The Great I-AM of God in Biblical Covenant Relationship with His People in the Old Testament World

by John E. McKenna

The consensus of modern scholars with reference to the interpretation of the significance of the Self-Naming God of the Old Testament can be indicated by quoting Professor Bernard Andersen's comment on Exodus 3:13-15 in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford, 1991). There he writes, "The Name does not indicate God's eternal being but God's action and presence in historical affairs" (p. 72 OT). [1] He would differentiate and then essentially divorce knowledge of God in His eternity from the knowledge of God that obtains from with in the history of Israel. God's action and presence in the deliverance and salvation of Israel occurs in a mode of rationality fundamentally different from God as He is in Himself in His eternity. I will argue in this essay against this understanding of the passage. Certainly, we must be able to distinguish God in His interaction with created reality from the Creator before the Creation, but this does not and cannot mean that we are not given permission to know God as He is in Himself. It does not give us permission to divorce the one reality from the other. These may be two dimensions of being that cannot be identified absolutely with one another. But these levels of being must come to signify the relational veracity that actually exists between them. In this way, in fact, we come to understand the way that they are made to participate with and in each other. The Lord God does not remain unknown in His self-revelation to the reader of the Bible. The essential nature of God's being, outside of the created reality in which He has acted to reveal Himself, cannot escape our attention. Interpretation cannot be confined to some self-understanding or opinion we may construct about God from out of our own vaunted piety or consciousness. This would mean a subsequent loss of the kind of transcendent air that is necessary for human life to possess in real knowledge of God. [2]

I believe Anderson's assertion may reflect the thought of G.E. Wright and others when, in the early part of this century, scholarship contended that a dynamical view of the God of the history of Israel in the Bible had to be established. Over against abstract notions shackling the Biblical Doctrine of God with rationalistic definitions of the Being of God, the God of History was to be apprehended. [3] The past Dogma of the Church did not come to grips, it was claimed, with the demands of history upon our explanations of God in history with Israel and the Bible. Biblical interpretation needed to free itself from the general assumptions of this so-called Enlightenment's essentialism. The abstract thought imposed by its epistemology and ontology did not finally rest upon the Word of God, but on our own systems of thought about God. These were no more than a priori notions imprisoning God in a logical box from which the scholars sought to deliver Biblical interpretation. No generic definition of God was now acceptable. Class exclusion and inclusion modes of rationality were inadequate The nature of the divine substance possessed a freedom to interact with His People for their salvation completely missed by the Systematic and Dogmatic theologies of the past. Essentially, at this point the ontological was divorced from the soteriological aspects of God with the history of the world. We only knew in Revelation something about God---whatever He chose to reveal about Himself to us. But in this Revelation, God essentially remained incomprehensible to us.

I believe that this divorce between the ontological and the soteriological in the history of Israel is a plague upon our modern analyses of the Bible. We may grant that the static basis of thought gripping the nature of God's being with abstract definitions divorced his reality from which He truly is in real history. But still the Biblical Theology movement's insistence that no identity is to be thought between the transcendent and divine freedom of God as He is in Himself and who He is in His acts in history appears a tragic mistake. It is surely an inadequate response to the intention and purposes of the older theologies. I will agree that scholars need to rid their minds of false ontologies. But the dynamical interaction between God, the world, and His People cannot mean that the command to know God may be confined only to who He is in His acts. Who He is in Himself must in some way be integrated with who He is in His Act.

This means that we need to stop associating God's incomprehensibility with our human ignorance of Him. We need to understand the infinite freedom of God to be with us in the world as a gift that allows us to apprehend Him in His Act and in this way to know Him in His incomprehensibility. We need to forge out afresh a Doctrine of God in our time that does not separate and divide of the Revelation of this Self-Naming Lord. The modern mind needs to breathe the transcendent air of this God's divine freedom to act in history in a far more dynamical way than the old rationalistic and static categories of the past could allow. But this air is and must be filled with life of nothing other than God Himself. It is this life about which the Old Testament speaks so strongly. It is this One God who is in His own way present as the Creator and Redeemer of all things. We cannot pretend to know Him for who He truly is except in the history of Israel. But this One is to be confessed as none other than the Creator. We cannot pretend that who He is in history does not rely upon for the significance who He truly in Himself before the world was created. [4]

But in order to avoid reading back some abstract nature into the being of the biblical God in the history of Israel, biblical scholars created a great divide between Biblical and Systematic Theological over which ever since they have struggled to get. Categories of thoughts whose definitions bore but empty ideas about God in the world were utterly vanquished from consideration. Old Testament scholars set out afresh to grasp from within the actual relations belonging to the acts of God in the history of Israel a more real doctrine of the dynamic Biblical God. The god of the Enlightenment was definitely not the God of the Bible. The dogmas of the Church inherited from the past had nothing to do with the living Lord that the Bible would teach us is our Savior. The truth of the God for which we must seek is hidden deep within the secrets of Israel's history. We could only know of Him in these acts of revelation. Outside of this knowing, we knew nothing of Him. For this reason, until very recently, commentary on Old Testament texts became curiously free from the thought of Patristic scholars and the proclamations the Church. Scholars have sought to introduce us more realistically and dynamical to a view of faith and history free from ontology. But it has been at the expense of confining the divine acts to a salvation history with only a very refracted relation to actual history as our modern scientific culture has come to define history. Salvation history and scientific history now find a great divide between them. [5]

The result has been that our modern concern for God and history has lost any real interpretive grip of any real ontological depth upon His transcendent relations with history. Revelation and reason remain at odds with one another. We have, thus, alienated ourselves from the transcendental dimensions inherent in our relations with the Covenant-Making God of the Bible. The relational poise of our knowledge of God belongs to history in such a way that we can know something about God at this or that time, but who He truly is in Himself, outside of His acts in history, appears to escape our attention. I have called this development the tyranny of vision in our modern life. People have now become imprisoned in their perceptions of things. They think they can only apprehend what is sensible to them. Revelation and common sense have become equated with one another for methodological reasons that do not allow experience to rest truly upon the transcendent and divine reality God Himself. The God who is free to be present with us in His acts in history is not free to give us knowledge of Life in Himself, life that has to do with who He truly is in His own eternity. I believe this Biblical Theology movement has reached a dead-end precisely because of its rejection of any real ontology inherent in God's saving acts in the history of Israel and the Church as the People of God.

