Kendall Soulen, in The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity, surveys the Hebrew Scriptures in regard to the self naming of God. He has a long chapter on Exodus. He covers the three naming theophanies there. A theophany is an appearance of God.
So in Exodus 6 God speaks to Moses and names himself, “God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am YHWH; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name YHWH I was not known to them“ (Exodus 6:2-3).
In Exodus 3, at the burning bush, God tells Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘YHWH, 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 to all generations” (Exodus 3:15).
In Exodus 34, after the golden calf incident, “YHWH descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of YHWH. YHWH passed by before him, and proclaimed, ‘YHWH! YHWH, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation’” (Exodus 34:5-7)
He finds in these a pattern. First, he finds the name or other indication of God’s uniqueness. Second, he finds and affirmation of God’s presence. Third, he finds a promise of God’s blessing. He finds this pattern again and again in the Torah. A good example is Numbers 15:41:
Uniqueness: I am YHWH your God,
Presence: who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
Blessing: to be your God
You can see where he is going. Obviously Soulen will tie the uniqueness of God to the first person of the Trinity, the presence of God to the second, and the blessing of God to the third.
My natural interest is not systematic theology, but the Bible. So I got a lot of food for thought from this part of Soulen’s book. I took his chapter in several directions that had nothing much to do with the Trinity, just as I know many of the people who used to listen to me preach took my words in lots of directions I had not consciously intended. I never had a problem with this as long as people didn’t completely misinterpret me.
Soulen, in his survey of Exodus, avoids reference to the Documentary Theory or any source theory. He points out the Exodus 20:24 command to make a primitive place of worship where God will cause his name to be remembered and where he will bless his people. This was probably part of an earlier code that we call the Covenant Code. But the idea that a sanctuary is a place where God’s name dwells gets picked up in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy as it stands now, this means that the temple in Jerusalem is the one place where God’s name dwells and where God will bless his people. (See Deuteronomy 12:11, 14:23, 15:20, 16:2, 26:2).
But surely there was a version of Deuteronomy that once existed where the “place God made his name dwell” included many of Israel’s old sanctuaries and altars. In fact, Exodus 20:24 envisions a place much less elaborate than the Jerusalem temple.
“You shall make an earthen altar for me, and shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I put the memory of my name I will come to you and I will bless you” (Exodus 20:24).
Since the destruction of the temple in the 1st century CE, both Jews and Christians have decentralized worship. There are many places where God has caused his name to be remembered. They are the seats of congregations. But Soulen wants us to consider how well we really remember God’s name.