“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the sons of Israel and say unto them, The God of your fathers has sent me unto you, and if they say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God answered unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the sons of Israel: I AM (YHWH) has sent me unto you.” Exodus 3:13-14 JUB
Today, we are looking at the name that God Himself said is His name, what has been referred to as His memorial or covenant name, I AM. This is the most frequently used name of God used in the Old Testament. First, let’s look at the context in which this name was given.
During a seven-year famine, many of the Israelites had gone to Egypt for food. We know that Joseph’s large family had stayed in Egypt, and it’s probable that many other Israelite families had done the same. Joseph and all his family had died. This is where the book of Exodus begins.
“But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” Exodus 1:7 (all verses in ESV unless otherwise indicated)
By this time, a new king was ruling over Egypt, a king who did not know Joseph. He became fearful of the Israelites and enslaved them to build storehouse cities for Pharaoh.
“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” Exodus 1:8-11
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” Exodus 2:23-24
God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and called him to go to Egypt and deliver His people who groaned under the hand of Egypt.
“And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:9-10
Moses was reluctant to accept this call from God, and this was the motivation for the question he asked God. And the name God gave him to take to the people of Israel has been called the memorial name of God, His name to be remembered throughout all generations.
“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. ” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” Exodus 3:13-15
In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, I AM is written as four consonants, YHWH, known as the tetragrammaton (meaning “four letters”). YHWH was believed by the Jews to be too sacred to be uttered by sinful men, therefore it was written without vowels. In our English Bibles, it is usually translated LORD, in all capital letters to differentiate it from Adonai, Lord.
Some older Bible versions use Jehovah for this proper name of God. A group of Jewish scholars called the Masoretas used the vowels from Adonai, between the initials YHVH, opening the way to a wrong literal translation. The most likely choice for how the tetragrammaton was to be pronounced is “YAH-way,” “YAH-weh,” or something similar. The modern spelling as “Yahweh” includes vowels to assist in pronunciation.
In the Old Testament, YHWH was used most often in passages about God’s dealings with His Chosen people, the Jews. It was a reminder to them of God’s nearness and accessibility. It’s meaning is the self-existent One, YHWH has also been translated I will become whatsoever I will become. God was reminding Moses and the people he was to lead that He would be whatever they needed – the potential was as unlimited!
Kay Arthur wrote about this name of God in her book As Silver Refined.
“When you feel discouraged, when you lack courage, when you think you can’t do it … can’t handle it … can’t survive it … then remember that “with God nothing is impossible.” Remember that “I AM” is our Lord’s memorial name to all generations, including yours and mine! He is everything and anything you will ever need. You can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens you; therefore discouragement never comes from God.”
John Piper wrote, “Everything that is not God depends totally on God.” Yahweh is a name that reminds us of our dependance upon God. Piper continues, “God does whatever he pleases and it is always right and always beautiful and always in accord with truth… God is the most important and most valuable reality and person in the universe.”
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some of the names that expand on Who YAHWEH is and what He can do. You may be more familiar with the pairing of these descriptive terms with Jehovah, but I’ll be using YAHWEH since it is the most likely translation of the Hebrew word. We will be looking at some names of God that combine YAHWEH with descriptive terms that tell us more about our amazing God. But let’s start today by joining Chris Tomlin and Elevation Worship in worshiping YAHWEH, the self-existent God who is above all other gods.