[This post was edited on 2/10/2016.]
Have you ever thought about what God calls himself? How does he identify himself to others? Does he tell us a job title or define his qualities? Does he tell us his name? These may be basic questions. But I think sometimes it's helpful for people who grew up going to church to take a step back and reacquaint ourselves with God, perhaps even at the most basic level. We may find we don't know him quite as well as we assumed.
I decided to go back to the most basic part of relationship: introductions. It's hard to have an ongoing relationship without this initial step. It's also hard to have a coherent conversation with a phone caller, brand new supervisor, or the run-of-the-mill disembodied voice if they launch into it without ever telling you who they are. Below are some examples of God introducing himself or identifying himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.
When God renames Abram Abraham and Jacob Israel and reaffirms his promises to them, he identifies himself as God Almighty.
- Gen 17:1—When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless.”
(See Gen 17:1–8 for context.)
- Gen 35:11—God said to [Jacob/Israel], “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body.”
(See Gen 35:9–12 for context.)
God also introduces himself in terms of his relationship with others. Most commonly he introduces himself as the God of Abraham or the “God of your father.”
- Gen 26:24—Yahweh appeared to [Isaac] the same night, and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
(See Gen 26:17–25 for context.)
- Gen 46:2, 3—“Jacob, Jacob.” … He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Don’t be afraid to go down into Egypt, for there I will make of you a great nation.”
(See Gen 46:1–4 for context.)
- Ex 3:6—Moreover he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look at God.
(See Ex 3:1–6 for context. See also references to this passage in Matt 22:32, Mark 12:26, and Acts 7:30–32.)
Now we get to the name of God. God's name has been transliterated a number of ways including YHVH, YHWH, Yahweh, and, perhaps the most common to us American folk, Jehovah.
- Ex 6:2–3—God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.”
- Isa 42:8—“I am Yahweh. / That is my name. / I will not give my glory to another, / nor my praise to engraved images.”
God reveals another name to Moses when he appears to him in the burning bush: I AM WHO I AM, or, more simply, I AM. Various biblical sources conclude that this name is connected to the meaning of God's name Yahweh, which has to do with the concept of existence.
- Ex 3:14—God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Note that God's name was officially revealed to Moses, the one who related God's law to the Israelites after their Egyptian captivity. The giver of the “new law” is recorded as echoing God's words to Moses in John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.’”
I take great comfort in the fact that God's name essentially means “to be.” God exists! No matter what else may be happening around me, to me, or within me, God IS! There is someone bigger than me. Someone permanent, who IS, present tense. Always present tense and always present. It is great to meet the God who is. What an impressive introduction from a God interested in long-lasting, never-ending relationship.
To wrap up, I'm going to end with one of the most memorable introductions in the Bible. It's one I recently mentioned, but it is too powerful not to mention again. In it we see the declaration of a name and defining of relationship. The underlying emphasis I see throughout is the emphasis on the meaning of the name and how it defines its owner. We're going back with Moses to the burning bush. God has just commissioned him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of captivity. Here is the ensuing conversation between Moses and God:
Moses said to God, “Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you;’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What should I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘Yahweh, 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, and this is my memorial to all generations.” (Ex 3:13–15)
Scripture quoted from the World English Bible. The World English Bible is in the Public Domain. That means that it is not copyrighted. See copyright information here: https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/World-English-Bible-WEB/#copy.