What’s God’s Name?
Moses had asked his first question to God, who am I that I should stand before Pharaoh? God’s answer did not address Moses’ question but pointed Moses back to who God is. His answer is based on faith, I will be with you. You will know what I have sent you when you have accomplished what I have sent you. The people of God will worship God on this very mountain. Moses stood there barefoot, face covered. He asks a second question, who are you? What is your name? Now this is not the first time someone has asked what God’s name is. In Genesis 32:22–32, Jacob wrestles, with God. God gives Jacob a new name, Israel. Then Jacob turns around and asks the Lord what his name is, God responds and says, “Why do you ask my name?” The Lord then blessed Jacob. Jacob calls the name of the place where he wrestled with God, “Peniel,” which means the face of God. The Lord will say later that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but they did not make his name known to them (Ex 6:3). We see an important doctrine that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew who God is, but they did not know everything about God. God has revealed himself to his creation and he has done so throughout the history of time, this is what we call progressive revelation. That God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever, and yet he revealed who he is throughout time. This is why it is important to study “Systematic Theology.” We often think this form of study is extra-biblical, imposing doctrines onto the Bible. However, good systematic theology seeks to put together the Bible’s teaching under categories revealed to us in scripture. The Bible speaks about God, who he is. Systematic theology seeks to study the scriptures to see what God has revealed about himself to his creation.
The second aspect that should encourage us about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knowing God but not everything there is to know about God is that we are in the same situation. That these three men are commended for their faith in God, and yet they didn’t know God’s name. The author of Hebrews explains that these men died in faith, “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb 11:13). We too will never know all that there is to know about God. We have what God has revealed to us in the Word but we will never be able to comprehend the fullness of who God is, and that is a great thing. If a man can wrap his brain around god, then that god is a god man has made. However, if man cannot wrap his brain around God then he is a God who made man. This is not to say we can never know everything, so why learn anything? God has given us the whole counsel of his word to teach us about who he is and what he requires of man. The world is filled with great questions but terrible answers to those questions. You cannot find out about true justice until you know the God who is just. You cannot find true goodness in this world until you know the God who is good. We will see that a part of the book of Exodus is that God reveals himself to his people, but also that he reveals himself to the Egyptians. Pharaoh has the same question as Moses, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Ex 5:2). Both the people of God and the people of Egypt will know who the Lord is by the end of this book.
Moses understands that he will be a messenger for God, however, whose name do I speak for? God answers Moses’ question directly, he tells them his name is Yahweh. Now all we know is that it is four letters, yod, he, waw, and he. This is known as a tetragrammaton (meaning a four-letter word). Often when reading the Old Testament Jews would pronounce this as Adoni (Greek for Lord), or Elohim (Hebrew for God). They did not want to blaspheme God by mistake. When they recorded it, they placed the vowels for a different word under the consonant. This is why people would previously say Jehovah, or more currently Yahweh, both seek to translate God’s name. Now along with the question of how you pronounce his name is also the question of what his name means, three suggestions have often been argued, I am what I am, I am who I am, or I will be who I will be. The meaning has caused scholarly debate, I believe that it can be all of the three aspects. Or as the apostle John records in Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). This is God’s covenant name that he revealed to his people, a name that shows that God voluntarily condescended to make a covenant of grace with his people. God’s name of promise which he signs his covenant to. In our English Bibles, his name is translated in capital Letters LORD or GOD. It is used about 6800 times in the Bible.
