Lots of people in our culture speak about God and many celebrities give a nod to “God” in their thank you speeches.
I remember two years ago after the Cleveland Cavaliers upset the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. After, LeBron James said, “I don’t know why the Man above gives me the hardest road, but the Man above doesn’t put you in situations you can’t handle.”
Man above? So many people have generic and ambiguous names for God. Is that okay? Does that matter?
Who is the God of the Bible and Does He Have a Name?
We’ve been teaching through the I AM statements of Jesus throughout the Gospel of John. And this morning we are going into the most absolute I AM statement of Jesus.
For those who are searching, doubting, and skeptical you may have asked who is this God that you Christians believe in.
This morning we are going to see that God has a name. And knowing his name may be the most important thing you could ever know.
Being that this message is ending this series, I'm going to be doing a lot of summarizing and not as much detailed exposition on John 8. We will end this message in John chapter 8 as already read. But before we go there, we will spend most of our time in the Old Testament to set the context. After doing that, I believe John 8, will be seen more clearly and more gloriously.
Old Testament Background
The context in Exodus 3 is that Moses has killed an Egyptian and fled to Egypt and settled in Midian. For forty years, he lives an ordinary life as a shepherd. But one day, Moses notices a bush that was on fire. He investigates and encounters God.
God reveals that he has heard the cries of his people and is intimately acquainted with their sufferings. He is now commissioning Moses as an instrument of deliverance.
However, Moses is skeptical and afraid. In verse 13, he says
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?”
The reason why the Israelites care about his name is because in the Bible, names are so important and meaningful. A personal name connotes character, reputation, and authority. It is either true of them or will be true of them.
You will be called Abraham, because you will be the father of many nations. Or Nabal was his name because he is a fool. That is why we named our son Elijah Michael. Yahweh is my God and who is like Him? We want that to be true of Elijah, that Yahweh would be his God and that his life would declare of his incomparable worth.
So when the Israelites ask, “What is his name?” They are asking, “What is his character, what is he like, and by what authority does he come?
God, then, responds to Moses in v. 14.
14 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.’ 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD (Don’t say Yahweh at first), 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.
Why does God refer to himself as, “I AM?”
Scholar Brevard Childs said, “Few verses in the entire OT have evoked such heated controversy and such widely divergent opinions.” Thus, this is not an easy passage. I’ve worked hard to try to simplifying this. Bear with any nerdy grammar moments, I’m only including that which I felt was absolutely necessary to say. So don’t fall asleep.
God is using a wordplay here to describe himself.
I AM is built off of the Hebrew word, היה , “to be.”
I AM is the word in the first person (I) אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה
However, if you want to make the Hebrew word for To be into 3rd person (He, she, it) you add the Hebrew letter Yod to it and it becomes…
So he reveals himself in v. 14 as I AM אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה and in v. 15, יְהוָה.
Side note for Bible reading: In v. 15, you can see it say, “The LORD.” Whenever you see LORD in all caps it’s the English translators rendering of Yahweh. They are continuing the tradition of the Jews of saying Lord instead of Yahweh in order to avoid misusing the name of God. LORD is Yahweh.
Whenever you see lord it means Adonai which is usually a generic way to say lord or master. When you see God = Elohim, which is usually a generic way to say God. And in the New Testament, depending on the context, Lord can either be referring to Yahweh or generically the Lord. Now, back to I AM.
Because God is naming himself based off of the word TO BE, he opens up the door for so much meaning and implications of who he is. He does not limit himself. I AM __ but I AM WHO I AM.
I AM WHO I AM can also be translated, “I will be who I will be.” In this context, I AM seems to bring definition to Yahweh. And Yahweh can be literally translated: “He causes to be” But before we go deeper into the name YAHWEH, let’s explore more what I AM means. Referring to himself as, “I AM” implies at least five things.
Five Implications of I AM
1. I AM never had a beginning
He says “I am,” not “I was.” Or “I became.” Join me in an exercise:
We can all imagine what it would be like to never die. It’s not easy, but we can do it. We just imagine tomorrow and the next year and so forth and keep going on.
But can you imagine never having a beginning?
Go back to your birth and then imagine that you were never born. You just always consciously existed. Before your parents were born, you were there. Before the founding of this country, you were there. Before Rome ruled the known world, you were there. Before the Egyptians built the great pyramids, you were there. On and on, before the Milky Way galaxy was created, you were there.
You were always there. That’s unfathomable.
When we preform this exercise we are beginning to grasp a little bit of the eternality of God. The self-existence of God. Meaning, He needed nothing to bring him into existence. There was no cause and effect and he was the effect. He was the cause. He is dependent upon nothing.