How has this happened? Why has this happened? What must now be done to overcome the impasses in biblical studies that this loss of freedoms has generated? What new power of integration could establish our interpretive efforts to understand in some compelling way the free God of the Biblical witness? These are important questions that require real answers if Biblical Scholarship is to take its appointed place in our time as a true servant of the People of God. To overcome any split between we must learn to integrate things that may have in the past truly escaped our attention. With the loss of an ontology that is firmly rooted in the ground of God's own nature and being, we have posited a dualistic carving up of reality, alienating and fragmenting our wills and interpretive power from the divine will and power over us. This essay would make some contribution towards this fresh integration of God, the world, and its humanity in a covenant relationship of which the prophets, priests, and sages of the ancient Israel were vitally aware. It is hoped that we may well expand the scope of the results we obtain when we read and interpret the Bible while taking seriously the real dimensions of Divine Revelation our world.

We can also observe that the modern concern for the dynamical God of history witnessed to in the Bible, split apart from the Being of God Himself, cannot resolve the problem of time and eternity in biblical world. Who He is in His eternity remains unknown to us, and this ignorance is supposedly the kind of humility we need when we face the mystery of Him who acts for us. We actually live in a divide we have created with this assumption between the Biblical world's theological dimensions and its empirical basis. The phenomenological realities of the world that provide the experience for the theological ground upon which the Bible builds up its concerns for us with God are split wide apart from one another. Even when we are given to know Him, we do not really know Him. We read the Bible then with these schizoid tendencies in the depths of our knowing. We suffer from this fragmentation, this alienation from the real being of God. We suffer from all of the consequences of such alienation in our interpretive processes. Perhaps the most plaguing notion to which I can point is the divide we have created between the Heilsgeschichte of the theologians and the Historie of the secular historians. Two kinds of history are thought to be posited, one a salvation history belonging to the People of God and the other a real history that belongs to the rational man throughout the rest of the world. It seems evident to me that this carves time up in a way I cannot read anywhere in the Bible. The Bible as a record of the history of Israel nowhere teaches us that this record is a matter for private faith. Everywhere that we read in this record, we find faith seeking an understanding of God who is universally one over all that is the world, its space and its time included. This theological orientation of the actual history of Israel would ever point beyond its witness to the Living God. Brute facts and phenomenal dimensions in this history must be understood as open to an investigation that rests ultimately upon the veracity of the being and nature of God Himself. This is what we mean when we observe the nature of the covenant the Lord God has established between his uncreated reality and the created reality of all things that have been given their existence according to the divine freedom of His Holy Love and Will. To think that the so-called hard sciences can prove or disprove this belief is to be utterly naive about the nature of science and theology. The deep split between the intelligibility of the world as God's Creation and the empirical experience of its realities in the consciousness of men and women is the cause of much of our critical scholarship's failure to produce anything the Church can rightly proclaim. But we need to integrate the form and content in our understanding of the wholeness of the Biblical witness. We need to understand the significance of time in the preservation and development of its records. We also need to grasp real purpose in the world. This is our most deep need and would take us a long way towards the kind of healing for which our people cry out today. Fragmentation and alienation and causes isolated the reality of time and eternity soon empty of real substance the whole of our efforts to teach the Good News. Schools are moved by one fashion after another without penetrating with their educational process into the depths of why we are who we are in the world. We are moved by polls and the fashions of causes rather than by God's real freedom to be present with us in our time.

I do not wish to imply that we do not do well to differentiate between the God as He is in His relationship with us in His acts in history and who He is in Himself. But the Peopleof God are to understand this work is done to the glory of God, a glory that is inherent to His Being and Nature. Even without the Creation, He is glorified. The older abstract notions about God certainly did not rest upon the God of the Bible. We see clearly today the failure to distinguish between our statements about God and God Himself. But when this is taken to mean that experience must let go of God in His Self-Revelation in history, then we are committed to a superficiality incapable of the fiery marriage we must face in Moses' Burning Bush and in the Incarnation of that Word whose humanity shapes the life and theology of any period of time in our history. Such dichotomy in much of our modern research serves to divide and to drive a wedge between the Church and the Academy. Ministry and theology seldom can rest upon the same ground, where much that has been proclaimed by the Church is judged questionable by scholars, whose findings seldom find their way into the pulpits of the Church's preaching of the Word of God. Such chasms produce a famine of the Word of God in the land, a people hungering without hope for something that, so far as they have heard, does not actually exist. In this kind of vacuum, existential projections with very romantic notions about God one after another win the hearts and minds of people who suffocate for lack of real transcendent relations in their lives. Their phantoms may serve well the heart-felt causes of social or societal reform, but they are hardly the stuff that can heal the depths of the real lives of peoples. Neither abstract principles applied by our self-wills nor any subjective human imagination alone are adequate enough for real reflection upon the truth with which we all have to do in this world. These can only commit us to some very superficial kind reason and will, when we continue to fragment and alienate our lives both in the Church and in the world. Here we can only experience some self-imposed desolation of what we were truly meant to be. We remain unhealed in the depths of being and lost in our destiny with the Creator and Redeemer. Here all things become utterly suspect to us. That people lack a real solid vision for their lives is obviated by the self-destructive forces we experience daily in our society.