We often speak of those who say there is no God, atheists. We encourage them to look at God’s word and world. They can see God’s fingerprints in all of creation and they have more questions to answer. Often because they merely look at epistemological evidence that can be interpreted through their senses. We encourage them to seek to understand that even in this world you can see there is a creator. That there are things in this world that cannot be accounted for only through observing the world. One example would be morals, we would say that there is such thing as right and wrong. But if we merely evolved then the survival of the fittest is paramount, you might be able to argue that it might be beneficial for a society to have good morals but there is no basis for it. Another group, which I think is more prevalent, is agnostics, you might call them philosophical fence-sitters. They say that we cannot know for certain if there is a God or not. They can be more on one side than another, eg atheistic or have some form of belief. However, this is not what the Bible tells us about God, it is not merely there is a God, but you can know who this God is, and that he wants to know you. The God of the Bible does not merely set the world spinning like a spinning top and just walk away, but he providentially rules over his creation, and he came down into creation so that his people would be saved. Jeremiah explains, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:13–14a). A third category might say they believe in a god but do not want anything to do with him. I believe this might be the most prevalent. Many people are walking away from the church, deconstructing their faith. Some I believe do not like the God of the Bible, but I think they do not know the God of the bible. They grew up in church and heard of a God who wants them to be better. They heard of a God who hates sinners and will only condemn them. They heard of a God who doesn’t care what you do and everyone goes to heaven. They heard of a God who wants you to dress a certain way, to do these things and not these things. These have some level of twisted truth to them. The teachers have twisted or distorted the bible. They have not taught the whole counsel of God. So, my encouragement is to read the bible for yourself. Let God tell you about himself in his own words. Let the Bible be the foundation of the truth, not what others have said. God tells Moses later in the Book of Exodus who he is this is what he says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6–7)
We see the great truth that we pointed out previously that God reveals himself to his creation. God is not merely hiding in heaven waiting for mankind to find him, but he reveals himself to his people. We can not only know about God through creation (Rom 1:20), but he reveals himself to us through his word. John Blanchard said, “To know God’s name is to know something of his nature.” God reveals his name so that his name would be glorified. William Gourge, “God’s name, as it is set out in the Word, is both a glorious name, full of majesty; and also a gracious name, full of mercy.” God reveals himself to his creatures that they might give God. God is knowable. Not merely as the creator of the universe, but as the redeemer of his people. He has a name, The LORD, the promise-making, covenant-keeping, grace-giving, mercy-showing, steadfast loving, forever faithful, God.
What’s more than that is that he wants his people to bear his name, to reflect his character. Listen to how the Lord speaks to his people through his prophet Isaiah, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Is 42:5–8) God reveals himself to us through his works of providence and creation so that he would receive all glory, honor, and praise. This is foundational to the ten commandments that the people of God will be given on this same mountain where Moses stood. As God speaks to his people he begins, by saying, “I am the LORD, your God” (Ex 20:1). His name is used eight times throughout the ten commandments. The people were to honor God, the correct God in the correct way. They were to honor him by serving him, worshipping him, honoring his name, honoring his day, and honoring their parents in the land that the Lord was going to give them. When we think about this great and glorious truth we realize that the God of the Bible has a name, and he has revealed to us his character and attributes. The Israelites will make a golden calf and call it Yahweh. We should seek to understand the living and true God who has revealed himself to us through scripture, not merely make up a God and call him LORD. But serve, honor, and worship the one true living God.
Jesus is I AM
When we think about God revealing himself to his creation he does so for a particular purpose. In Exodus God reveals himself to creation to redeem and rescue his people from slavery. This was just the shadow of when God revealed himself to creation to come down and put on flesh, to be able to dwell in the midst of his people. Jesus Christ came down, not to rescue us from physical slavery but slavery of sin and satan. He came down and died in our place so that we might be free and be able to serve God. This is the glorious part is that it is not a new story of God’s redemption but the same story of God’s redemption. Moses was punished and ridiculed by Pharaoh for being God’s messenger, however, Jesus suffered and died not for his message but for who he is. Jesus was not sent to Pilate because he said things to upset him, this is what the religious leaders tried to charge him for, that they should not pay taxes to Caesar and honor Caesar. We can find out exactly why Jesus was crucified in the gospel of John. The pharisee’s claim to salvation is that they descended from Abraham. Jesus pointed out that if they were true sons of Abraham they would have faith like Abraham did, they would have faith in the promised son who would come and deliver God’s people. It’s a great passage to see how people often misread the Old Testament, it is about doing things. At the end of the chapter Jesus says, “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8:55–59). Jesus said he was the God who revealed himself to Moses in this passage in Exodus 3. That he is the eternal Son of God who was there before the foundation of the world. As the Lord told Moses, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” Jesus’ name will be renowned forever, as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:9-11; “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”