My Name is I AM: God reveals His Personal Name

My Name is I AM: God reveals His Personal Name

Exodus 3:13-15

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “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 forever; the name you shall call me from generation to generation.

Moses has asked God for His Personal Name. It is important for us to remember that in the Semitic Culture, a name is closely linked to the person or something related to the person. For example, Isaac means laughter and was so named because his mother laughed when she heard that she would have a son at 90 years of age. Previous to this conversation, God had been known as El Shaddai. Now El Shaddai, like El or Elohim, is a title, not a name and so Moses asks a legitimate question. (I will phrase it in a parlance we can relate to.) “Ok, so you’re God; what’s your name?”

To ask God to identify Himself by something other than a title is a perfectly legitimate question. You don’t want to just worship any god; you want to make sure that you worship the right god. Also, you must think about the claim to deity. If a person is God, then He must be worshipped and if you are going to properly worship a deity, you must know who that deity is and how he expects to be worshipped.

God, because He always acts justly, answers the question and He answers it in the most curious way possible. He answers with the statement, Ehyeh Aser Ehyeh which most English Bibles translate as “I AM who I AM.”

Rendered into English, Ehyeh is I AM. This is God’s personal Name. How do I get that? Permit me to quote KJ Cronin

“The word asher, it is described in the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon as a “sign of relation” (BDB, p.81), which is its precise function in Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Its presence signals the existence of an unspecified relationship between the two Ehyeh of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Without the asher, the two Ehyeh would appear to stand alone as merely independent declarations of the name Ehyeh. It is presumably for this reason that the asher is required between Self-address and name in Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, and for this reason that the Divine Self-identification Ehyeh asher Ehyeh does not conform to the normal construction of self-identification that comprises only self-address and name.

Because it is generic, the asher has no exactly corresponding word in English (BDB, p.83), and so we must search instead for an English translation of the asher that fits the context. Having undertaken such a search, I can identify only one translation that when emplaced in “I AM asher I AM” makes of it a recognizable Divine Self-identification. That translation is “is who”, yielding the words “I AM is who I AM”. However, this is a completely unattested translation of asher and, moreover, it does not preserve the purity of the idem-per-idem form of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. I therefore do not accept this as the translation we seek and conclude that the nuance of meaning in the asher of Exodus 3:14a is untranslatable into English.

Which brings me to the translation of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, and first to the literal translation. Because the asher is untranslatable, it makes most sense to retain it in the literal English translation of Exodus 3:14, where it will mean the same to the Hebrew reader as to the Hebrew non-reader who knows the grammatical purpose that it serves. I would therefore propose that Ehyeh asher Ehyeh should read as follows in literal English translation: “I AM asher I AM”. Alternatively, if Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is to be represented in paraphrase, then the simplest and most accurate such paraphrase is “I am I AM””

Take notice of the fact that in answering Moses’ question, God does not remove one iota of the mystery surrounding His Name or His Person. Being totally apart from the creation, there is a certain level of mystery included in God’s personhood, especially since He is infinite and we are not. The answer “I AM” leaves something to be desired and that it quite by design; God is both answering the question and leaving room for additional revelation later.

A distinction is necessary before we can move on. Ehyeh is God’s Personal Name but He also has a Proper Name and that name is YHWH. This Name requires equal care and reverence with Ehyeh.

How can YHWH be a name since it is only 4 letters?

The ancient Hebrew language that the Old Testament was written in did not have vowels in its alphabet. In written form, ancient Hebrew was a consonant-only language. In the original Hebrew, God’s name transliterates to YHWH (sometimes written in the older style as YHVH). This is known as the tetragrammaton (meaning “four letters”). Because of the lack of vowels, Bible scholars debate how the tetragrammaton YHWH was pronounced.

Isn’t God’s Name Jehovah?

Jehovah is a possibility though fairly unlikely. Here is why…Most Protestant Theology was originally written in German. In German, the letter “J” is pronounced the same as the letter “Y” in English and the letter “V” is pronounced the same way as the letter “W” in English thus rendering Jehovah as unlikely. It could, possibly, be phonetically said as “Ye-ho-wah” and yet that is also unlikely.