We say, then, that we cannot divorce the Creator from the Redeemer. We cannot divide the Creation from God's Redemption. The Biblical record never contemplates any absolute chasm between them. We cannot tear God's Being out from His Acts with us. We cannot posit an abyss between His Word and His Acts and His Being. Nowhere in this record are we asked to read of some deep split between God and His People. We read of His wrath and His curses in covenant with His People. We read of His holy love and His blessing in covenant with His People. We even read in the silence of His Word with us that those who will not to believe in Him in His Self-Revelation for us cannot deny some strange immanence of the Lord in the world.

Because these accusations and assertions are so vital for the study of the Bible, I would like to look at their claims somewhat further. The dualism at the foundations of our knowledge about which I have been speaking forces us again and again into a confinement that imprisons life in history conceived away from the freedom with which the Living God is free to be present with us in our time. We may free ourselves from our duty or obligations to Him, but then our freedom is barred from any real grasp of the true divine freedom in which human freedom is significantly embedded. Human freedom and divine freedom can toll no bells on any day of our lives.

Here, one only emphasizes the apophatic dimension of our knowledge of God. We confuse humbleness with ignorance. We deny confession of what is truly know its real place and value in our lives. Humility is described not as a confession to what is by nature truly there, but a posture we assume because of our 'perspectives' towards it. There is no real positive grasp of any true intelligibility to confess with us. Truth is a matter of opinion. The Lord of the history of the world is denied any truthful presence in it. We may possess or be possessed by God in time, but this time does not and cannot witness to His eternity. We may know God as present in our history, but we cannot know Him as the Lord God who is who He is whether there is a Creation or not. We cannot know God as God knows Himself. We are only permitted to know God through his acts in history, in His Relationship with us. We are unable to know Him as He is in Himself outside of this history. We are only given to understand Him in history according to what He is not. We can confess that to know Him as He is in His acts with us is also to know as He is in Himself in His Eternity. We cannot confess His essentially divine and holy and free being and nature as He exists apart from us.

Thus, we can never really participate in the life of God as such. Our knowing is never lifted up to the knowing that is God's experience in Himself. We will not know Him for who He truly is in Himself, know Him with the same kind of knowing by which He knows the divine freedom to act with Himself in order to create and sustain and redeem a world that is His Creation. With such manners, we are committed merely to a negative confession about the One. We suffocate our lives in our vaunted self-understanding and mask our condition with a false humility. We secretly then value opinion over truth. We can even decide that science itself has not to do with such, destroy the nature of objectivity in our lives, and imagine that the world is only whatever we can come to know about it.

In this way, it is impossible for us to apprehend the celebration of the Self-Revelation of this One inherent in the covenant relationship He has freely posited with and for His People in the history of the world. The real saving significance of His divine freedom to be present with us as the Lord God, the One who is who He truly is, from before the creation of all things, is utterly lost upon us. We are thus found even with the best of our scholarship preventing others from entering into the fullness of what it means to experience this Only One in the Self-Revelation of the His Self-Naming Act to which the Bible has been made to bear witness. [6]

These accusations, I believe, fairly characterize the malaise in much of our educational process today. We can see that the pervasiveness of these dichotomies lies behind so much of the trouble the fragmented experience and the alienation that marks so much of the modern world. Society seems gripped by a spell both tragic and foolish in so many of its efforts to create a just culture or civilization. Unable to possess real Knowledge of God, we make the confession of an unknown god define as humble the confession we allow ourselves. We are unable to acknowledge that in the true relationship where we are made to understand God with us bears also who He is in Himself. These are not two gods, but we treat them as such. We will not know God in His Self-Revelation in this world. We continue in this way to insist that Reason and Human Passion are in fact our gods.

Still He is in Himself what He is in His acts with us. We must, indeed, learn to breath the real transcendent air necessary for true progress in the development of human thought. When we find ourselves plagued by relationships that will not allow us to rest our lives upon the Living God, to whom the Bible would refer us, we must learn to breah a new kind of air. Yet often the nothingness of God's Creation haunts our existence still. We will understand the positive dimension of its reality with us. We suffer with alien ideas about God's grace for us. We do not set ourselves free from that which threatens our existence and apprehend the actuality of the divine freedom with which the true nature and holy being of the Creator and Redeemer has acted with us. We remain in one spell or another alienated from this divine freedom. Even in His covenant relationship for us, we do not rest upon the One who is on His own freedom who He is with us. We do not actually enjoy His divine freedom and eternal life in our time. We remain locked up then in our own self-centeredness.

We mistake our notions about infinity with God's. We mistake our grasp of the invisibility of the world with God's Spirit. We confuse ourselves with Him. Manners invented by our vaunted need and longings define humanity for us. We suffocate our experience, like fish in water, in a world unable to live beyond the life where we are born to die, unable to ask and answer those deeper questions about the deepest secrets in the depths of our being in the world, unable to know what shapes the destiny of this world in which our lives occur. The heights and the breadth and the depths of what it means for us to be human beings remain unactualized beyond our selves. And in the confusion even the animals and the plants upon the planet seemed threatened by us. All appear destined for dust in this kind of world. Admittedly, these are strong accusations against the modern mind-set, but I believe that it is necessary for us to hear them today. [7]

Such reductionism, for instance, at the heart of our knowing about the nature of our knowledge has led many scholars to believe that the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament can be conceived as merely an idea. [8] The confusion here is between a statement about truth and the truth itself. What we know and can state is confused with what actually exists as the world outside of our knowing of it. We become the judges rather than servants of the nature of the world. If we will to embrace the world only as our tests verify it for us, we lose the reality of its beauty and beauty's function in its desing. If only by our own standards of measurements we think the world is what it is, we destroy the role of mystery in our rationality. We may even think that beyond our knowing lies only some nightmare we would refuse to experience. Our lives are then really imprisoned in the history of the world. In this reductionism of human thought, it is often suggested that we should doubt the veracity of God in covenant relationship with Ancient Israel and the Church in the world.

