I am fascinated by the changing popularity of baby’s names through the years. Sueanne and I were like most parents – we put a lot of thought into naming our children. We wanted names that weren’t too popular (especially because of the last name of Smith), but we didn’t want names that were too strange either – we didn’t want to name them Rainbow Brite or anything like that. And I think we did all right with Charity and Amber. But how were we supposed to know that the name “Joshua” would be the fourth most popular name among boys in 1984? Just about every school he ever attended had two or three Joshua Smiths in it.
You may know that, over the past ten years, the most popular names for boys have shifted from names like Michael and Jacob to Noah and Liam. For the girls, popular names have shifted from Jessica and Emily to Emma and Olivia.
I’m even more fascinated by the unusual names that parents will sometimes name their children. And celebrities seem to be the absolute worst. Here are some of the names of celebrities’ children (and no, I’m not making any of these up): There’s Moon Unit, Daisy Dove, Blue Ivy, Moxie Crimefighter, Gravity, Kal-El, Pilot Inspektor, and Petal Blossom Rainbow. And don’t even get me started with X Æ A-12 (X-Ash or however you want to pronounce it), son of Elon Musk and Grimes.
What in the world were parents thinking? But it’s hard for us to be too critical, because we worship a God with a very strange name as well. In the third chapter of Exodus, beginning with verse 13, God tells us what his name is:
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)
Now, it’s important for us to remember what led up to Moses’ question. Back in the book of Genesis, there was a famine throughout the whole world. The people of Israel went down to Egypt — because Egypt had set aside grain during the years of plenty, because Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery, had gone there, and wound up in charge of the whole country. Because of God, Joseph not only saved the Egyptians, but he also saved all the people that came to Egypt for food. And, as a result, God’s people are in Egypt.
But then Joseph died, and another Pharaoh came to power who saw how many the Israelites there were, and he got scared. So, he made slaves out of them. He wanted to kill them with hard labor, but that didn’t work. They just kept multiplying. So, then, he told the midwives to kill all the baby boys. And when that didn’t work, he commanded that all the baby boys be thrown them into the Nile River.
One of those baby boys who was supposed to die was Moses—but his parents had faith and feared God. Moses’ mother made a little basket and put him in the Nile. He floated down the river and ended up (wouldn’t you know it) right on the doorstep of Pharaoh’s daughter. For forty years, she raised Moses as a kind of prince in the household of Egypt’s king.
At forty years of age, Moses looked out and saw the oppression of his people. He tried to break up a dispute between a Hebrew and his taskmaster—and he struck the Egyptian, killing him. Moses was hoping he could set all the Israelites free from Egypt.
But, of course, that didn’t happen. The Egyptians went looking for Moses, so he fled. He winds up far off in the desert in Midian, where he finds a wife and raises a family. He lives there with his father-in-law for another forty years.
And after those forty years, he’s up on a mountain in Midian—where one day, he sees a bush on fire that’s not consumed. And a voice speaks to him and says, “Go to Egypt. Set my people free.” Moses basically says, “What? Me? Who am I?” And God says, “I’m not interested in ‘Who are you?’ I want you to know who I am, because I will be with you.”
Which leads us to verse 13, where Moses says, “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?” (Exodus3:13)
You can almost see the wheels turning in Moses’ head. It’s kind of hypothetical: “Okay, Lord. Just suppose for a minute that I do this. I’m not saying that I’m going to. I’m not saying that. But suppose I do: hypothetically, if I were to do something like this and go down to Egypt — suppose, hypothetically, they want to know, ‘Who sent you?’…what should I say?”
There are several reasons I can think of why Moses would ask this question. He himself may not have been sure: “Look, I can’t see you. I can’t touch you. You’re just a voice. Who am I talking to? I can’t just go back to Egypt and say, ‘Get this, guys: I was in the land Midian and I was talking to a bush.’ God, I’m going to need a name.”