Due to a fear of accidentally taking God’s name in vain (Leviticus 24:16), the Jews basically quit saying it out loud altogether. Instead, when reading Scripture aloud, the Jews substituted the tetragrammaton YHWH with the word Adonai (“Lord”). Even in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the translators substituted Kurios (“Lord”) for the Divine Name. Eventually, the vowels from Adonai (“Lord”) or Elohim (“God”) found their way in between the consonants of YHWH, thus forming what we commonly know as YaHWeH. But this interpolation of vowels does not mean that was how God’s name was originally pronounced. In fact, we aren’t entirely sure if YHWH should have two syllables or three.

Any number of vowel sounds can be inserted within YHWH, and Jewish scholars are as uncertain of the real pronunciation as Christian scholars are. Jehovah is actually a much later (probably 16th-century) variant. The word Jehovah comes from a three-syllable version of YHWHYeHoWeH. The Y was replaced with a J (although Hebrew does not even have a J sound) and the W with a V, plus the extra vowel in the middle, resulting in JeHoVaH. These vowels are the abbreviated forms of the imperfect tense, the participial form, and the perfect tense of the Hebrew being verb (English is)—thus the meaning of Jehovah could be understood as “He who will be, is, and has been.”

So, what is God’s Name, and what does it mean? The most likely choice for how the tetragrammaton was pronounced is “YAH-way,” “YAH-weh,” or something similar. The name Yahweh refers to God’s self-existence. Yahweh is linked to how God described Himself in Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” God’s name is a reflection of His being. God is the only self-existent or self-sufficient Being. Only God has life in and of Himself. That is the essential meaning of the tetragrammaton, YHWH.

 The tetragrammaton consists of four Hebrew letters: yodh, he, waw, and then he repeated. Some versions of the Bible translate the tetragrammaton as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”; most translate it as “LORD” (all capital letters).

Some have said that YHWH is in the 2nd or 3rd person and this is partly correct. In fact, there are some articles that claim that Yahweh is simply a third person form of Hayah (to be). The first form is Ehyeh. Just like the word “be” in English is rarely used and become am, are, and is if the subject is first, second, or third person, so is the word hayah in Hebrew, according to those articles.

According to these articles, God doesn’t really have a name. Yahweh simply means “He is”.

Is this true? No. If Yahweh, simply means “He is” what’s the point of hiding the sacred name given that I am sure everyone must have been saying it all the time in natural conversation like “He is cooking. He is swimming. He is running” etc.

The articles’ claim is incorrect. YHWH is the causative form of the word for being, thus the referent meaning is ”causes to be”. The name of God is not the third person form of ”being”, it is the third person form of ”causing to be” or ”causing to exist”. It is much more powerful than ”he is” essentially it means ”He causes existence to exist”.

Further The root of the name seems to be the same as the verb “to be”, but it doesn’t match any Hebrew conjugation pattern. Really, it seems to be a combination of the 3rd person future, present, and past tenses. This kind of describes God as eternal (as in “being” applies to him in the future, present, and past).

In either case, God’s Personal Name or His Proper Name, there exists a quality of infinity and makes the direct statement of fact that God exists; God declares Himself to be saying, “I AM is My Name.”

The natural response to such and answer would be to ask the question, “You are what/whom?”

Well, Jesus answered that with 7 Statements in the Gospel According to John and two more in Revelation.

Jesus declares, I AM…

  1. The Bread of Life

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

  1. The Light of the World

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

  1. The Gate

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

  1. The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

  1. The Resurrection and The Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

  1. The Way, The Truth, And The Life

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

  1. The Vine

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

  • Statement 1 tells us that Jesus is the One who spiritually sustains us.
  • In statement 2 we learn that through Him we gain spiritual understanding and wisdom for living.
  • Statement 3 explains that He has given us free and unlimited access to His Kingdom.
  • Statement 4 shows how He did this by paying our entrance fee with His life
  • In statement 5 we learn that whether we die before the rapture or are taken live in it, He has guaranteed our eternal life with God.
  • Statement 6 explains that He is the only one who can do this for us, and
  • Statement 7 reveals that for the balance of our life on Earth, the things we do in His strength, out of gratitude for what He’s done for us, are the only things that matter.

In Revelation He declares

I AM…

Alpha and Omega

Revelation 1:8

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

The first and the last and He that liveth and was dead

Revelation 1:17-18

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

As we endeavor to understand God better, I want to look a little deeper at some of these I AM Statements

 

I am the bread of life

John 6:35 (NIV)

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What on earth does Jesus mean? What kind of bread are we talking about here? Rye? Wheat? Whole Grain? White? It is good that our minds go in that direction since bread is a staple, that is to say it is an essential for life. In fact, bread is so common that in some cases we use it as a synonym for food in general. If we are “breaking bread” with someone we are sharing a meal with them. Keep the idea of food and sustenance in your mind as we go through this lesson.

  1. Jesus, as the Bread of Life, is the source and sustainer of life. John 10:28tells us that Jesus gives life and those to whom He gives it will never perish. 1 Timothy 6:13 contains an admonishment from Paul in the sight of God who gives life to everything and we saw at the beginning of this series that Jesus is, in fact, the I AM of the Old Testament and therefore, He is the God who gives life to everything that has it.
  2. Bread played an integral role in the Passover and in the history of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The Jews were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover feast and then for seven days following as a celebration of the exodus from Egypt. Finally, when the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years, God rained down “bread from heaven” to sustain the nation (Exodus 16:4).
  3. Jesus was responding to the obtuseness of the crowd who did not get who He was. The statement that He is the Bread of Life is staggering!! By equating Himself with bread, Jesus is saying he is essentialfor life. Now, the life Jesus is referring to is not physical life, but eternal life. Jesus is trying to get the Jews’ thinking off of the physical realm and into the spiritual realm. He is contrasting what He brings as their Messiah with the bread He miraculously created the day before. That was physical bread that perishes. He is spiritual bread that brings eternal life.
  4. Jesus is not talking about physical hunger and thirst. Think back; in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)” When Jesus says those who come to Him will never hunger and those who believe in Him will never thirst, He is saying He will satisfy our hunger and thirst to be made righteous in the sight of God.

 

Our deepest need is for a relationship with God. Jesus is the satisfaction of that need. When we come to Him, He gives us eternal life and then sustains that life so that we never again are in a famine for relationship with God.

I AM Alpha and Omega

Revelation 1:8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

  1. Why does Jesus use Alpha and Omega?
    A. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet implying that Jesus is the first and last, the cause of everything. (Colossians 1:16). Alpha and Omega shows Jesus as the cause of all history, the Creator God, and the culmination of all history as all history is moving toward His full and final glory.
  2. What is the significance of the phrase, “which is, and which was, and which is to come?
  3. When God told Moses, “I Am Who I Am” it was a statement that is a present continuous, which essentially means that what is said is always that way. God always is, that is to say that He transcends time.
  4. God is not bound by the physical laws and limitations of our time and space (Isaiah 57:15)
  5. God is a spirit (John 4:24) and so is unbound by these laws 2. God is timeless (Psalm 90:4) and His perspective on time is different from ours (2 Peter 3:8,Psalm 102:12,Psalm 102:24-27)
  6. In short, there has never been a time when God was not and will never be a time when He is not.

III. What is the significance of “the Almighty”
A. God Almighty was a name well known to the Jews

  1. Six times in Genesis, God is called Almighty (Genesis 17:1Genesis 28:3Genesis 35:11Genesis 43:14 Genesis 48:3 Genesis 49:25)
    2. God tells Moses that He was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty but not buy His Covenant Name, YHWH (Exodus 6:3)
  2. The name, God Almighty is used more than 12 times in the Old Testament. By appropriating this Name unto Himself, Jesus is declaring, in absolutely direct terms that He is, in fact, the One, God Almighty.

 

Are Jesus and YHWH (I AM) the same?

Philippians 2:9-11

For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I have heard this passage quoted countless times and rightfully so; the Name Jesus is worthy to be bowed down to, worthy to be adored, to be exalted in exuberant song. It is the very best name there is. Or is it? Does Jesus actually have a better name than Jesus? IF He does, what is that name and why will we bow to it?

As it happens, there is a different name that all men will bow down before. It is a name that has belonged to Jesus since before time began. It was His name before His incarnation; before He condescended to come to this earth and allow Himself to be sacrificed for our sins, this name crowned Him in glory and this name arrayed Jesus in every superlative of majesty that you could ever possibly imagine if you had 1000 lifetimes and no limitations to the capacity of your mind. This name, that Jesus has had for all eternity, is the one before whom every knee will bow and it is the name that will cause every tongue to confess; this name is YHWH (Jehovah). Dear children, it is not simply that every knee bows before Jesus, nor is it the confession of lordship that glorifies the Father but it is instead the confession of the Name that glorifies the Father. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, (don’t miss this) Jesus IS YHWH!

Isaiah 42:8 (ASV)” I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images.”

Isaiah 43:11 (ASV) “I, even I, am Jehovah; and besides me there is no savior.”

YHWH (Jehovah) in the Old Testament declares that He will never share His glory and that He alone is the savior. But in Acts, the Apostle Peter tells us that it is the name Jesus that salvation is found in. Is there a contradiction here? Does Peter contradict Isaiah? Nope. The Greek Iesus is the same as the Hebrew Y’shua and it is in that name that salvation is found. You might ask how on earth I figure that Y’shua is the name in which salvation is found. Well, Y’shua is the shortened form of Yehoshu’a (Joshua) and Yehoshu’a literally means YHWH is Savior. Isn’t that beautiful?

It is YHWH which is Christ’s most glorious Name. The very God who was blasphemed by our sin has put aside the offense and has redeemed us unto Himself. Stop for a minute and think about what this means because it means so much more than you don’t have to go to hell for eternity and it means so much more than you get to go to heaven. You get to be with YHWH and you get to be like Him, unable to die, unable to be diminished. Your eternity with YHWH will be in perfect communion; you will behold the One who loved you more than life and gave His to redeem yours. Standing face to face you will see YHWH on His glorious throne. Eyes that have never seen will behold the Lamb, ears that have never heard will behold the majesty of heaven’s symphony of praise, lips that have never spoken will resound the anthem of Christ’s amazing grace, and feet that have never walked will dance before the throne with all their might just as David did in the Old Testament. In that moment, when all who have ever lived see Jesus in all of the resplendent majesty of His person, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is YHWH and the whole world will glorify YHWH, some in judgment and some from an undeserved spot in heaven but we will all give Him glory forever and ever.

I have listened to Desiring God for a number of years and I have the following in my notes:

There are at least 10 things the name Yahweh, “I AM,” says about God:

  1. He never had a beginning. God simply is. And always was. No beginning.”
  2. God will never end. If there was never a time when God was not, then there will not ever be a time when He will not be.
  3. God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is all that was eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God.
  4. God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.
  5. Everything that is not God depends totally on God. The entire universe is utterly secondary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
  6. All the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance. As an echo to a thunderclap. All that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing.
  7. God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is.
  8. God is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There is no law-book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
  9. God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs as the absolute reality. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of his own will.
  10. God is the most important and most valuable reality and person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.

What else does the Bible teach us about YHWH

YHWH is exclusive

Isaiah 42:8 (NIV)

 “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

Isaiah 43:10-11 (NIV)

10 Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior

Exodus 20:2-6 (NIV)

2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

YHWH is mercifuland gracious

Exodus 34:6-7 (KJV)

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

 

No one can see YHWH’s face/behold His glory and live

Exodus 33:20 (NIV)

20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

 

Though He leaves His Name shrouded in mystery, God as shown us a personal and relational aspect to His Name. By not putting a qualifier after His Name, God essentially says, “I AM all that you need.”

  • For our need of redemption, He is YHWH Shua, the LORD who saves
  • To answer the disease of sin, He is YHWH Rophe, the LORD who heals
  • For our need of being made righteous, He is YHWH T’sidkenu, the LORD who imputes righteousness
  • For our need to be made holy, He is YHWH Mekoddishkem, the LORD who sanctifies
  • For our need of providential care, He is YHWH Raah, the LORD our Shepherd

 

Final Thoughts

  1. God is relational (a Trinity) and we, through His grace, can have a relationship with Him.
  2. God is superlatively holy which, to a degree leaves Him shrouded in mystery because of His apartness
  3. Everything we need for life and salvation is found in/comes from God
  4. God, alone, is worthy of our praise. Everything has been created for His glory and good pleasure.

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