The confession of the People of God in the Biblical World is nothing but a private faith acting in her history upon one stage in the world's progress with this kind of reductionism. The fact that this People were to know God for who He truly is, even in the freedom of His Divine Life, is never actually apprehended. The Bible is made at its foundations a product of the minds of those ancient writers who believed something about God in their times, but not God as He is outside of them in His own Eternity. The result has been the debates about the nature of covenant in the Old Testament that we can read in modern scholarship today.v [9] Here we are not asked to take seriously both the real historical dynamics inherent in the reality of covenant relationship with Israel and the source of their meaning in the reality of the life of God. There are, in fact, some today who would suggest that Biblical covenant cannot be employed at all to exegete the Old Testament, while others simply continue to struggle to apprehend its significance for the development of a theology that might overcome the apparent fragmentation in all these efforts. [10] In the midst of these problems, Brevard Childs, perhaps intuiting that the trouble is bound up with the relationality in the overlap between theology and science, has written, "I am aware that T.F. Torrance has devoted much of his energy to the issue of relating the Christian faith to the sciences. Although I have tried reading several of his learned books on this subject, I do not feel that I understand him well enough to offer a critical assessment and I shall leave this task to others". [11] One of the purposes of this study is to work towards the establishment of a framework of Biblical interpretation for Biblical study that is rooted truly in the Biblical World as the real world. I want to argue that it is possible to find a direction for study that shall resolve the impasses and splits of which many are now becoming aware. The theology and the phenomenality of the world as God's creation revealed to us through the real nature of the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament must be thought together with, not only the development in the New Testament, but also the Church and our Science. We would argue that Torrance's works, in fact, are more than helpful for pursuing Biblical Theology, even seminal in our time and, properly understood, will make a creative and integrative contribution to our study and interpretation.

We must consider first Exodus 3:14. [12] Professor F.W. Bush has written an excellent little article on this text that will help our purposes here. [13] He has shown that the idiom ('ehyeh 'asher 'ehyeh) in Semitic is equivalent to idem per idem of the Latin grammarians. It is widely used in Hebrew and Arabic and signifies both indeterminacy and totality of the existence of the thing that exists as it actually does exist. He translates the term, "I am there, wherever it may be...I am really there." The idem per idem of the I-AM ('ehyeh) would in this way refer us to a superlative of being with the Lord's presence in space and time for us. This presence is with us in its own unique free way and not in any other. It is in fact both a gift of apprehending Him entailed by the knowledge that what we have been given to know of Him is bound up with who He truly is, in His freedom, for us. It is important to notice here how the author relates this to God's gracious and merciful being in covenant relationship with Israel as the People of God. Exodus 33:18-19 employs the same idiom as we find in Exodus 3:14. [14] This language asks us to understand that the 'Little Credo' explicated in Exodus 34:6-7 is to be understood in the light of the 'ehyeh of the covenant made at Horeb. [15] It is the great I-AM of the Burning Bush who is divinely free in the Exodus Tradition. He is compassionate and favorable, slow to anger, and of great covenant love and faithfulness (yaweh, yaweh, el-rachun we-chanun, 'erek 'apayim we-rabh chesed u-'emet) with His People, even in the fact of their preference for a Golden Calf. He is this even in His punishment of His People for their rejection of Him. The purposes of His covenant relationship shall be fulfilled in Him who freely continues in His Presence with the history of the People of God. The uniqueness of this great I-AM of Israel's Exodus Tradition is then bound up substantially with the Creator God. He is who He reveals Himself to be in His world with His People. He thus teaches His People to regard His divine freedom as necessary for grasping the nature of the relationship between them. The establishing of the command of God over His People should be understood to rest in the authority the Redeemer possess as the One and Only free Creator of the world. [16] He is thus self-defining in history in such a way that history knows Him for who He truly is or ever will be in its time and space. In His Divine Freedom He is the same with them.

In this way of thinking, there is no room for interpreting the essence of God as unknowable and the mystery of God as something rooted in human ignorance of the Lord. Through the freedom of God to make Himself as present in the history of Israel known to Israel, He is the One He says that He is. That is precisely what covenant relationship is---the created and creative means by which God has chosen freely to speak with His chosen people. In this knowledge of God, they were to appreciate the mystery of God for what it really is and fear God and seek His wisdom. They were to appreciate that, in their knowledge of Him and precisely here in their knowledge of Him, they had apprehended the One in His incomprehensibility. Outside of this One, the mystery of the profound incomprehensibility of Him is nothing. All of this is substantially what is meant by the idem per idem of the idiom bearing God's answer to the question Moses has put to Him about His Name and the deliverance of His People from Egypt. It was the force of this command over His People that God created a worshipful community for Himself.

At the heart of this Worship Tradition in Ancient Israel lies, of course, the Psalter and we may understand that Psalm 50 belongs to this tradition as a prophetic covenant renewal ceremony of the People of God. [17] It accuses Israel of attending improperly to that object who has called her to worship in covenant with Himself and to a renewal of her devotion. Both the Levitical and Prophetic Traditions are involved in the renewal. The purpose is to create that gratefulness with the People of God that is appropriate for the God who truly is who He is in covenant with the People of God. Thus, the purpose of the Thanksgiving Offering in Israel (todah--Ps 50:14) is explicit. Here we are face to face with God Himself in the way He has given Himself to be in covenant relationship with His People, who are to be grateful to Him for His great deeds and the gift of Torah in their history. Thus, the psalm celebrates His Name and warns against its misuse in the worship of the community of faith. Its uniqueness is meaningful in the ultimate sense.

