All things are beautiful because you made them, but you who made everything are inexpressibly more beautiful. —Augustine, Confessions
“He who is making confession to you is not instructing you of that which is happening within him. The closed heart does not shut out your eye, and your hand is not kept away by the hardness of humanity, but you melt that when you wish, either in mercy or in punishment, and there is ‘none who can hide from your heat’ (Ps. 18: 7).” —Augustine, Confessions
“Whenever church leaders ask us to choose between the holiness of God and the love of God, we must refuse. For when the love of God becomes compromised, it is not the love of God. When the holiness of God becomes hardness and a lack of beauty, it is not the holiness of God. —Francis Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History
God is holy. Israel was staggered by the manifestation of this truth at Sinai. It wasn’t just the production that jolted them, it was the propositions. God’s holiness was manifest not just in His delivery, but the content delivered.
Smoke and fire—we’ve seen these before at this mountain. At this mountain God declared His name to Moses, YHWH, built on God’s declaration, “I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:13–15).” The manifestation matched the declaration, and the declaration is the clearer and fuller revelation. The Words are not a less, but a more explicit and a more abiding revelation of the holiness of God. In His name are implications for many of God’s attributes, including His incomprehensibility, immutability, eternality, and aseity. The bush that burns without being consumed harmonizes with His name. The words give clearer perception into the manifestation. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but Biblically, it’s words that give the clearest picture.
And so at Sinai, there is smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, trumpet sound and trembling earth, but the words, well, they are words from the fire. The propositions themselves, even more than the production, speak to God’s holiness. By this I do not mean that they simply reflect God’s moral purity as we are called to be holy as He is holy. No, holy fundamentally means that God is other. From the very first command we see that God is so other that there is not another. A NBA star stands out from many, but there are others. He is other, but there are others. God is so other, there is not another. He is God alone. Likewise with the other commands we see the majesty, glory, holiness, and beauty of God. The second table of the law is just as potent. The imago Dei is what underlies the seriousness of the commands to love our neighbor. Slaughtering an animal is different from murdering a man, because man is made in God’s image. Man’s uniqueness speaks to God’s uniqueness.
The words tell us that the flames and cloud, the flashes and crashes, the shaking of earth, and booming voice are not just a production. This isn’t pomp and ceremony for the sake of a special covenant ceremony, though this is a manifestation for a special covenant ceremony. My point is that God didn’t get all did up only to go home and let loose. God is holy. This is God all natural. We say clothes make the man, but when God puts on clothes, it is a veiling, a coming down, an expression of humility. This is who God is, or rather, it is a limited manifestation of His infinite glory. God is not less than this, He is more; and it is the words from the fire that more fully disclose just how Holy the God who is a consuming fire is.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Then Moses said to God, “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?” —Exodus 3:11–13
Moses: Who am I?
God: But I will be with you.
Moses: Ok. Not me. You. Got it. …Who are you?
God: I AM WHO I AM.
God has addressed Moses by name. Moses has not returned the favor. Was God’s name not known up to this point? No. The name of God is YHWH or Yahweh, represented every time we see the all caps “LORD” in the Old Testament. Knowing this, we see that Abraham knew this name (Genesis 12:8), as well as Isaac (Genesis 26:25), and Jacob (Genesis 28:16). We can go all the way back to the third generation of man (Genesis 4:26). God’s name was known.
Has Moses been baking in the wilderness too long? Or has the 400 year bondage caused him, along with all Israel, to forget? A better answer is found in a couple of verses that may initially cause us more puzzlement. “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them (Exodus 6:2-3).’” So was Genesis mistaken? Did the patriarchs not call upon YHWH? They knew the name YHWH, but YHWH wasn’t known by His name. God had appeared and made himself known as God Almighty, but His name YHWH was a mystery to them. Now, God is revealing Himself in His name to Moses so that he might give it to His people.
Biblically, names are revelatory. They’re meaningful. God’s name communicates His aseity, immutability, incomprehensibility, transcendence, simplicity, and holiness. But His name also represents His condescension. In giving this name, God is stooping and lisping to His children. To know God’s name isn’t just to know Him, but to know Him intimately. This is God’s covenant name that His people are to remember Him by (Exodus 3:15).
