Yahweh – Lord, Exodus 3:14
As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet, “What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
A name surely does not alter the characteristics or the designation of a thing, place or person. But a name does conjure images, thoughts and feelings. By discussing a rose, we will all picture one (though they say the newest generations perhaps do not, since most things are images on the smart tech available today!), though one may be peach, another red, some garden bushes and other long-stem. But the essential characteristics of the rose are still included in all of those images and scents that we conjure. Similarly, a name like Jonah may conjure a boy we knew in school. But I recall the woman I met a short time ago in a local office. Each name has certain feelings, thoughts, images, and sensations that accompany it.
The last thing that I’d like to say about names is that we do not use one unless we are in a relationship with the person. As our familiarity grows, we also use nicknames, or even make up our own nicknames for a person. The nicknames we give indicate an intimacy with the person.
It is this intimacy that offers so many names for our Lord. I suppose we know his most commonly used name, Yahweh, from the original Hebrew characters transliterated to YHWH. The thought is that this is derived from a conjugation of the verb ‘to be’ and would have been then ‘I AM’, as we find translated into English in other verses. However, the English versions have translated YHWH as ‘Lord’. It is found thousands of times in the old and new testament.
Yahweh, I am. This is how God chooses to name himself in his encounter with Moses in Exodus 3. It is the first time ‘Yahweh’ is used in the Old Testament. I am. ‘I am’ indicates a great many things, and yet is so simple in its expression. I am is present, living, constant and inviting.
I am is present, here today, with me and with you. He introduces himself as relevant for now and the needs of this moment. He is present for the need of now. It is no mistake that this name is revealed in personal conversation with one man; it is not a proclamation for the assembly, but a personal response for a man’s moment of need.
I am is living, not that he was or will be, though we who know him, know he is also those. I am is an expression of a current life that breathes and impacts those around us. Our living Lord is active and interested in the activities of our lives. Life is defined as interaction between beings, our living Lord interacts with us and is a part of our life cycle.
I am is constant, not any different today from yesterday or tomorrow. There is nothing temporal about I am. In the sense that I am is not temporary, nor is I am a part of this timeline. For Moses, he was ‘I am’ and for us too and for those of the future, he is ‘I am’. Who he is has remained constant, and he is unchanging and unchanged by us or other influences. He is a solidly significant being without alteration. His outside of time as, all things within this world are altered in time, but he is unchanging.
Lastly, ‘I am’ also leaves us an invitation for more – we expect or want a descriptor or qualifier to follow the phrase ‘I am’. I am xxxx. He is already issuing the invitation to seek him, know him personally, even from the start. ‘I am who I am’ (Exodus 3:14) invites us to know more about I am because it is not qualified. It tells us of his state, only one element of his character: living, constant, present, but tells us little of his characteristics and what he is like. This, we must seek to know and understand, and is revealed in his other names.
This month, we will take a look at some of the names of our Lord in the Old Testament. Are there any that interest you, and would like to look at together? Please comment below 😊
A small aside: I wish that English had another pronoun, a neutral one; since both man and woman come from the Lord and are in the Lord’s image – which should be used to describe I am? He/his/him or should it be she/her/her? I think by default we use masculine pronouns since God is known as Father, but I am certain that many of his characteristics would also be labeled ‘mother’. I liked how the movie ‘The Shack’ represented the Trinity as both male and female (I can’t remember if the book did as well), appreciated as well the portrayal in the irreverent movie ‘Dogma’.