The text of special interest to us here is verse 21, the conclusion of the accusations against Israel. We may read: "These things you have done and, when I was silent, you thought to compare the being of I-AM to yourselves." The phrase that it is in contention, usually translated something like " thought that I was just like yourselves," is most often emended on the ground that it is impossible Hebrew. [18] But if we read the finite verb as a personal name and relate it to the great I-AM of the Exodus Tradition, there is no awkwardness and I believe we are more to the point. [19] The People of God are to be grateful to God on the ground of who He actually is with them in their history ('ehyeh) not for who He is not (lo-'ehyeh). It is not as if He could be some image they have made of Him out of themselves and with which they can compare themselves.

Having celebrated the Name of God, the Psalmist accuses the community of offering sacrifices unacceptable to Him. The people may have His Name upon their lips, but they hold Him off far from their hearts. They thus allow room in their lives for the making of shameful things among themselves. They turn the being of the I-AM into something He is not. Here, at the heart of the Worship Tradition of Israel, we may learn that Israel is capable of making her God into another idol of her own choosing. Surely, the Golden Calf of the Exodus Tradition could not have been far from the mind of the Psalmist. The Great I-AM, who made Himself intelligible to Moses as the loving and faithful God of the covenant, even beyond the preference of the People for their idol-making, is the subject of the object of the psalm's concerns. I like to read the cleansing of Psalm 51 in relationship with this purpose of Psalm 50. The reality of the Name in the worship tradition of Israel is of that nature that a clean heart, not a profane one, is necessary to walk in the presence of Yahweh (Ps 51:12) in the history of Israel. Offer what you will to God, if you cannot offer that gratefulness which is appropriate to His really being with you for who He truly is, all that you offer is but idol-making with His Name.

If next we consider this same point being made in the Prophetic Tradition of Israel, we will begin to understand more vividly the significance of the revelation of the Self-Naming of God in covenant with Israel. In Hosea 1:9, we may read that the Name of God as the great I-AM ('ehyeh) of the covenant with Israel has been forsaken and the People of the covenant have transformed Him into the Not-I-AM (lo-'ehyeh) and married His Name to the Baal that they found in the Land God had given them. [20] This is the purpose of the Word of God embodied in the marriage between Hosea and Gomer and in the naming of their children. Just as Israel has been to Yahweh, so Gomer is to Hosea. Just as Hosea is to Gomer, so Yahweh is to Israel. Jezreal (Hos 1:4 --yizr'ael), Not-Pitied (Hos 1:6 --lo-ruchamah), and Not-My-People (Hos 1:9 --lo-´ammiy), the three children of the marriage, are named with theological significance. They are the fruit of turning away from the God of the covenant in Israel. They are what they are because of their faithlessness with the Great I-AM. They bear the marks upon them of God's curses in His relationship with them. They must and shall be transformed into Israel (yizra`el=>yisrael), Pitied (lo-ruchamah=>ruchamah) and My People (lo-'ammiy=>'ammiy), when the Not-I-AM (lo-'ehyeh) has become the I-AM ('ehyeh) in covenant once again with and for the People of God. The rhetoric of this literature is unmistakable. With a passion that may seem ironic, God will turn to her who has turned away from Him and turn her once again to Himself. This is the whole point of the covenant's root in the ground of God's love or grace (chesed) with Israel (cf. Ps 136). Thus, the Lion of God's salvation in chapter 11 and the Love Song of chapter 14 reverse the reversal of Israel in covenant with her God. We can see God in His Day like the dew upon the Land giving as the great I-AM the great fertility that becomes in the prophetic hope the messianic kingdom promised by God for His People. The whole purpose of the prophecy is to envision the future that God will make for her after the punishment for her faithlessness has been completed. God's judgment of her is never a last word. It serves a purpose that lies quite beyond the curse of God in His relationship with her. It serves to create a vision of her future that allows Israel to develop the hope that freely develops the shape of her history in the world.

In this light, we may understand the concerns of the prophets for making the Word of God heard as the speaking of God Himself, a voice that makes God known for who He truly is in covenant relation with His People. Think of the assertions of "I am Yahweh" in the Light of the Vision of Isaiah [21] and the contention in the Book of Ezekiel that Israel should know that "He is Yahweh," [22] and we begin to appreciate the divine passion of the free God who will, beyond the disobedient history of His People, create a world in covenant with Him in such a way that all will know Him for who He truly is. This is, in fact, the fundamental passion of the prophetic hope created in Israel. No prophecy is given except for the purpose that God shall be known for who He truly is in covenant with His People. It is the loving faithfulness of Yahweh that is the source of the future of the People of God. Though the kingdom may lie in ruin, Israel is to trust Him for a future that was rooted in the passion of His promise freely made by God with her. We cannot read the prophetic tradition of Israel properly without appreciating this passion. It is in this way that the prophets relate the hope of the future they see being created out of their past. The Torah of Sinai and the hope of the future are connected together with this certain hope. The God of the covenant struggles across the centuries, and beyond the complete devastation of everything she has ever known as sacred, with Israel. She is meant ultimately to know that her God is none other than the great I-AM who delivered her from Egypt, who is both her judge and her future's Saviour.

If the worship tradition and the prophetic tradition are both bound up with the reality of the Self-Naming of the Self-Revealing God of the Exodus Tradition in the history of the People of God, then this same God must be known for who He truly as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. As such, He is before whom no other gods in the history of the world can stand. Because He is this One, we must learn to relate Israel's wisdom tradition to these developments in her time. Past efforts have shown that this question is very important to our ability to integrate the world of the Old Testament with its God and His People. [23] Scholars are still busy attempting to explicate the role of Wisdom in the history of Israel. How is the tradition actually related to Covenant and the prophetic hope developed in Israel? It is an important question for which scholars seek answers today.