Or maybe Moses is asking because he needs to know what authority this God gives him. I’m sure some of the Israelites remembered about Moses. “What was it that happened forty years ago? He killed an Egyptian, and then he ran away.” Then Moses comes back and they’re gonna say, “Who made you the boss of us?” So, maybe Moses is saying, “Look, Lord, I tried this one time before and I failed. I’m going to need a name. I’m going to need some credentials.”
You also have to remember there were a lot of so-called gods in Egypt. You have to keep in mind when reading the Old Testament that the ancient world was polytheistic, pantheistic, and syncretistic: polytheistic, meaning there are a multitude of gods and goddesses; pantheistic, meaning that nature and God are basically one and the same, so that nature has divine properties; and syncretistic, meaning that most people were very happy to pick and choose from all the various religions. They would say, “Your god seems to help out in times of battle, so I’ll worship that god. Your goddess helps people get pregnant, so I’ll worship her, too.” That’s syncretism.
Moses may be wondering, “These people are going to want to know which God I’m talking to. When I go back and say, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob plans to deliver his people”, they’re going to want to know, “Who’s that?” This God may have been a great God for a small family up in Canaan. But we’re down here in Egypt with a whole bunch of powerful Egyptian deities and quite frankly, for the past two or three hundred years, it just doesn’t look like that God that Abraham served up there in Canaan has been able to do much of anything about the gods down here in Egypt.
So, this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is he? Moses said, “I know they’re going to ask me that. What do I tell 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.’”
You have to admit, that is a most unusual name. His name is not God, and his name is not Lord. His name is, “I AM.” And this isn’t the only verse that mentions God’s name. Altogether, God’s name, “I AM” appears over 6800 times in the Old Testament!
The Jews treated this name with such respect that when scribes would copy Scripture, whenever they came to God’s name, they would stop and take a bath first and then they would use a brand-new pen to write his name and then they would destroy the pen.
Now I wish I could tell you that we know exactly how God’s name is pronounced, but we don’t. The name is actually composed of four Hebrew letters (yod hey vav hey), but they’re all consonants and we don’t know what vowels are supposed to be used.
Many centuries ago, Jewish scholars took this name of God (yod hey vav hey) and they inserted some vowels. They took the vowels out of the Hebrew word “Adonai” (which means “Lord”) and they put them in between the consonants of “yod hey vav hey “. And that’s how they came up with “Jehovah” or, more accurately “Yahweh” or “Yahveh”, and that’s our best guess as to how it’s supposed to be pronounced.
But, over the centuries, the Jews had such a respect for God’s name and such a fear of saying his name in vain that they actually stopped speaking it. They refused to say the name of God. And they still refuse. Whenever Jews come to this word in the Old Testament, they will say the word, “Adonai” instead or “ha-shem” which means “the name.”
And when translators came along and translated our Bibles into English, they didn’t write God’s name either – at least most of them didn’t. Try looking up in a concordance sometime the word “Jehovah” to find out how many times that word appears in the Bible. It’s not there much at all. Because, what translators did, is that whenever they came to the name “yod hey vav hey”, they wrote down the word “LORD” in all capital letters. So whenever you find the word “LORD” in your Old Testament in all capital letters — and you’ll find it over 6800 times — what that really is is the name of God, Yahweh.
And I think it’s somewhat unfortunate that they translated it that way, because when God spoke from the burning bush, he didn’t tell Moses to say to the Israelites, “I am the Lord.” They had a word for Lord, but that’s not what he said. He said, “You tell them that I AM sent you.” In Isaiah 42:8 (WEB), God said to the Jews, “I am Yahweh, that is My name.”
“I AM” is a distinctly proper name of God. Every other name we have in the scriptures is really just a title or a description – God Almighty, Everlasting Father, God Most High. Those are descriptions of God. Yahweh is the name of God.
