Preached: May 30, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Through this word from God, the Holy Spirit brings us the blessings of the Triune God.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'You shall bless the children of Israel in this way. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine toward you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his face toward you and grant you peace.
When they place my name on the children of Israel, I myself will bless them. (Numbers 6:22-27)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
So many promises are made; so many are broken. Take a moment to watch this video clip to be reminded of that. Marriage vows, broken. A father's promise to his son, broken. A politician's campaign pledges, broken. So many promises, all broken. Who can you trust? Who can you believe in this world of broken promises? Even sincere, honest people can't always keep their promises.
But in these words of blessing, handed down from the Lord to Moses to Aaron to us -- in these words of blessing, dear friend, you have the promise from the Lord God himself. For you see, God's blessing is much more than a wish. God's blessing is his promise of good, the promise of his favor and gifts. His blessing never breaks. For his name guarantees it and their actions fulfill it.
Yahweh's blessing never breaks. But maybe you're wondering about that name Yahweh. It's in the theme. You see it on the new banner. But where is it in the text? Maybe you're thinking, “I've read the Bible cover to cover, and don't remember that name for God.” You're right. The word Yahweh does not occur in the NIV or the King James or in many other English translations. For you see, although it's printed in English letters, it's a Hebrew word. Now since ancient Hebrew did not write out the vowels, we only know the four consonants for this name. The vowels are guesses. You can see the actual Hebrew letters (יהוה) in the bulletin. Don't forget to read them right to left. They sound like our Y-H-W-H.
But how do you translate it? It's not a regular word, but a special name for the one true God. The Hebrew words for God (אֱלֹהִים -- elohim) and for Lord (אָדוֹן adon) are used to refer not only to the true God but also to false gods, even to human beings. But the word Yahweh is never used except for the one true God. It is his name by which he has chosen to make himself known. The Israelites did not want to misuse his name in any way. So they substituted a different word rather than pronouncing this one. The might say הַשֵּׁם ha-shem meaning the Name or else אֲדֹנַי adonai meaning my Lord.
But how do you translate it? Some took the Hebrew consonant sounds and put vowels to them and came up with the word Jehovah. A better guess for the right sounding vowels make the word Yahweh. But most English translations follow the Hebrew tradition of not saying the name but substituting the word Lord. But in order to show us that this is not the regular word for lord (אָדוֹן adon) but the special name for the one true God, the translators use all capital letters to write it out. Take a look again at the text from Numbers 6. Note how often you see Lord with all capital letters. That's Yahweh.
But much more important than how to say it or even how to translate it, is to know what it signifies. Why did the one true God choose it to make himself known? What are we to think when we see that word Lord with all capital letters?
It certainly isn't the same idea as in the regular word lord. When we hear lord, we think of someone who has authority to rule, a master. But let's listen as God himself explains his name, Yahweh, the Lord. There are two very important Scripture passages for us to ponder here.
The first is Exodus 3. The Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush at Mount Horeb to call him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan, as he had promised Abraham long ago. When Moses asked what he should tell the people when they ask him the name of the God who sent him, the Lord answers: “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' . . . Say to the Israelites, '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 by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation” (Exodus 3:14, 15, NIV).
When the one true God speaks, he says, “I AM.” So when we speak about him, we would say, “HE IS.” The Hebrew letters in Yahweh are also used in the ancient Hebrew word for he is. He always is, the eternal present.
That means he needs no one else. He is self-sufficient, independent of all, free to act according to his good pleasure. For he is Yahweh, the Lord, HE-IS. And it also means he 's constant. He does not change. He does not go back on his word. He is faithful. For he is Yahweh, the Lord, HE-IS. The same God who freely made his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was now faithfully keeping his promise through Moses. For he is Yahweh, the Lord. He is free, independent of all, so nothing can stop him from keeping his promises. He is Yahweh, the Lord. He is constant, unchanging, faithful, so his promises are sure and certain. His promises do not fail. His blessing does not break. For he is Yahweh, the Lord, the I AM, the HE IS. His name guarantees it.
The other place where the Lord God talks of his name is again at Mt. Sinai. But this is after the Exodus, after the Ten Commandments, after the golden calf. When Moses returned up the mountain a second time, the Lord came down and proclaimed his name, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6, 7 NIV).
What comfort! What hope for us in this name! For the one true God, who does not change but always is -- he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV). He is gracious. He freely makes his promises, although they are unearned and undeserved by us. And he is faithfully. He faithfully keeps his promises,. For he is Yahweh, the Lord. His blessing never breaks. His name guarantees it.
In this world of broken promises, in this world of change and decay, Yahweh, the Lord, shines as our unchanging light. Even the best brand name fails, but not this name. Yahweh, the Lord, never fails. Even a most trusted friend may betray you, Yahweh, the Lord, will never go back on his word. Put your faith in his name. He is Yahweh, the Lord, who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps his promises. He is Yahweh, the Lord, the God of unchanging grace. His blessing never breaks. For his name guarantees it.