Von Rad may be typical of the modern approach. [24] He suggests that the Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is the link to the Ancient Near East and the means by which Israel related her worship to the rest of the nations. As such, she is influenced by others outside of the community of faith (Prov 8:22) but always in a transforming embrace of the others. Von Rad writes, "For in the process of this transference of foreign ideas to the Hebrew thought-world, many of them have become completely different." [25] Israel's Wisdom cannot be readily compared, say, with Maat in Egypt or Ishtar in Babylon, however influential the others are on her. All such influence is transformed and any transference of ideas made to serve in the Hebrew world the God of Israel. It is understood that any tradition of speculation in world attribution, employed to give some character to God, is now in the service of Yahweh. [26] It is in the dynamics of this world that the tradition of the Sage is divided up into Old and New, when Job and Ecclesiastes can be read over against the early Doctrine of the Two Ways developed, it is claimed, out of the empirical nature of the proverbial wisdom of the ancients. That the righteous do not always prosper and the world is of no ultimate value are views that contradict the theology of the wisdom developed out of the empirical sayings of experience of old. [27] Here, von Rad and the modern consensus are against the classical tradition of the fathers of the Church, who read the Old Testament in quite another way. [28] Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8 had been identified with Christ, the fathers could claim, in the New Testament, and must be understood as speaking God Himself in Christ, not about some first principle of the world as God's creation or any other created reality. This is what Karl Barth sought to defend when he read the wisdom tradition. [29] For Barth, "The divine wisdom is the divine self-communication ordering and determining the world for itself." [30] In Barth's view, the modern consensus in Old Testament scholarship against the fathers of the Church is not appropriate because it lets go of God in that place where we most need Him to be with us. Barth argues that the 'fear of Yahweh' is turned on its head if Lady Wisdom is not read as God Himself and the divine love forced to remain opaque to her children.

The Lady Wisdom of Proverbs 8 is in this way the key to grasping the way Wisdom and Covenant are indeed to be related to one another and therefore throws light upon the way God takes with Himself as Judge and Redeemer of Israel in the nature of the covenant relationship taught us in the Old Testament. I would look at the situation in this way: The I-AM of God (Ex 3:14) with His 'credo' (Ex 34:6ff) both judges and saves disobedient Israel with Himself in a 'slowness to anger' ( 'erek-'appayim) that is controlled by His Wisdom. Thus, the beginning of Wisdom in Israel is the 'fear of Yahweh' in covenant and creation. Who God is with Himself in covenant relationship with Israel is none other than who He is in relationship with His creation. The world possesses in itself no first principle about which humanity is left to speculate. It is what it is directly related to God with His Wisdom in a freely created and creative relationship that informs not only what the world is but also its destiny. The begetting or possessing of wisdom (qanah, Prov 8:22) and the play of wisdom as master worker ('ammon, Prov 8:30) in the beginning of the world cannot be defined by ideas read off of what the world has been made to be. Thus, Lady Wisdom participates not merely in the primordial judgment that orders the world in the beginning, but also in the judgment whose patience allows the mercy and faithfulness to be the means by which God has freely chosen to make Himself known in His world. The secret of Wisdom lies in the long-suffering of God's patient wisdom and the way that in time this wisdom participates in the free and merciful God's judgment of His People among the nations. He is this in covenant with them in the world. He is not this way as we might judge Him to be the development in the creation of His covenant relationship with Israel. Thus, she, this Lady Wisdom, is the ground of creation as the sphere in which humanity purposely has its being with the God, where freely she lives to give purpose and meaning to all that has made to exist.

I would suggest that the point to make here is that the personal "I" of all these traditions, Prophetic, Priestly, and Wisdom, cannot be read in isolation from one another. It was in the light of this "I" that all these great traditions of Israel were developed, and it is in the light of this "I" that the whole history of the People of God is shaped and formed into its role among the nations (cf Jeremiah 18:18). The connection between the covenant and the wisdom traditions in Israel is to be found in God Himself. The personal reality of God and the develpment of the great traditions of Israel are bound up with one another in such a way that God is free to fulfill in them His ancient promise to her. It is upon this connection fulfilled in Christ that Barth really posits his thought. Lady Wisdom is for Israel God Himself against Dame Folly, just as she is in the history of Israel's covenant with Him. As difficult as it may be for us, we must read the "I" in all the traditions as none other than the great I-AM of the Self-Naming of the Self-Revealing God with His People. [31]

For our purposes, the important point to reach now is the one about the personhood of God as the One who is or will be who He truly is throughout the fabric of life in Israel. It is within this freedom's definitions that the messianic hope is developed and with this freedom that new dimensions are introduced into the complex that points the People of God to their future. The Self-Naming God of the Old Testament does not allow His Name to be torn away from the actuality of His real personhood in His reality with Israel. In fact, all the traditions of Israel are what they are because they are bound up with this God and with no other. It is idol-making to use His Name without reference to the reality of His Being and it is idol-making to seek in the world a first principle which lays down another ground upon which the divine can be known for who He truly is with His People.

Throughout his works, Professor Torrance has attempted to persuade us about the semantics of this kind of relational veracity inherent in any real interpretation of the Biblical world and its God. [32] God does not act in the history of the world to reveal something about Himself but Himself. In this way, He is dynamic being free to become something He has never been in the history of His People for their sakes. He is true and faithful Being both with Himself and with His People. Because He is who He is and He will be who He will be with them and for them, His People can trust Him for a future that is bound up with His love and faithfulness. His eternal Being and what He is in Christ cannot be divorced from one another without negating the whole history of Israel and her covenant with Him. [33] In this way of understanding, then, I find Torrance's work most vital for Old Testament interpretation, and very satisfying in helping me to integrate my investigations of the history and theology of the Old Testament World.