Incidentally, “Yah” is the shortened form of Yahweh and it’s also used a lot in the scriptures. It’s used a lot in people’s names – “Isaiah”, “Jeremiah”, “Obadiah”. And whenever we say or sing the word “Hallelujah” we’re actually saying, “Halluleu, Yah” – let us praise Yahweh”, praise “I AM.”
And Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Other nations had gods. They had gods they called “Lord”. They had gods they called “most high.” But only Israel worshiped a God called “Yahweh”, “I AM”.
So what I want us to consider this morning is this: What was Yahweh letting Moses know, and what is Yahweh letting us know about himself by giving us this name? I want to suggest three things.
1. Yahweh means God is eternal, He always is.
Yahweh is “I AM.” Remember when Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Grammatically, that statement seems to be incorrect. Jesus should have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” But, no. “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus was saying the same thing about himself that God was saying at the burning bush. He possesses eternal existence in himself. He is the one of whom there is no beginning, and he’s the one in whom there is no end, because he is always “I AM.”
In Psalm 90:2, Moses is talking to God and he says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” I love the way that that’s translated. Because again, you would expect it to say, “Before you created the earth and the world, you were God.” No, before the world was created, you are God. God always has been; he always will be. God is the great “I AM”.
And God is self-sufficient. God doesn’t have to rely on anything else to exist – He will be God whether we exist or not. Take the entire world and universe away – Yahweh is still I AM.
And that eternal nature is of such great comfort to God’s children. Isaiah said to God, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength.” (Isaiah 26:3-4, NKJV).
The reason that’s of such great comfort is because what God is now, he always has been, and he always will be.
I’m afraid that sometimes we want to worship “HE WAS”. We read all these Bible stories about what God used to do and we think about what he was.
And sometimes maybe we look ahead and we think about heaven and we worship “HE WILL BE”. It’s important, though, that we understand that God is “I AM”.
In fact, it has been suggested that when we speak about God, it’s inappropriate to even use the words, “God was…” or “God will be…” Now we speak that way because we’re trapped in time. But God isn’t. The name Yahweh means God always is.
2. Yahweh means God always keeps his promises.
In Exodus 6:2-3,6, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I was not known to them….Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD.’”
What did God mean when he said, “I didn’t make myself known by this name”? The truth is, the name Yahweh does appear back in Genesis. In fact, Abraham used it up on the mountain where he offered Isaac. He said, “Yahweh Yireh” — God will provide. It wasn’t that they had never heard that name so much as they had never realized its significance. It was going to be in the context of the Exodus that Israel was going to realize that Yahweh means our God is a promise-keeping God.
You see, when “I AM” makes a promise, you can count on it. It’s like the little girl walking home with her friend. She said, “I have ten pennies. “ He said, “Let me see.” She pulled five pennies out of her pocket. He said, “You don’t have ten pennies, you have five pennies.” She said, “No, I have ten pennies because my dad said when I get home he’ll give me five more pennies.” She counted his promise as a reality.
I believe from our perspective God’s promises are future, but not from his perspective. From our perspective, it looks like all the things God has promised are way out there in the future. But God is above time. When God promises something, it already is. God doesn’t change. God is “I AM” regardless of what happens.
That’s important in a world that is constantly changing. I heard recently that it has been estimated that 90% of all the items in the grocery store you shop in didn’t exist ten years ago. It is estimated that 50% of colleges graduates are going into jobs that didn’t even exist when they were born.
Someone put this way: ‘My great-grandfather rode a horse but was afraid of a train. My grandfather rode a train but was afraid of a car. My father rode in a car but was afraid of an airplane. I ride in an airplane but am afraid of a horse.’ That’s making a full circle.
The dramatic steps made in technology are absolutely breathtaking. Things are changing so fast that we find ourselves wondering – is there nothing constant, nothing that stays the same. And the answer is, yes there is – God. In this ever-changing world, Yahweh is an anchor for the soul.