He never had a beginning. He was simply there. There is nothing before him. I AM never had a beginning he is self-existent
2. I AM does not change
God’s is not determined by any outside forces. He is who he is. Thus, he is not subject to the same changes that we are. God is not weak or fickle like us. He foresees all circumstances and thus, nothing in the world takes him by surprise to change him. Why change when you’re perfect? I AM does not change
3. I AM is the source of life
Yahweh is like the bush that was on fire. It wasn’t actually burning. The fire was pure fire. It was not being fueled by the bush, but purely himself. He is the creator and as the creator, all of life, existence, and energy finds its source in him. He has no need of anything.
If it were possible for him to shutdown, there would be absolute nothingness. And since he is the source of life, he is also the source of purpose and meaning. Outside of him, there is no purpose or meaning. I AM is the source of life.
4. I AM Does what he Wants
Yahweh does what he wants to do. I AM WHO I AM, you can also say, “I DO WHAT I DO.” He is not bound by others or constrained in anyway. He is absolutely sovereign to do what he so pleases.
And let me add, that’s a good thing!
If there’s one person in the universe that should have that kind of power, it should be him. And I’m glad of it. When I first started to understand the sovereignty of God, I bucked at it Unfair! The more I know him, the more I trust him. The more I delight in Yahweh’s freedom.I AM is sovereign, He does what He wants, and that’s a good thing.
5. Yahweh Defines Himself
Recently on Facebook I saw a friend from Bible College post a video from a pastor. In this video the pastor described a certain way to view God that was according to what the Bible said. A fellow friend responded and said, “I like to think of God as ____” And this person proceeded to speak about other ways they conceive of God by selectively picking certain passages about God, while completely discounting other parts of the Bible.
When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” he calls us to take him for who he is. He is who he is. Everybody’s opinion of what God is like is not equal. We cannot take him for what we want him to be but only how he has revealed himself to be. Therefore, we must strive to know him for who is, instead of what we want him to be. Yahweh is self-defining
So What Does I AM Mean?
I AM is short for Yahweh and proclaims at minimum, that he is self-existent, the source of life, perfect and unchangeable, absolutely sovereign, and self-defining.
I AM is not so easily simplified, because God is not so easily simplified. And we aren’t even addressing how the Trinity works in all this, which if we did, would be absolutely glorious!
What Does Yahweh Mean?
We know now that I AM WHO I AM gives some definition to Yahweh, but Exodus 3 leaves it open for the rest of the book fill it out. .
In Exodus 5, Moses confronts Pharaoh. Pharaoh responds literally in 5:2,
“Who is Yahweh that I should listen to his voice and let Israel go? I do not acknowledge Yahweh. No, I will not let Israel go.”
The rest of Exodus is answering who Yahweh is for for Pharaoh and for Israel.
Who is this Yahweh?
For Pharaoh, it is answered by singling out major gods of the Egyptian pantheon. And with each plague, Yahweh is demonstrating and declaring his supremacy over each “god.”
And for Israel, I invited you to turn with me to Exodus 33 & 34.
Show Me Your Glory: Exodus 33–34
The context of Exodus 33 and 34 is that God has delivered Israel from Egypt. In chapter 32, Israel worships a golden calf. It’s significant that Aaron the high priest who made the calf called it Yahweh. Exodus 32:5, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh.”
Like us, Aaron falls into the trap of making Yahweh into what he wants him to be. A god that is safe, fully comprehendible, familiar, and like us but just bigger and better.
In response, God should forsake Israel, but graciously shows mercy.
“Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘Yahweh.’ (Exodus 33:18)
In Exodus 34, God responds:
6 Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Exodus 34:6–7)
When we think of God, we often are prone to think about appearance. What does God look like? However, God wants to define himself primarily with his character and actions.
Exodus 3 addresses the background and nature of God.
Exodus 34 addresses the character and actions of God.
So what is Yahweh like?
He is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He forgives sin, but will by no means clear the guilty.
Historically and presently, we struggle with this. We want God to either be gracious or just. We struggle with a God who is both to the max.
This is especially good news to Israel because they just cheated on him with an imaginary god.
Finally Defining Yahweh
In Genesis, there are different names of God that highlight his different attributes like, El Shaddai (God Almighty; 17:1).
And the previous “gods” of Egypt, were limited to specific elements like Hapi, the god of the Nile or Ra, the sun god.
However, Yahweh is a name that is not limited to one characteristic, location, sphere, or anything. Being built off of the “To be” verb, there is no limitation. Therefore,
Yahweh is God’s personal name for his beloved that embodies all of who he is.
There are many other questions that can be raised about Yahweh that I’ve not covered this morning, but know this, when you call him Yahweh, you are reminding yourself that one name, sums up all of who who he is!
