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.’ Exodus 3:14
In some cultures, the meanings behind names don’t matter much. We choose a name because we like the sound of it, or because it’s precious to our particular family. In other cultures, though, a name itself may carry great significance. Its meaning can establish something about the person who bears it or the hopes of the people who bestowed it.
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he asked, “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?” (Exodus 3:13). The name God shares with Moses—YHWH (translated into English as “I AM WHO I AM”)—has four consonants with no vowels. Try to pronounce YHWH and you’ll find that it’s nearly impossible. It is, if you like, an unspeakable name.
What was God doing in answering like this? Moses was requesting a name of authority to give to the people of Israel and to Pharaoh, and God gave him this unpronounceable name. God seems to have been saying, There is no name that can adequately encapsulate the totality of who I am. So, tell them that I AM WHO I AM has sent you. Tell Pharaoh to watch what I do on behalf of My people. Then he will know who I am.
The Bible is the story not only of God’s work of salvation but also of the unfolding of God’s character. Many of us have become adept at reading our Bibles and asking important questions of application: “How does this relate and apply? What does this mean for me?” These matters are not irrelevant or wrong, but they are not the primary questions to ask. God is the hero of the story and the theme of the book, and so the first question we ask of every passage ought to be this: “What does this tell me about God?” The Bible was written to establish God’s dealings, character, and glory.
Many of us believe that what we need from church each Sunday are anecdotal bits and pieces or inspirational lists dealing with our finances, relationships, and any other issues we might be facing. There has never been a time in Christianity’s history when more how-to books have been written for believers. Yet how are we really doing? We seemingly know how to do everything, but we don’t know who God is!
In order for Moses to do what God had called him to do, he needed to understand who God was (and is). He, like us, needed to know that God is more than just a name.
Lives are transformed when we read the Bible and ask, “What can I discover about God?” It is as we see what God has done and better understand who He is that we grow in our awe and love of Him—and then we will be able to live as He desires, fulfilling His call in our lives. We will never plumb the depths of the glories of our unspeakably awesome God, but we will spend eternity seeing more and more of Him. And as we read His word, that can begin today.
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.