This kind of personhood of God is what we must face if we are going to speak about who we are and who we ought to be and what shall become of us in the history of this world. The great I-AM of the Burning Bush and the I-AM of God made known in Christ are One and we need to learn to read the Bible with the Church again in our time in the light of the divine freedom in this Revelation of our Lord and God. We will not know who we are as persons without this kind of dynamical wholeness open to us in our time. This means that we must reject the assertion that the eternity of God and the revelation of God in history are to be held apart from one another. The scholars were certainly right to reject the abstract categories of the Enlightenment of the past, but they were not right to let go of God's Being in Himself what He actually is in covenant with His People. We are to know Him for who He truly is in covenant relationship with Himself in the way that He has given Himself to be known with us. Because the nature of this relationship is rooted in God's own free and divine nature, we who know that we are known by Him know that He is who truly is for us, and that He knows us for who we truly are. In this way, we may indeed gratefully know as we are truly known.


[1] Anderson, B.W., Creation In The Old Testament (1984) p. 4, thinks that the Name here is hapax legomenon, and does not deal with cosmic issues and has nothing to do with the Creator. W. Zimmerli in his Old Testament Theology (1978), p. 18-21, would point to the divine and sovereign freedom of God as the source of the definition of the Name.

[2] This reductionistic view is sharply contrasted with Karl Barth's exegesis of the passage in his Church Dogmatics II. 1 and 2. Barth understands the name of God as ontologically and soteriologically related even to Revelation 22:8 of the New Testament (III. 2, pp. 464-66). The contrast well illustrates the substantial question of my argument in this essay.

[3] Wright, G.E., The God Who Acts (1952) and The Old Testament Against Its Environment (1950) were both written to overcome the loss of the Old Testament's significance for the Gospel. The author first separates salvation-history from real history and then goes on to argue that the tension between redemption and the world marks the significance of the history of Israel. But this history and its relationship to the God of Eternity is ultimately conceived as a truth that belongs to a faith whose relational veracity with the science of the world is not relevant, is agnostic. Wright would justify the history of redemption in Israel recorded in the Bible but not its God in the real world.

[4] See R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament, (1992), pp. 13-26. No discussion of the ontological nature of the Revelation can be found here. Salvation must be understood based upon the literary character of the texts and the problem of the names of God found in the Old Testament. His attempt in chapter four to answer the question 'Why is the Name Yahweh used in Genesis?' rests on the idea that something about God is implied, without discussing the problem of the new and the old One in Israel's history (pp. 36-67).

[5] See B.W. Anderson's Creation versus Chaos, (1987) for a finished discussion of this position and its background, where creation is absorbed into history's faith and expounded in comparison with ANE mythologies without appreciation for its unique and real relationship with the real world as God's creation out of nothing.

[6] See Buber, M., I and Thou, (1958), when the personal reality of God and His holy love for what has been made to be is found to be deeply involved in its destiny as well as its beginning. History and its redemption cannot be divorced from the personalizing God who is their real explanation. Form and content of created reality must be bound up with the substance of the eternity of God Himself (see pages 118-120 for example).

[7] See the works of Michael Polanyi, eg. Personal Knowledge, (1958) for an argument that would argue for some real resolution to this problem.

[8] Hillers, D., Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, (1969). If the nature of Biblical Covenant were merely an idea, then the principles we may derive from it and apply to our lives would necessarily be valid as interpretations of the Word of God. Covenant relationship as taught us in the Bible is, however, a reality and not merely an idea, and when we lose our grasp of it , history itself seems but an idea to us. We are confined to giving meaning to history rather than reading out of the its nature its true significance in the world. But we cannot make ourselves the judges of time in this way, except with profound consequences. We must learn to serve its nature and its substance with our lives , if we are going to appreciate the Biblical world and its history.

[9] See the essays in Studies in Old Testament Theology, a festschrift for David Allan Hubbard upon his retirement from the Presidency of Fuller Theological Seminary (1992), all of which assume in their analysis of the relationship the dichotomy asserted by Anderson in the Oxford Study Bible.

[10] Childs, B.S., Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, (1993), where the author's efforts to understand the form of the canon as rooted in the history of Israel's God with her has caused him to question methodologies that reduce the relationship down or away from the actuality of the realities taught us in the Bible. It is not true that Childs would reduce the concept of canon to a final form in a return to pre-critical interpretation. He has, perhaps, a tendency to abstract the authority of the canon somewhat away from the Self-Naming God in the history of Israel, but surely he is right to object to the fragmentation produced by the historical-critical schools.

[11] ibid, p. 406. A champion of the epistemic poise in the work of Karl Barth, Torrance has been arguing that Biblical Theologians have been slow to appreciate the advances in epistemology made by our our modern scientific culture. As a result, they continue to analyze the texts with assumptions that need critical questioning under the compelling insights science has learned to possess. The consequences would be, argues Torrance, a new, open structured apprehending of reality with which covenant relationship has to do. In this way, we could learn to overcome the split between the God of eternity and the God of history in so much of the modern analytical mode of thinking (see for instance his Karl Barth, Biblical and Evangelical Theologian, Edinbrugh, 1990, especially the chapter on 'the Latin Heresy' pp. 213-240, or Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, Belfast, 1984, especially chapters VII-IX).

[12] The literature is voluminous. For an example see Schild, E., "On Ex iii 14--'I am that I am,'" Vetus Testamentum 4 (1954): 296-302.

[13] Bush. F.W., "'I Am Who I Am': Moses and the Name of God," in Theology, News, and Notes, Fuller Theological Seminary, December 1976, pp. 10-14.

[14] Bush refers to D.N. Freedman's article on "The Name of the God of Moses," Journal of Biblical Literature, 79 (1960): 151-156, while reading the phrase as a Qal stem.

