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"The Best Comment on Yahweh" via Bruce K. Waltke

Categories Old Testament Guest Posts

We just found this piece by Bruce K. Waltke in our blog archives, unpublished since 2008. I can't explain the delay, but here it is now.  Adam Forrest, Zondervan Academic Blog

Together, Professor James M. Houston and I have written a commentary on selected Psalms (The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary—Eerdmans, 2010). Professor Houston, formerly Lecturer of historical geography at Oxford, with a specialization in the history of ideas, and founder of Regent College, cites this passage from Hillary of Poitiers, first bishop of Gaul (4th century), on the meaning of the Name [Yahweh]. It is the best comment I have read.

Houston comments:

He (Hillary of Poitiers) narrates that as he was searching how he should live his life, "I chanced upon those books which according to Jewish tradition were written by Moses and the Prophets. In them I found the testimony of God the Creator about Himself expressed in the following manner: ‘I AM WHO I AM’, and again, ‘Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is, hath sent me to you’. I was filled with admiration at such a clear definition of God, which spoke of the incomprehensible nature in language most suitable to our human understanding. It is known that there is nothing more characteristic of God than to be, because that itself which is does not belong to those things which will one day end or to those which had a beginning… The words of Him who said: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ seem indeed, to have fully satisfied the definition of infinity".

The name indicates that God is eternal and that he cannot be compared to any one thing, such as represented by an image of anything in the cosmos or restricting him to one attribute. He must reveal his full nature in the whole of Scripture. He cannot be likened to the sun or moon and he cannot be limited to the attribute of love, as is done in much contemporary evangelical preaching. He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, loving and faithful, but he is also righteous, just, and full of wrath against sin, and other sublime attributes.

Let me conclude with this quote by Peter Leithart (1 & 2 Kings [Brazos, 2006]. [p. 145]): "Many Christians . . . see one of the chief virtues of Christianity as its depriving people of the ability to be enemies. Liberal theology means many things, but one of its central themes is the denial of enmity and especially the denial that God has enemies. On this score, however, conservative evangelicals often share much common ground with liberals. Nowhere is this more evident than in hymnody, always a key barometer of theology and piety." Let’s begin singing the whole psalm, not just the praise verses that make us feel good in order to represent God as he represents himself—that is to say, as he is—and produce a more heroic and discerning church.


Bruce Waltke is the author of several works including An Old Testament Theology.

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