the Name YHVH (יְהוָה) given to Moses. The first revelation occurred when he asked for God's Name while he encountered the burning bush and was commissioned to lead Israel out of Egypt: "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God then replied: ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you'" (Exod. 3:13-14). Apparently Moses did not regard the historical description of God as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" to be sufficient to attest to his mission before the elders of Israel, so he pressed the issue, though the LORD clearly linked His Name with the patriarchs nonetheless: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יְהוָה), 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:15). It should be noted here that God's initial response, namely, "I AM" (אֶהְיֶה), is the Qal imperfect, first person singular of the verb hayah (הָיָה), "I will be," and therefore is thought to be a form of word play on this verb "to be." The LORD (יְהוָה) is the Source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from Him. Notice further that the power of this Name was subsequently revealed to Israel through the saving acts of the Exodus from Egypt, something the earlier patriarchs had never directly experienced (Exod. 6:1-8).

The second revelation of the Name occurred later, after the sin of the Golden Calf, when Moses was instructed to re-ascend Sinai to behold God's glory (Exod. 33:17-34:8). During this revelation, "the LORD descended in the cloud and proclaimed the name of the LORD" saying, "Adonai, Adonai... (יְהוָה יְהוָה)." The sages note that first utterance of "Adonai" was intended to indicate that everything that exists is an expression of God's loving will and kindness: עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / olam chesed yibaneh: "The world is built with chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]). God is unqualifiedly good, and the existence of the universe itself is a demonstration of His love and kindness. God did not "need" to create anything, and the fact that anything exists at all is an expression of his gratuitous chesed, or lovingkindness.  The second utterance of "Adonai," on the other hand, was intended to express that the LORD continues to sustain and uphold the universe despite the presence of rebellion and sin. In this connection, I noted that even though God "wills" evil (in the sense of allowing or permitting the actions of the wicked to occur), he never desires it, and he therefore calls us to return - to do teshuvah - in order to be restored to life and blessing. Note that it is this second utterance of "Adonai" that is associated with the LORD's saving relationship with alienated and fallen creation. Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's forgiveness and mercy. The poignant intercession of Moses - his "passion experience" - was a picture of the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), the revelation of the LORD's attributes of grace embodied in Yeshua our Savior...

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
 נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים
 נשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לא יְנַקֶּה
 פּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל־בָּנִים
 וְעַל־בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים

Adonai  Adonai  El  Ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met
no·tzeir  che·sed  la·a·la·fim
no·sei  a·von  va·fesh·a  ve·cha·ta·ah  ve·nak·keh  lo  ye·nak·keh
po·keid  a·von  a·vot  al  ba·nim
ve·al  be·nei  va·nim  al  shil·le·shim  ve·al  rib·bei·im

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children
and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
(Exod. 34:6-7)


Let's continue looking at this additional revelation of the Name YHVH to see how it reveals the glory of Yeshua our Savior who is the embodiment of YHVH Himself. After we read "Adonai, Adonai," the name El (אֵל) appears as the third word, which is understood to be a general term associated with the attributes of divine strength (i.e., koach: כּחַ) and power (i.e., gevurah: גְּבוּרָה). After the parting of the Sea of Reeds, Moses sang, "Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods (elim)?" Among the pagan cultures of the world, the various "gods" (i.e., elim: אֵלִם) were natural forces such as rain, wind, storms, and so on. The LORD God of Israel demonstrated His power over all the idols and forces of nature during the Exodus from Egypt and therefore the He is rightly called Elohei ha-Elohim (אֱלהֵי הָאֱלהִים), the "God of all gods," and Adonai Ha'Adonim (אֲדנֵי הָאֲדנִים), the "Lord of all lords."

But why is the idea of God's strength connected with His mercy (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים)? Recall that when Moses interceded for Israel regarding the Sin of the Spies, he began by saying, "And now, may the strength (koach) of the LORD be increased" (Num. 14:17-18). Why did Moses appeal to God's strength in his appeal for forgiveness, especially since God's strength is usually associated with his justice and absolute power over creation?

The sages answer that forgiveness requires more strength than does justice. God established the world by the word of His power, and the intrinsic quality of moral reality is that of "karma," or moral cause and effect (Gal. 6:7-8, Job 4:8; Hos. 10:12). Sin is an alienation from the Source of God's life and plan, disrupting the connection between the order God originally intended and the issuance and gift of spiritual life. In other words, death is a natural consequence of sin (Ezek. 18:4, Rom 6:23; James 1:15).

When Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, the LORD threatened to "destroy them in an instant" (Exod. 32:10; Deut. 9:14). He likewise threatened Israel with complete destruction after the Sin of the Spies (Num. 14:12) and after Korach's rebellion (Num. 16:21, 45). This response of God followed "automatically," or even necessarily, from His role as the Holy Lawgiver and King of the universe. And while the immediate annihilation of people would indeed demonstrate God's power of utter holiness, it required even greater strength from God to "suspend" his verdict of justice, since that would imply sustaining their evil, or "carrying" it, or "bearing under" it, or suffering for their sin on their behalf. Therefore God's power is clearly manifest through divine forgiveness more so than through the immediate death of the sinner, and this explains why Moses appealed to God saying, yigdal na koach Adonai: "may the strength of the LORD be increased."

God's power of mercy is most clearly demonstrated in the sacrificial death of Yeshua upon the cross, since it was there that He overcame the power of His justice by means of the power of His compassion for the sinner. It was at the cross that "steadfast love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10), though it must be stressed that this reconciliation came at an enormous price to God Himself... It took unimaginable strength for Yeshua to willingly offer himself up as our substitutionary sacrifice, to become sin for us, and to suffer and die in our place; just as it took unimaginable strength for God the Father to "suspend" the power of His justice by giving up His son for the sake of our salvation. God's "immediate" response to sin is always, "I shall annihilate them in an instant," which is the expression of His righteous anger for sin. However, it takes even greater strength for God's compassion to overcome His anger – to bear the brunt of His justice – and to suffer for the sake of the sinner's healing. God's chesed, His love, "suffers long and is kind," though it should be emphasized that God suffers because of our sin, and therefore we must be careful not regard God as being in any way indifferent to its presence in our lives. "For you were bought at a great price. Therefore glorify God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

    "What precisely is profound in Christianity is that Christ is both our Atoner and our Judge, not that one is our Atoner and another our Judge, for then we would nevertheless come to be judged, but that the Atoner and the Judge are the same…" – Kierkegaard (Journals)

When we experience conviction for our sins, when we despair over their weight and feel like they are crushing us down, we understand that it is the righteousness of God that itself weighs down upon us, and yet we appeal to that very power of righteousness to come and save us. The heart's cry appeals to God's mercy for us over against his justice... When we appeal to God's strength, then, we appeal to His strength of forgiveness, to His suffering on our behalf...  We ask for his love to sustain us, despite our sin, and to help us turn away and to be filled with new life - the true life that comes from heaven... In short, we ask God for the miracle of rebirth by means of his Holy Spirit, and thereby to understand his power on an entirely different level. We appeal to God not only as our Creator and the Lawgiver, but also as the one who victoriously overcomes the power of sin and death on our behalf and therefore makes everything new. We appeal to God's chesed, his love and compassion, which overcomes his attribute of justice. In short, we appeal to Yeshua as our Strong Savior who saves us from sin and death.

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