Isn’t a rose, by any other name, still the same, sweet-smelling, flower? We have tried to diminish the importance of names in our society and culture, but I believe we have failed. Anyone attempting to write fiction is faced with how to name characters. Euphony and uniqueness are factors, but also some significance hidden in a name all contribute to the plot. So, what’s in a name these days? Is it different than it was in the days when a burning bush was used to get the attention of an wandering shepherd?
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons 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 this is My memorial-name to all generationsExodus 3:13-15 NASB
How cool! God reveals His name to Moses. Now, when he goes to the elders of the sons of Israel, they’ll realize that it truly was the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Who sent Moses. They’ll recognize the name God gave to Moses as the same one He had given to Abraham, right? Well, not exactly. Even though the name, Yahweh appears in Genesis, even in narrative with Abraham, God makes this assertion to Moses later on in chapter 6:
God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.Exodus 6:2-3 NASB
God Almighty translates the Hebrew, El-Shaddai (Strong’s H410 + H7706). And it does occur frequently in the account of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, so does Yahweh (Strong’sH3068). What does that mean? Why would God reveal a new name when asked how to identify Him to the elders of Israel? Why, if the name of God was new, does it appear in the narrative of the Patriarchs? What does this mean for our Creator? What can we learn from Him about Himself? What is He telling us? How can these things be?
This problem doesn’t affect everyone the same. Some are really bothered by it. For others, the answer is fairly simple. For instance, if, as most believe, Moses wrote the first five books (the Pentateuch), then Moses is simply using the name of God with which he is already familiar to refer to the One interacting with Abraham. It sounds pretty simple, right? But, for others, this doesn’t sit well because it seems Abraham uses this name for God (Genesis 22:14) and it can’t be that Moses would put words in Abraham’s mouth that he didn’t actually say, right? Even Sarah refers to this covenant name (Genesis 16:2,5), and Hagar recognizes that Yahweh spoke to her in the desert (Genesis 16:13).
There are various explanations from various quarters, but it doesn’t have to be so complex. It does seem likely, based on Exodus 6, that Moses is using the familiar name he knows, the one which God revealed to him, throughout his writing of his Master. Some things Moses wrote just seem more like this God appearing in a bush refusing to be consumed by fire. When he wrote of such things, he used the name he already knew. When it was personal, caring, a passionate God pursuing a people of His own from among the peoples of the earth, Moses could only think of Yahweh. So, as he wrote Genesis, Moses uses the name he knows for One persistently living among His human creatures.
But why this name? Why a new name? Why not start with El-Shaddai, the familiar name? What makes this new name so important? And why now? Why after 400 years, the latter of which were marked with pain and suffering? What’s in this name? It is important, and unmistakably so. Jesus refers to Himself using the “I AM” reference, John makes the references a thematic element, but they can be found in the other Gospels as well. If Jesus would draw from this name to refer to Himself, why? What is it about this name?
What does it mean? “I AM”. And not only “I AM”, but “I AM Who I AM”. Moses asks for a name, and God gets philosophical on him? Rene Decarte will pursue this philosophical train more than a thousand years later, and arrive at, “I think, therefore I am.” For the Frenchman, the fact that he can even consider his existence forms the basis of his existence. But for God, His existence isn’t based on anything He is able to perform; nothing He has done or achieved forms the basis of His existence. Instead, God is happy to predate Popeye the Sailor, claiming He is what He is. The wisdom of the world’s great philosophy is rejected in favor of the foolishness of a children’s cartoon. Yeah, that sounds just like our Creator-God.
What does our Creator want us to know about Him? He is. And He wants us to know that He is what He says He is, not what we want Him to be. He is Who He is. Moses writes later that we are in His image, not He in ours. This Creator defies images of any sort, for all fall short, none can capture His essence. No animals, no figures, no shapes can represent Him. We seek icons, visual representations of Him, like we use for everything else in our world. But, our Creator defies such iconography. He simply is. What we need to know, more than any other feature of His character, is that He exists.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek HimHebrews 11:6 NASB (emphasis mine)
What is it on which our faith is built? Well, actually, it’s hope (see Hebrews 11:1). But what we hope in is the existence of our Creator. We believe that He is, He becomes our hope, our joy, our peace. And, eventually, He becomes our Savior. Jesus says He “is” quite a few times. Perhaps the best example of this, the most inescapable reference to the name God gives Himself to Moses, is in John 8:58:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”John 8:58 NASB
John’s quote of Jesus combines an iconic “Amen Amen” saying with an “I AM” saying. It’s huge. Before Abraham was, I AM!” How can you miss that? It was a clear claim to deity by Jesus. He claims that it was He in the bush speaking with Moses. It was He visiting Abraham before completely destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. It was Jesus appearing, promising, and cutting covenants with the Patriarchs. Before the first pen stroke of Genesis, before the first event Moses recorded, Jesus IS.
The name is crucial. It is a memorial name, the name through which our covenant of salvation is traced from Genesis through Revelation. It becomes the name of our Savior. The name He claims for Himself, just as He revealed it to Moses, a new name unknown by the fathers, now the foundational name on which the covenant will be built, both the law and the grace covenants, the Old and the New. The name is everything necessary to know about the Creator, who became our Savior. The name captures what no icon or image ever could. Jesus is LORD, not just our Master. Yahweh lives and reigns having conquered death, seated with the Father, and we have His Spirit as earnest of eternity with Him. From Moses through the end, our Savior IS.
So, this day, and tomorrow, and the day after, your Savior IS. When the storm of life rages around you, your Savior already IS. Before that dark danger you see approaching ever was a thought or fear, your Savior already IS. Later on, when you can’t imagine what the future holds, next week or the next decade, your Savior IS. Are you experiencing joy today? Do you expect joy right around the corner? Even before the joy found you, your Savior IS. His timing is perfect because it is always present. Your past and your future are all caught up in His present, the present of your Savior. Forgiveness is past and future, all in His present. The mercy and grace of the cross is past and future, all in His present. And the power of His resurrection is at work in us, past and future, all in His present. There is no need for fear, for all our unknowns are swallowed up in His present. He is our Savior, for all time, for every situation, for every person. He IS.