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In Exodus 34, the Lord proclaims his name to Moses. I take this to mean that God is giving definition to his name and declaring who he is. He begins with a repeat of his name, "The Lord, the Lord..." I am wondering what the significance is of the repeat of his name.

The Hebrew language often repeats something as a matter of emphasis since they didn't have an "!" to show emphasis. This is one possible reason for the repeat.

I have also read that a repeat of someone's name can indicate a particular fondness for that person. It doesn't make sense here since God is referring to himself rather than someone with whom he is particularly disposed.

I would appreciate comments from Hebrew scholars on this issue.

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    Jul 26, 2023 at 16:38

3 Answers 3

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The complete verse helps to understand this better.

6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;

The second instance of "the Lord" here is actually "The Lord God" or yhwh el. (אֵ֥ל יְהוָ֔ה) Yhwh is God's name. El is a title or description. In human terms we might think of such examples as Elijah the Prophet or Jesus Christ. Or, in plain English: The Lord proclaimed his identity as "Yahweh, [the] God Yahweh," as Elijah might introduce himself as "Elijah, Elijah the Prophet." Of course this reduces the majesty of the scene considerably, since this is not a human being introducing himself to a fellow human, but God manifesting himself to a mortal in an epiphany.

As to whether this is a matter of emphasis, poetry or fondness, we can probably rule out fondness since it is God who is quoted as talking about himself, not the author talking about God. So emphasis or poetic expression is more likely. One the critical side, some scholars see the verse as part of a ritual formula from later times read back into the narrative. In this view Israelites recited the entire verse as part of a liturgy, and an author incorporated it here to explain how it originated. The same goes for the institution of various ritual requirements and holy days later in the chapter.

Conclusion: whether one sees the verse as an actual quote from God or a a later liturgy written back into the story, the best way to understand the phrase "the Lord, the Lord God" is as God identifying Himself to Moses, with "The Lord (yhwh)" being God's name and "God (el)" being his title or description.

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Here is my very literal translation of Ex 34:6 -

And passed YHWH before him [Moses] and proclaimed, "YHWH, YHWH-God, merciful ..."

Note that there is a complete lack of articles, "the" in English. "The LORD" is a requirement of English but not the Hebrew.

Now, I have translated the above word-for-word, but this does not always give the correct meaning because, often, when Hebrew has two nouns in succession, there is an implied verb "to be". Further, this incident in Ex 34 comes on the heals of the golden calf apostacy and its consequences in Ex 32 & 33. Thus, there appears to be two purposes in God's declaration in Ex 34:6 -

  1. God is emphasizing that He is "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth", ie, willing to forgive!
  2. That YHWH is God; that is, "YHWH-God" could possibly be translated, "The LORD is God" as occurs in some other places such as:
  • 2 Chron 33:13 - YHWH He [is] God
  • Deut 4:35 - YHWH He [is] God - none besides Him
  • 1 Kings 8:60 - YHWH He [is] God
  • 1 Kings 18:21 - if YHWH [is] God
  • 1 Kings 18:39 - YHWH He [is] God, YHWH He [is] God

Thus, we might translate Ex 34:6 as:

And YHWH p[assed before him and proclaimed, YHWH! YHWH [is] God, merciful, and gracious, slow to anger and abounding [in] goodness and truth.

Note that God's greatness here is emphasized on the basis of two things (as observed by the Cambridge commentary):

  • Who God is
  • God's moral nature.

More than 1000 years later, John summed this up in his pithy declaration, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). It is also interesting that God is described in Ex 34:6 as "abundant in goodness and truth" and Jesus was also described (John 1:14) as "full of grace and truth".

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In Septuagint it appears as «κύριος ό θεός» so two different words, literally “master the (over)seer”, not a repetition of the same word. I guess from the context that a land based master has called the name of the overseer (shechina?) and he appeared.

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