[15] I have called the knowledge God gives Moses of Himself here for the purposes of covenant renewal in the wake of the Golden Calf incident a 'little credo' because of the use of the phrase throughout the Old Testament (Num 14:18, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jon 4:2, Nah 1:3). It is also true that the I-AM lies behind the use of the other name of God in the Pentateuch---yhwh. The Tetragrammaton is the name of the God of the Exodus in relationship with the 'ehyeh, which remains uniquely and universally employed in the Old Testament to signify the covenant-making God of the history of Israel. Identified also with the 'elohim, the I-AM is understood as the One who is both the Creator and Redeemer of Israel and the heavens and the earth. See Abba, R., "The Divine Name Yahweh", JBL Vol. LXXX, IV, 1961,pp. 320-378, where the Name is understood within the context of the Promise of God in covenant with Israel, and Gianotti, C.R., "The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH", BS t. 142, 1985, pp, 38-51, where a new beginning is signified not merely for the history of Israel but for God Himself in this Name.

[16] I understand that a proper exegesis of this 'little credo' would yield the kind of perfections in the divine freedom which have been articulated throughout the work of Karl Barth, where both judgment and grace belong to the perfect freedom of the wisdom of the great I-AM of God.

[17] Kraus, H-J., Theology of the Psalms, pp. 56-58. The author's call for a new start in attempting to grasp the significance of this content, especially in regards to the covenant relationship, is very well taken. I like to think of Psalm 50 as a Panda among the Gattungen of the critical scholars. Its uniqueness defies our generic classifications.

[18] Kraus writes, "The infinitive construct twyh is syntactically impossible at this point. We should probably read wyh (Psalms, p. 488)". This is true, however, only if we are unable to take the hyha as a substantive. I would argue with Youngblood, R., "A New Occurrence of the Divine Name 'I AM'," JETS Vol XV, III, Summer, 1972, pp. 144-52, that we are to read with reference to Exodus 3:14. I believe that the emendation was first made by Gesenius, Hebrew Grammer, 1910, p. 491 of the 1976 edition.

[19] The point is made by Calvin that " their secret and corrupt imagination they figure God to be different from what he is..." (Institutes, Vol. II, p. 278), where a false conception of Him is unable to offer the sacrifice of praise that is appropriate to the great I-AM.

[20] F. I. Andersen and D.N. Freedman, Hosea, Anchor Bible, 1980, pp. 198-199, read with others the Ehyeh as the name given in Exodus 3:14. Also, D.A. Hubbard, Hosea, IVP, 1989, has indicated this reading is possible for the meaning of the Book of Hosea's concerns for understanding the dsj of Yahweh as the character of the hyha in Israel's prophetic hope. I am centralizing this concept in the history of Israel and her covenant relation with God.

[21] cf Is 42:5-9, where "I am Yahweh" (verse 8) would assure those of the Vision that trust is certainly appropriate in covenant with the God of Israel. The whole of the Vision of the Word of God before the reader of the Book of Isaiah would create a fearless trust that God is who He says He is in covenant with His People (see the purpose of the Fear-Not Oracles of Second-Isaiah in relation to the I-AM of God, J.B. Becker, Gottesfurcht im Alten Testament, Rome, 1965, pp. 51-52.)

[22] cf W. Zimmerli, I Am Yahweh, Atlanta, 1982, where the author argues this point.

[23] Old Testament theologies by Eichrodt and von Rad both required additional treatments of the Wisdom Tradition in order to explain how their work was to be related to the Sage of Israel and the contribution of this dimension of Israel's culture to her history.

[24] G. von Rad, Wisdon In Israel, Abingdon, 1978, pp. 144-176.

[25] ibid, p. 153.

[26] ibid, p. 156. "But Israel did not agree to the mythicization and deification of the first principle of the world."

[27] See for example D.A. Hubbard's Tyndale Lecture for 1965, The Wisdom Movement and Israel's Covenant Faith, delivered at Cambridge University, July 10. So far as I can see, this represents much modern analysis of the relationship between Wisdom and Covenant Faith.

[28] From R.B. Y. Scott's Proverbs-Eccelesiaste, New York, 1965, to Roland Murphy's article in Old Testament Theology, ed. R.L. Hubbard, Jr., R. K. Johnston, R.P. Meye, Word, 1992, pp. 192-195, Lady Wisdom is considered a piece of poetic personification with origins that remain less than God Himself. The indentification with the hypostasis of Christ is what is denied, in spite of the recognition that Prov 8, Jn 1, Col 1, and Heb 1 ought to be read together in some way. The understanding of the verb qanah (hnq) in Proverbs 8:22 that posits a divine action taken prior to the action that created the heavens and the earth is implicit here.

[29] K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.1, p. 429-430. See also T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, Edinburgh, 1988, p. 83-84, where this reading was vital for the Church's struggle against Arian views of Christ and the Wisdom of Israel.

[30] ibid, p. 433. This point is made over against any attempt to project out of ourselves a world-view that can be equated with god's creation. No analogy of being exists between ourselves and God and the divine freedom to create a world for Himself. Barth defended this thesis throughout the steady argument he made with his Doctrine of God in CD, II.

[31] Already in the intertestamental period we can see the struggle to integrate the Word with the Work or Acts of God in the world (Sirach 24, Wisdom of Solomon 7-9), when also the development of the apocalyptic genre is related to the Sage rather than the Prophet or Priest of Israel's Royal gaze into her future. In this way, all that we had to say about Ex 3:14, Psalm 50:21, and Hosea 1:9, we must be able to say about Proverbs 8:22 in relation to the actual nature and being of the Lord God of the Biblical World.

[32] He argues that the Hebraic basis upon which the Nicene Theology is developed shows us that the Incarnation of the Word of God provides the connection that allows us to understand that God will not allow His Being to be divorced from His Word and Acts in history (op. cit. pp. 68-75.)

[33] See for intstance Torrance's recent work, Trinitarian Perspectives, Edinburgh, 1994, where the I-AM of God and the Trinity of God are shown to be fundamental to the Biblical witness in the Church.

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