O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the ﬁre of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
cf Exodus 3.2; 24.12
Listen to my friend Kathryn singing this antiphon:
Adonai is the word that was used by the Jews during the Hellenistic period to replace the unsayable name of God, YHWH. In our modern Bibles in English this name is always rendered LORD, although I feel that that doesn’t really give us an idea of how unsayable this name is to Jewish people even today. Today’s antiphon points to this YHWH of the Old Testament, recalling the burning bush and the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. If you read the first 5 books of the bible, the Torah, you will get an idea of how unapproachable this YHWH is, for example:
You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant inside, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy.
– Ex 26:33
So why does one of the antiphons focus on the LORD, Adonai? As Christians we believe that it is this same God that chose to become one of us. As Paul writes of Jesus Christ:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
– Colossians 1:19
All the fullness of the God of the Ark of the Covenant, the burning bush chose to dwell with us:
The wonderful Malcolm Guite has shared this in the comments but I want to put it here in the article, his take on O Adonai:
Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,
The Adonai, the Tetragramaton
Grew by a wayside in the light of day.
O you who dared to be a tribal God,
To own a language, people and a place,
Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,
If so you might be met with face to face,
Come to us here, who would not find you there,
Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,
Who heard no more than thunder in the air,
Who marked the mere events and not the myth.
Touch the bare branches of our unbelief
And blaze again like fire in every leaf.