And now see what he, Yahweh, does for you. Look at his blessing and see their actions fulfilling it. And maybe you're wondering why I switched his to their? Is Yahweh, the Lord, a he or a they? And the answer is: Yes. For Yahweh, the Lord, is the true God, and the true God is one God. But he, the one true God, is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those aren't three different names for the same person. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. Each one individually is Yahweh, the Lord, the true God. But Yahweh, the Lord, is one. They are he, and he is they. The grammar doesn't make sense because this is a mystery beyond our mind's ability.
Some, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, insist that only the Father is truly Yahweh, the Lord, and that the Son and Holy Spirit are lesser beings or things. But the Bible declares each one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, individually, to be God and Yahweh, the Lord and yet also clearly declares that there is only one God, namely Yahweh, the Lord. We accept it by faith, trusting the word of our God, who does not change or lie, trusting him instead of our human reason, which so often fails.
This threefold blessing that puts the name of Yahweh, the Lord, upon us shows us what the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are actively doing for us. We see the work they share, so that Yahweh's promises never break.
“The Lord, Yahweh, bless you and keep you.” Picture the heavenly Father with his hand open in blessing. He doesn't keep good things hidden in his fist so that we have too pry his fingers open. No. He opens his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing. He's created you and me along with all that exists. He gave you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your member, your mind and all your abilities. He provides richly and daily with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, all you own, and all you need for your body and life.
His fatherly hands not only open in blessing but also surround you to keep you safe. He defends you from all danger, guarding and protecting you from all evil. “The Lord watches over you -- the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm -- he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:5-8 NIV).
“The Lord, Yahweh, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The Father opened his hand and gave us his Son, Jesus Christ. When you look into the face of Jesus, you see the face of your Yahweh, the Lord, your God. He became flesh and lived among us. He “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV).
How the light of grace shines through Jesus! Grace freely gives the good that we do not deserve. What we deserve is death and hell. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV). And why should God have helped us? We rebelled again him. That's what sin is, rebellion. We were his enemies. But this is grace: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV). That's grace!
There at the cross we discover what Yahweh, the Lord, meant when he told Moses at Sinai. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6, 7 NIV).
There at the cross what grace! What compassion! What love! What faithfulness! Yahweh, the Lord, offers his Son in our place. Yahweh, the Lord, dies for you as your Substitute. That's why he can forgive our wickedness, rebellion, and sin. But notice he did not leave the guilty unpunished. Jesus took our guilt on himself. He became our sin. He suffered our hell on the cross, our punishment. So in the person of Jesus, the guilty have been punished. Forgiveness is yours.
This is what seals Yahweh, the Lord's, blessing. In fact, our word blessing goes back to the Old English word blod, which means blood. The blood of Jesus, God's Son -- yes the blood of Yahweh, the Lord -- seals his blessing to you.
“The Lord, Yahweh, look on you with favor and give you peace.” God the Holy Spirit brings this peace into your heart. In God's Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit turns his face toward us, so that he turns us from our path of unbelief and death. He turns us toward Jesus. He opens our eyes to see his face, shining with grace. He works in your heart to confess: “What Jesus did on the cross he did for me. He reconciled me to God. He brings me peace through the forgiveness of my sins.” We confess with Saint Paul in the Second Lesson today, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”(Romans 5:1 NIV). This is divine work. This is the work of Yahweh, the Lord. For the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son, is Yahweh, the Lord.
But I don't always feel at peace. I don't always feel blessed. Has Yahweh's blessing failed? No, not at all. Yahweh, the Lord, trains us to live by faith, not by what we see. So at times he hides his blessing, not to punish or torment us, but strengthen us to trust him despite what we see or feel at the moment. Trust him because he is Yahweh, the Lord. His blessing never breaks.
And the other circumstance where his blessings seems absent is if we leave him behind. His blessing hasn't failed, but we have. It's as if you were in a boat and jumped out and drowned. The boat didn't fail. It didn't leak, or crack, or break. You left it behind. But unlike a boat, Yahweh, the Lord, seeks after us when we go astray, like a shepherd searching for his lost sheep. Only our own sinful pride and desires will pull us down and away from him, not any lack or failure in him. For he longs to bring you back under his blessing. For he the gracious, compassionate God. He is Yahweh, the Lord, whose blessing never breaks. But also as Yahweh, the Lord, his death sentence against sin does not change. Only in Jesus is their forgiveness. Outside of Jesus, “he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7 NIV).
What blessing flows from Yahweh, the Lord! Remember that name when you see Lord with all capital letters. He is the true God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the God of unchanging grace, who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps them. He is Yahweh, the Lord.
For three and half millennia in hundreds of languages, through these words of blessing his name has been place on his people. Ponder that each Sunday as you hear the blessing at the close of the service. They are Yahweh, the Lord's, promise to you. His blessing never breaks.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.