I AM is I AM – yesterday, today, forever. In Judges chapter 2, the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, but Joshua their fearless leader was about to die. And I’m sure there were a lot of Jews who were wondering, “What’s going to happen now?” The Lord came to them and he said, “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you.’” (Judges 2:1)
I think God was saying, in essence, “What are you worried about? Joshua may be dead, but I AM. Nothing has changed. All of those things I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Joshua, I will keep those promises.”
Our God is a promise-keeping God.
3. Yahweh means God is in Control
Let me re-phrase that — Yahweh means we are not in control. And that’s a lesson that many of us find difficult to accept because we like to be in control. We like to think we have something to say about what happens to us. We like to think that our destiny is in our own hands.
And to a certain extent we do have some control. The decisions we make, the words we say, the actions we choose to participate in, these do have a bearing on what happens to us. How we choose to live does make a difference in our future.
But, here’s the problem. As long as things are going well, we like to think we are the ones who made that possible. I like this quote from Byron Katie, “We are never really in control. We just think we are when things happen to be going our way.”
For example, if our career is going well, we like to think that we are the ones who pursued our education, got the right training, worked the long hours, and made the right decisions. We deserve to make the kind of money we make. We deserve the kind of car we drive. We deserve the kind of house we live in. We are the ones who made it happen, so why shouldn’t we enjoy the fruits of our labor?
But what happens when our career takes a downward turn? What happens when we don’t get that promotion we expected? What happens when downsizing puts us out of work? What happens when we get the bad news from the doctor, or when our spouse walks out the door? Suddenly, we realize that we are not in control nearly as much as we like to think that we are. And once we finally understand that we are not in control, Yahweh lets us know that he is.
In Exodus 3:16-17, Yahweh says to Moses, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’
Here’s what God is saying. If God is “I AM”, then where is the place that he does not reign? Yahweh is not some local deity that’s trespassing on Pharaoh’s turf. What God I about to do — through a series of plagues — he will show Israel that everywhere is his turf. If God is before every place and God is after every place, that means God is over every place.
And that ought to give us a great deal of comfort. Let me ask you this morning — What’s your Egypt? What I mean by that is this — What is the situation that has lasted so long in your life that it seems hopeless? You need to hear God say, “I AM. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and your Egypt is my turf.” If God is I AM, where is the place that he does not reign?
Verse 18, “And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” (Exodus 3:18-20)
If God is I AM, who is able to frustrate his purposes? What throne always is except the one where I AM sits? What little clod of dirt — who comes and then goes — thinks he can possibly stand against “Always Is” and succeed? And so, let me ask you — Who’s your Pharaoh? Who’s the person or what’s the situation that seems to stand against you? Let me give you some advice. Don’t let anybody who once wasn’t and soon won’t be take your eyes off I AM.
In John 6, we read that the disciples were sent by Jesus across the Sea of Galilee one night. They were rowing, when a big wind came up. It was dark, the waves were high and crashing all around them. They were obviously worried about getting back to shore alive. So Jesus started walking across the lake to them. John tells us that when they saw Jesus, they were terrified. Now, in your English Bible, it will say that Jesus said, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” But that’s not exactly what he said. What he actually said in John 6:20 is this, “I am. Do not be afraid.” You see, anybody can tell me not to be afraid. But only I AM can help me to deal with the thing that scares me.
Moses learned to put his trust in the name of the Lord. This morning, I want to know, where do you put your trust?
So I ask again, what’s your Egypt? What’s the one thing in your life that seems hopeless because it’s been there for so long? Is there anybody that can do anything about it? Is there anybody big enough? God says, “I AM.”
Who’s your Pharaoh? What’s the thing that you’re most afraid of right now? Is there anybody who can possibly help you to have peace of mind again? Is there anybody both willing and able to give you strength? God says, “I AM.”
Learning God’s name seemed to change Moses. When he went back to Egypt, when he went back to Pharaoh, he wasn’t afraid any more. And when the people said, “How can we be sure that all these things are going to happen?”, Moses would say, “Because I AM said so, and you can trust him.” We can all trust him.