This blog post is adapted from Blessed Be His Name by Rev. Dr. Kevin Golden.
Moses knew the fear of God. In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses, speaking to him from the burning bush. Moses rightly hides his face out of fear (Exodus 3:6). God then tells Moses why He is appearing to him: He has heard His people’s cry and He will deliver them from slavery in Egypt. Moses will be His chosen instrument to accomplish their deliverance. This is no light task. Egypt is a political and military powerhouse.
Moses objects, first asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). God’s response is simple: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Moses further objects that when he tells the people of Israel that the God of their fathers has sent him, they will ask, “What is His name?” So, God reveals His name to Moses.
God responds, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Thus, you will say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14, author’s translation). In the very next verse, God further instructs Moses, saying, “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:15, author’s translation).
Yahweh as “I AM”
God reveals His personal name. His name is Yahweh. You will find variant spellings of that name as it is brought from Hebrew into English. Since biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, some choose to bring God’s personal name from Hebrew into English by transliterating the four consonants of His name as YHWH.
What is lost in translation is the relationship between God’s self-identification as “I AM” and as “Yahweh.” Hebrew verbs utilize prefixes to indicate a change in person (I vs. you vs. he/she/it) and number (I vs. we; you vs. you all; he/she/it vs. they), among other things. The verbal root remains the same as the prefix changes to indicate the person and number. “I AM” and “Yahweh” utilize the same verbal root with a change in the prefix. Instead of “I AM,” “Yahweh” would be rendered “He is.”
This rather simple explanation of God’s personal name, Yahweh, is far from exhaustive of the linguistic discussion of the name. It makes sense that when God refers to Himself as “I AM,” we would then refer to Him as “He is.” But what does that mean? In part, it means that God is ever beyond our ability to comprehend. After all, He wouldn’t be much of a God if I could wrap my mind around Him. Nevertheless, He chooses to reveal specific things about Himself through His name.
Why God Reveals His Name
First, He reveals His personal name so that you might call upon Him. That is among the great blessings of knowing another’s name. You can call upon someone by name even as you can speak of the person by name. Luther’s Small Catechism teaches this in the explanation of the Second Commandment, which is concerned about the proper use of the name of the LORD. Why is it given to us? That we may “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
God also tells Moses that His name, Yahweh, is His memorial. Specifically, God says, “This is My name forever and this is My memorial from generation to generation” (Exodus 3:15, author’s translation). What does it mean for God’s name, Yahweh, to be His memorial? Many translations render this verse so that His name is how He is to be remembered. That is certainly part of what it means for “Yahweh” to be His memorial. A few other texts help reveal more. Isaiah 26:8 ties God’s name and His memorial together as the desire of His people. Psalm 135:13 poetically places the name of the LORD and His memorial (some translations use “renown”) in parallel, a standard means by which Hebrew poetry identifies two things with each other. Proverbs 10:7 also uses parallelism to tie a person’s name with memorial. Yet it is not God’s name and memorial that Proverbs has in view but that of the righteous and the wicked. Hosea 12:5 takes us back specifically to the name of the LORD as His memorial name.
These texts illustrate that the name of the LORD is more than simply the means by which you remember Him. His name carries His renown, His reputation. It also bears His very being. You cannot separate the LORD from His name. And in His name you are taught His character, what makes the LORD to be the LORD, what sets Him apart from everyone else, what makes Him to be God unlike any god, what makes Him holy—distinct, different, unique, separate from all others, what He does for you and for all.
To continue reading about God’s name and the Second Commandment, order Rev. Dr. Kevin Golden’s book below.
Post adapted from Blessed Be His Name copyright © 2021 Kevin S. Golden. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.