YHWH: The God Who Is
Standing before the burning bush, commissioned by God to bring the children of Israel out of their oppressive servitude in the land of Egypt, Moses had a question:
Who do I say sent me?
“Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?'” (Exodus 3:13).
It was a fair question. Egypt had many gods, and Israel had been in captivity for a long time. To show up and proclaim that a god was setting them free would be vague and confusing at best.
“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”‘ Moreover God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The LORD 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”‘” (Exodus 3:14-15).
Our English translations can make it hard to track exactly what’s happening in these verses. “I am who I am” can almost sound like a dismissive hand-wave—right up there with, “It’ll be what it’ll be,” and, “What’s done is done.” And then God introduces Himself as “the LORD God,” which, aside from the small caps, might not seem particularly noteworthy.
But there’s so much more going on here.
“I AM WHO I AM” is no mere hand-wave; it’s a glimpse into the very nature of God. God is the God who is. The God who exists. Who is real. Eternal. Unending. Self-sustaining.
Egypt’s pantheon was stuffed full of cheap imitations, born from the fever dreams of men and the insidious guidance of Satan the devil—and in the face of these worthless counterfeits, God tells Moses, “I AM.”
And as for “the LORD God”? Whenever you see “LORD” written in small caps, what you’re reading is something far grander than it looks. Those small caps let us know that we’re looking at four Hebrew letters so sacred, their actual pronunciation has been lost to time:
The name of God.
* * *
To be clear, God has many names. Just a few chapters later, God tells Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty” (Exodus 6:3). In Hebrew, “God Almighty” is El Shaddai.
But here, God reveals to Moses that His “name forever,” His “memorial to all generations,” is YHWH—sometimes referred to as “the tetragrammaton,” a Greek word meaning “four letters.” Because the Jews who preserved the Hebrew scriptures didn’t believe the name of God should be fully written out (they left out the vowels), we don’t know exactly how to pronounce it—but our closest guess is “Yahweh.”
This word, this name of God, is closely tied to the Hebrew word God used when He declared Himself to be the “I AM.” First and foremost, the primary name of God reminds us that we serve Yahweh, the eternal, the self-existent, the God who is who He is, “who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).
That is the God we serve, and there is no other. God is; all other gods are not. He is, and “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God does not depend on anyone or anything to exist, nor is He confined to time and space the way we are. He does not age; He does not get tired; He cannot be overwhelmed or distracted or deceived.
He is. No qualifiers necessary.
* * *
Moses told Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The margin of my Bible offers an alternate translation: “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!”
Our God is Yahweh, and Yahweh is the only God.
Imagine the impact a declaration like that carried in a world where gods were everywhere. There were gods of harvests, gods of fertility, gods of war, gods of peace, gods of heaven, gods of earth, gods of wine and food, gods of anything you could point at and name. And then Yahweh, God Almighty, tells this fledgling nation, “No. I am God. Of everything. All of it. The sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the seas, the plants, the animals, the people, the unfathomable depths of this vast and swirling cosmos—I hold all of it in my hands.”
A few millennia later, is that declaration any less important?
We still have gods. Not the animal-headed gods of the Egyptians, not the battle-ready gods of the Norwegians, not the drunk, raucous gods of the Greeks—but gods all the same.
We have altars of convenience, of status, of money, of possessions, of appearance, of excess, of attention—all places we can go to offer sacrifices of time and effort and desire.
And so we still need the reminder.
Our God is the God.
Not a god. Not the best god.
The only God.
In the face of a thousand counterfeits, we serve the God who is.
* * *
The Sacred Name movement is a misguided idea that resurfaces from time to time in the churches of God—the idea that because “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), we must refer to God as Yahweh (and Jesus Christ as Yeshua, His Hebrew name) if we want to be saved.
There are a lot of errors in the thought process—the fact that the New Testament was written in Greek; the fact that we can’t be 100 percent sure of the correct way to pronounce the tetragrammaton because we lack the vowels; the fact that God Himself introduces Himself by other names, like El Shaddai—and the unfortunate result is that sometimes, in the face of this false teaching, we can be a little gun shy when it comes to talking about this revealed name of God. The fact that this name is presented in many of our English translations as “LORD” makes it that much easier to read over without giving it a second thought.
But the name of God is not meant to be skimmed over or sidelined.
Is it the secret password to salvation? Does invoking the correct syllables offer us on-demand healing powers or a closer connection with God?
No and no. But that name is recorded for us, over and over again in the pages of the Old Testament, to remind us of the fundamental truths about the God we serve:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
“I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me. …
You are My witnesses.
Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one.”
When we need clarity, who do we come to? The God who is. When we need shelter and safety, who protects us? The God who is. When we have to move through difficult territory, who guides our steps? The God who is. When we’re locked in a wrestling match with the enemy and our own human nature, when the future feels bleak and hopeless, when we find ourselves overwhelmed and outnumbered, who gives us the victory?
Yahweh. The God who is. Our God.
* * *
Jesus told the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). In response, the Jews attempted to stone Jesus to death, then and there.
Why? It wasn’t because He made some grammatical error. Jesus was revealing Himself as the I AM. As Yahweh. As the eternal, self-existing Being who spoke with Moses from within the burning bush all those years ago. Paul would later explain that the Old Testament Israelites “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
When Judas betrayed Jesus and led the Pharisees to the Garden of Gethsemane, the would-be captors named their intended prisoner: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I AM” (John 18:5). Very probably, your Bible reads like mine, putting “I am He” as Christ’s reply—but notice what happens next: “Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).
The “He” was added by translators for clarity. It seems more likely to me that Jesus was once again identifying Himself as the I AM—because when Jesus identifies Himself to the mob, an entire detachment of trained Roman soldiers (not to mention Pharisees who were out for blood) fell to the ground.
There is power in the name of God—not in the syllables of the name, but in the God who bears the name. There is splendor. There is majesty. And there is a promise:
Yahweh is the God who is.
Until next time,
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