It’s a shame that we’ve forgotten it. We read that Abraham “called upon the name of the LORD,” and think of a title, “Lord,” instead of a personal name, “YHWH.” It’s a great shame that we don’t call upon this name. It’s a greater shame that we forget Who it is this name says we call upon. Pray to your Father, but do not forget that it is YHWH—the self-existent, transcendent, holy, immutable I AM come down in covenant love—that you call upon as Father.
By God’s grace we do better than we know. Anytime we call upon the name of Jesus, truly knowing Him as the supreme revelation of God, we are leaning upon the truth revealed in God’s name—the Holy one, come down in covenant love to redeem His people. “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Joshua” or “Yeshua” which means “YHWH is salvation.” The angel commanded Joseph “to call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” God told Moses that God would deliver His people (Exodus 3:8). Unlike Moses, with Jesus, God isn’t simply delivering His people through a man; Jesus is God come to deliver His people. He is YHWH, and so He says, “before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58).” Knowing the name of YHWH helps us to better understand the name of Jesus. May we never forget, throughout all our generations.
Our God is the blessed God. The only other instance in Scripture when God is described in precisely these terms is 1 Timothy 1:11. How many times does Scripture have to say something for it to be true? Once. But God’s blessedness isn’t the neglected attribute of God, sparingly mentioned, uncritical to the plot line. These may be the only instances in which God is described in precisely these terms, but His blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. Once we know what blessedness means then we can look for other words and phrases that express the same truth.
What does blessed mean? Happy. Happy in the deepest of senses. We see a person with an attractive spouse, nice house, new car, fulfilling job, good health, well-rounded children, talent, and good looks and we call them blessed. In a limited sense this is true. But is this how Jesus defines blessedness?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:2–10 (ESV)
Is there a uniting core to the blessedness Jesus speaks of? Yes. The kingdom is the saving reign of God in Christ. Those comforted are comforted by God. The earth inherited is a redeemed earth illumined by and declaring the glory of God. The righteousness hungered for is a hunger to be like God. The mercy received is mercy from God. The peacemakers are called the sons of God. The pure in heart see God. What is the common denominator? God. What is blessedness? God. We didn’t get very far did we?
God is blessed.
What is blessedness?
But actually we’ve learned much. You cannot define blessedness outside of God. Jonathan Edwards captured this well, “[God’s] happiness consists in enjoying and rejoicing in Himself; so also does the creature’s happiness.”
When you know this you can see how God’s blessedness is all over the Bible the way blue is all over the sky. When you see men hungry to know God above all else, you’re seeing the blessedness of God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11, ESV).” The clearest places in Scripture we see God’s blessedness is at the baptism and transfiguration of our Lord. The heavens are rent, the Spirit descends, the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is how the Trinity has eternally related; infinitely delighting in that which is infinitely perfect. God’s joy is fathomless. If your joy is in ice cream, your joy will be as big as your bucket is deep. God’s bucket is never empty. But the most astounding thing is that in His baptism, Jesus was acting as our representative. When God declares He is well pleased with Jesus, He is well pleased with those Jesus represents. God’s joy in us is God’s joy in God.
I once was at an ordination council where a pastor probed the one seeking ordination, “What is the overarching mood of the Bible?” Cue puzzled silence, by all. He admitted it was an awkward question and then proceeded to answer. “The overarching mood of the Bible is grief. God’s grief over man’s sin.” I didn’t consider myself to be part of this ordination council. I came to endorse and support the one seeking ordination. I kept silent thinking that this wasn’t my shindig and that I was there to encourage my friend, not fight others, but I wish I had spoken up because I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The overarching mood of the Bible is joy! God is so happy in God, that He gave His Son so that we might know that happiness. This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:11; our gospel, the good news we declare, is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. We trumpet the good news of just how happy our God is—boundlessly.
Salvation is a river of joy that we get swept up in. The fountain of this river is God’s joy in God. The ocean this river empties into is God’s joy in God. The fountain is the ocean. God is the Alpha and Omega, and the beginning and end is God’s joy in God. Is God angry at sin? Yes. Is He grieved at His children’s sin? Yes. But in Jesus, God has dealt with sin. God is eternally, indestructibly, infinitely happy in His Son.
Just like wet is all over the ocean, joy is all over the Bible. It’s the very gospel itself.
While aseity expresses God’s self-sufficiency in his existence, independence has a broader sense and implies that God is independent in everything: in his existence, in his perfections, in his decrees, and in his works. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics