The Name of God, Part 1

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Exodus 3:14

When God promised to be with Moses in his mission to free the Israelites from Egypt, Moses anticipated his reception among his people, and he was concerned: “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” (v. 13). The question, “What is his name?”, would not be asking merely for some label for God. Rather, in the ancient world, the name of someone, including a god, signified that person’s character, personality, and identity. To ask “What is his name?” would be tantamount to saying, “Who is this God that we should trust him? What sort of being is he?”

God answers Moses’ concern with what is one of the most curious verses in all of Scripture. It has engendered thousands upon thousands of pages of scholarly debate. First, God answers the question of his name by saying “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14). The verb forms allow for other translation options, such as “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” Then God shortens his name to “I AM.” In verse 15 God refers to himself as “Yahweh” (which was traditionally rendered as Jehovah).

So what is God’s name? Though there is variation in the precise form of God’s name, all options in this passage are related to the Hebrew verb meaning “to be.” This is true not only of the “I AM” names, but also of “Yahweh.” So the name of God affirms, most simply, God’s reality. God is. God exists. But, on this foundation, I AM WHO I AM, implies God’s self-determination. God does not exist in the same way that you and I exist, as creatures dependent on a creator. Rather, God is unique in being independent of any source other than God himself.

What does this mean for us? I’ll seek to answer this question in my next post. For now, however, I’d encourage you to reflect upon the uniqueness of God, the God who is, the God named I AM WHO I AM.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When you think of God’s name, what comes to mind? What thoughts? What feelings? What questions? Why do you think God’s name is so unexpected and unusual?

PRAYER: Dear God, whose name is I AM WHO I AM, I must confess that this passage confounds me. Your name, even when revealed, is still a mystery. I readily confess that there is so much about who you are, O God, that I don’t get.

Nevertheless, I thank you for revealing yourself even in ways I cannot fully grasp. Thank you for making yourself known to Moses, and through Moses to your people . . . including me.

Help me, O God, to grow in my understanding of who you are, of what your name means. Help me to know you more fully and truly.

Today may I live in relationship with you, I AM WHO I AM. May I live to worship you with my whole life. Amen.