But if you read all 6,828 occurrences of the word in the OT, you will see that it emphasizes two things:
The name connotes both God’s transcendence as God is categorically and qualitatively different from us. However, Yahweh is his personal name for his covenant people. It’s a name just for his people. And so the name also signifies his Immanence. He is near to his people and intimately acquainted in all of our ways. He wants us to know him. The God who is above all things and unlike anything we can comprehend, wants us to have an intimate love relationship with us.
I welcome you to finally turn to John 8.
What could you say that would get you a bunch of Jews to try to execute you with rocks?
Jesus is having a dialogue with the Jews and it’s getting uglier. They are questioning Jesus’ origins and if he’s from God. Jesus affirms their ethnic heritage but tells them that they aren’t truly children of Abraham. In fact, in v. 55, he explains that they are children of Satan and so, they do not believe. In other words, if you are not born of God, you can’t truly see God. He is right in front of them and they can’t seem him. They respond by calling him demon possessed. We’re going to skip to the end of the passage and start off at v. 56.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Jesus does not merely claim preexistence—in that case, he could have said, “before Abraham was born, I was”—but rather, he claims to be Yahweh.
If you ever have someone argue that Jesus was just a god or the first created being, then take them to this passage. No one calls themselves, I AM. Every Jew would know Exodus. In fact, many would have memorized it. So Jesus’ meaning is not lost on them. In fact as verse 59 states,
So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
According to Old Testament Law, stoning was the prescribed punishment for blasphemy not mob violence. The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was communicating. Let’s get rid of this nonsense that goes around about Jesus being just a good moral teacher.
C.S. Lewis rightfully says, “Jesus was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”
Objectively speaking, Jesus is the most important person who has ever lived. This is not a religious statement but fact.“We must make a decision about who he is.” And the Jews there, did that day.
So Jesus is Yahweh. Let’s bring this home for us.
Jesus is I AM
For the Christian, we can call Jesus Yahweh. In fact, we should often call him Yahweh.
Yahweh is God’s personal name for his beloved that embodies all of who he is.
This Name, this Name embodies all of who He is––is for you Christian. He has committed himself to you. He is a faithful covenant keeper. All of who he is, is for you!
So whenever I call God Yahweh, I think of many different attributes. But most of all, I think, this is a name that is only for his people. It’s a special name that I get to address him as that represents his faithfulness to me.
When Jesus says he is Yahweh, he is everything we have seen in the Old Testament.
1. Jesus, the great I AM is self-existent, the source of life, perfect and unchangeable, absolutely sovereign, and self-defining.
2. Also, Jesus being I AM sums up all the other I AM’s of the Gospel of John.
Allow me to summarize this series.
“I AM the Bread of Life” (6:35)
Jesus is the spiritual food that we need. He relates Himself to bread to indicate that he is our source of life physically but also spiritually. He is the true source of all our longings.
“I AM the Light of the World” (8:12)
Jesus is the only true Light and trusting Him and walking with Him removes the darkness of sin and death in our lives.
“I AM the Door to the Sheep” (10:7)
Jesus is the only door that will lead to an abundant life. All other doors will let you down.
“I AM the Good Shepherd” (10:11,14)
Jesus cares about all types of people. He cares for you personally. He cares for you without limits. He doesn’t abuse or extort his people, he lays down his life for them. He protects them. “You wanna get to my Sheep you gotta go through me!” He is the shepherd that leads us to still waters. He is a shepherd that pursues the, “ONE” lost sheep.
“I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25)
He is the life and to not know Him means that one has no life. One can be physically alive, but spiritually dead. In a way, those who know Jesus will never truly die.
“I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6)
Jesus does not just make a way for us, when there is no way, but he himself is the way. He himself is the end of our search. We don’t have to go anywhere else, we don’t have to supplement him with anything. He is sufficient. He will be enough for us.
“I AM the True Vine” (15:1).
He is the truer and better Israel that is faithful and the one whom we can have union with. He is the source of life and the source of any good that comes from us.
What is God’s name?
If you want to know what God is like. If you want to see God, then look to Christ. Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is God’s personal name for his beloved that embodies all of who he is.
This brings us to the table. It reminds us that God by no means clears the guilty. Yet, he is also gracious and merciful. At the Cross of Christ, both God’s love and justice meet. This happened through Jesus. Jesus lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we ought to have died.
The table also foreshadows the coming feast where we his beloved will see Yahweh face-to-face. He will right every wrong. He will make all that is broken, whole. And he will make all things more beautiful than ever.
This morning, if Jesus is not your Lord, savior, and treasure, he can be. Will you take Him as He is, and not what you want him to be. Turn from your own kingdom and call upon the name of Jesus. Don’t listen to the lie that you will be happier without Him. Trust him! And you will be saved! You will be able to call him Yahweh. And you will be forgiven, justified, filled with his Spirit, and adopted into his family. That can be true for you today. Call upon him and come to one who came for you.