Prophets and Covenantal Knowledge
The prophets obsessed about the covenant, the divinely instituted means of keeping our relationship with God intact. The language of covenant is not used often in America. We are people more familiar with contracts. But contracts are not covenants. Contracts bind people together for mutual benefits - either wealth (commercial contracts) or power (social contracts). But covenants bind people together not out of mutual benefit, not out of political or material interests, but out of loyalty and love. A contract is a transaction, about mutual interests. A covenant is a relationship, about a new identity - two becoming one, an "us." A contract "benefits"; a covenant "transforms."
The prophets took the covenant as both a clue to the nature of God and to the nature of knowledge itself. Abraham Heschel writes that for the prophets religious knowledge:
Is the awareness of God's interest in man, the awareness of a covenant, of a responsibility that lies on him as well as on us. Our task is to concur with his interest, to carry out his vision of our task. God is in need of man for the attainment of his ends....Life is a partnership with God and man...and it is because of his need of man that he entered a covenant with him for all time, a mutual bond embracing God and man, a relationship to which God, not only man, is committed...the essence of which is the awareness of the reciprocity of God and man, of man's togetherness with Him who abides in eternal otherness (Man is Not Alone, p. 241-43).
The names of God were indicative of God's own nature and identity, the polarities of "otherness" and "togetherness." The name "Elohim" was the generic name for God, God known by way of creation. God as Creator; God as "other." The name "Yahweh" was the personal name for God, God known by way of redemption. God as Redeemer; God as "togetherness."
The name "Elohim" occurs some 2,400 times in the Old Testament. It is the name used in Genesis chapter one to describe the One who creates everything out of nothing. Throughout the Bible this name is used of God as the source of all that is. There is a radical break between the creation and the Creator in biblical thought. Creation is not a "bridge" to God but it is an "echo" of God's nature. God is totally other.
The name "Yahweh" occurs some 6,800 times in the Old Testament. The preponderance of the personal name suggest the overarching intent of scripture - that God desires to be known beyond the gulf of his otherness. In Exodus 3:14 God reveals his nature as "I will be who I will be." That is, God as redeemer is known in his activity in history, his providential ordering of our lives to know him in the partnership of covenant. We come to know this God by walking with God. There are not two Gods being revealed, but rather two ways that God's revelation comes to us. We experience God as creator primarily as the creation "benefits" us. We experience God as redeemer in a binding relationship that transforms us. This is the kind of relationship that Moses and Israel enter at Sinai. The rest of the OT tells the history of that relationship.
The nature of that relationship is told in Israel's history. The prophets are the ones who wrote, preserved and interpreted that history for the instruction of all later generations. We will explore the nature of that history, as depicted by the prophet Ezekiel, in our next post.