What’s in a Name? A couple of things. A person’s name reveals their character, whether they have a good name (reputation) or not. A name is also the primary point of communication. For us to fully communicate with others and develop a relationship, we must know their name. Remembering people’s names has been one of my lifelong goals and is one way I show that I care for and value others.
“I am who I am”
When he was standing at the burning bush, one of the first things Moses wanted to know was God’s name. “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?” 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'” (Exodus 3:13-14).
What sort of name is “I am who I am?” What if I introduced myself to you like that? You’d think my driveway didn’t go all the way to the road. God then went on to tell Moses that this was a new name. God “appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name the Lord [Yahweh], I did not make myself fully known to them.”
In other words, God was communicating in a whole new way to Moses than he had for the past 500 years since he introduced himself to Abram. El-Shaddai (Lit. God of the breast) is a feminine name that implies provision. El-Shaddai denotes the past and the present.
In contrast, Yahweh is a prophetic name and announces who God will be in the future. This was great news for people who were in slavery. What do you need if you’re a slave? God says, “I am He who will be” your deliverer.
“I am who I am” is composed of four Hebrew consonants (YHWH) called the Tetragrammaton. YHWH is an unpronounceable name. In fact, a Rabbi friend of mine won’t write the name, God. He always types G-D as a sign of respect. In Biblical Hebrew, vowels are rarely written. We English speakers have no such rule and happily insert two vowels into YHWH to come up with Yahweh.
Yahweh was then Latinised in the 13th century when Christian scholars took the consonants of “Yahweh” and pronounced it with the vowels of “Adonai.” This resulted in the sound “Yahowah” (Latin “Jehovah”). The first recorded use of this spelling was made by a Spanish Dominican monk, Raymundus Martini, in 1270.
The Names of God
After the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God progressively revealed himself to people according to what they needed him to be. In the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) we discover seven Yahweh (I AM) names of God – what God will be for his people:
Yahweh-Rapha (Ex. 15:22-26) = I AM the One who will heal you.
Yahweh-Nissi (knee-see; Ex. 17:15) = I AM the One who will give you victory.
Yahweh-M’kaddesh (Lev. 20:1-8) = I AM the One who will sanctify you.
Yahweh-shalom (Judges 6:24) = I AM the One will give peace.
Yahweh-rohi (Psalm 23:1) = I AM the One who will be your shepherd.
Yahweh-tsidkenu (Jer. 33:16) = I AM the One who will be your righteousness.
Yahweh-Shamma (Ezekiel 48:35) = I AM the One who will be there for you.
In the New Testament, we discover a corresponding seven “I AM’s” of Jesus:
- I AM the bread of life (John 6:35)
- I AM the light of the world (John 8:12)
- I AM the door of the sheep (John 10:7)
- I AM the good shepherd (John 10:11)
- I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
- I AM the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
- I AM the true vine (John 15:1)
In the New Testament, JESUS reveals a new name for God as the ultimate revelation of who God is (John 17:6). The new name for God is “Father.”
Revealed Throughout Scripture
And so, God was provider (El Shaddai) to Abraham, deliverer (Yahweh/Jehovah) to Moses and the people of Israel, but Father to those who follow Jesus the Saviour. This new name was revealed by Jesus to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount, a summary of Jesus’ principal teachings. Jesus taught his people to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” In other words, we have the same relationship with God that Jesus has.
In this way, we see an incredible progressive revelation of God to humanity. The way people viewed and experienced God thousands of years ago is very different from the way we see and encounter God today. God is no longer the one who comes down to rescue his people (Ex. 3:8); God is now within us, closer to us than the air that we breathe. He no longer identifies with us as El Shaddai, or Yahweh, or Jehovah. God is our Father, and we can communicate with our Father because we know his name, and, like a good Father, he will be to us all that we need.