My son, Gavin, will turn 23 in just a couple weeks. He was the very first of my Mom’s grandchildren. After we had a child, the dam broke for my siblings and the nieces and nephews just started coming one after another. I’m not very good with names, so it started getting tough to keep up with everyone’s name. My sister thought she was gonna have twins at one point. I said, “That’s awesome!” (but I was thinking “How in the world am I gonna tell them apart and remember their names?”) My sister said, “Yeah twins! Isn’t that amazing? And one will be a boy and one is a girl. But I’m not sure what to name them?”
Well, I’m a fixer and an innovator and I’m practical. So I said, “I think you should call the girl Denise.” “That’s a pretty name,” said my sister, “but what about the boy? What should I name him?” I said, “Denephew.” …Cause then it would be Deniece and Denephew…
That's not really a true story, but I thought it was a funny joke about names. This summer, we are reviewing the names of God in Scripture. God has many names that represent His multifaceted character. And He has told us His names because God wants us to know Him and what He is like. So through this series, I challenge you to expand your thinking about God. God is infinite and it is not enough to know Him only in one way. You should strive to know God better and understand His many qualities. So far, we have learned:
- God is Elohim – A Triune God who is Three in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- He is El Shaddai – the Almighty, All-Sufficient God who is everything you need
- He is Abba Father – and you can relate to God like an infant to a loving daddy
- Today, we learn God’s eternal name – Yahweh
1 One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. 3 “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
4 When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
“Here I am!” Moses replied.
5 “Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for
you are standing on holy ground. 6 I am the God of your father—the God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he
covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
Have you hear this story? God asked Moses to go tell the Pharaoh of Egypt to let God's people go. God was going to use Moses to lead the Hebrew's out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.
13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
14 God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. 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: Yahweh,[e] the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.
This is my eternal name,
my name to remember for all generations.
People in the ancient Middle East were very superstitious. They believed you could manipulate a god if you knew its name. In Egypt, where Moses grew up, they had many, many gods. The Egyptians used their gods’ names and magical spells to manipulate nature. But amidst a the thousands and thousands of Egyptian gods, which one was speaking to Moses from the burning bush?
There is only one real God. All others are fakes or idols or demons. God reveals His proper name to Moses, which shows He is eternal and He cannot be manipulated. God reveals His name is Yahweh, and it’s a word that is hard to translate. It means something like “I AM WHO I AM”. You get the sense of the unchanging, eternal quality of God’s character. He is who He is. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Notice that it is also present tense. It is not, I WAS or I WILL BE. It is I AM. God is not some forgotten relic of the past or something we look forward to in the future. God is RIGHT NOW. And He is always RIGHT NOW.
One thing that is hard for mortal to comprehend is that God created time. If God created time then that means at some point time didn't exist. We can’t imagine an existence without time. The human mind tries to mark everything by what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. Sometimes, we are so consumed by our infatuation with time, we forget to live right now in the moment. Many people spend years in counseling because of emotional scars from their childhood. Their past keeps them from living a full life in the present. Others are so filled with anxiety about what might happen in the feature they are unable to live fully in the present, right now.
God is not like that. God is the great I AM. He is always, RIGHT NOW.
Yahweh and JehovahAncient Hebrew writing is weird. First of all, they write backwards, from right to left. Some scholars think this is because ancient Hebrew was written on clay tablets or chiseled into stone and it was easier to chisel from right to left. They would hold the chisel in their left hand and a hammer in their right (because most people are right handed). This made it easier to chisel sentences from right to left. Many ancient languages that were primarily engraved on stone went from right to left. It wasn't until people started using paper and ink that it became more common to go from left to right (because going right to left would smear the ink on the paper).
Another weird thing is ancient Hebrew didn't have vowels, only consonants (vowels weren't invented until much later). So a name like Bill, would be spelled BLL. The vowel sounds were just assumed. So God's name Yahweh was spelled YHWH. Nobody in the ancient world complained or thought it was dumb not to have vowels; they were just thrilled to be able to write down sounds for the first time.
Something else that complicates language is how the sounds of letter can change over time and also in different places. Everyone in America knows how to pronounce the name JOHN (say it to yourself). However, if you go to Germany, the same name spelled JOHN will be pronounced Yan, because J in Germany has a Y sound. If you go to Mexico, it's pronounced Wan, because they give J a W sound.
Another letter sound that shifts arounds is W. In America, you would say, "What do you want?" But in Russia, it might be pronounced "Vat do you vant?" This changing sound of letters has affected the way the name of God has been passed down through the ages and even produced an alternate name--Jehovah.
Starting around 300 BC (the time in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament), Jew’s became very superstitious about using God’s name.[i] The third of the Ten Commandments says, “Do not misuse the name of the Lord.” Or “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7). A proper interpretation of this is that God's people who represent Him shouldn't misrepresent His character by their bad behavior. Well, many Jews began to misinterpret the third commandment to believe they shouldn’t even say or write Yahweh at all (even though God said Yahweh was to be His name for all generations). So, the Jews from 300 BC on began to substitute the Hebrew word for Lord (Adonai) instead of saying or writing Yahweh. Others would intersperse the vowels from Adonai into the consonants for YHWH (because they had invented vowels by that point) rendering the word YaHoWaiH or JaHoVaH. This is where we get the word Jehovah, which is common way to say God's name today. The superstition about saying or writing God's name has persisted throughout the centuries right up until our time. In most translations, you will find Yahweh translated as LORD, with the word in all capital letters, Whenever you LORD written in all-caps in the Bible, it indicates the word is actually Yahweh.
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” However, many people read the Bible and remark that the Old Testament seems much harsher than the New Testament. Perhaps you have felt that way. Sometimes people will say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t like the God of the Old Testament. Jesus is so loving, but God is so vengeful in the Old Testament.”
I can understand how some people could get the impression that Jesus is somehow different from Yahweh in the Old Testament. However, that’s an oversimplification of the Bible that doesn’t really hold true. If you study and understand the Bible, you will find mercy in grace in the Old Testament too. For instance, God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt before they were good people. That's mercy and grace. You also find judgment and vengeance in the New Testament. Have you read Revelation? It's full of God's vengeance and plagues and judgment. We see "Old Testament" style vengeance and judgement in the New Testament book of Acts too. Remember the time the Holy Spirit struck Annanias and Saphira dead on the spot for lying to Peter in the New Testament Book of Acts? (Acts 5:1-11) And there are many other places throughout the New Testament where we see the God of the New Testament acting just like He does in the Old Testament. It's just that the New Testament primarily focuses on Yahweh invitation to humanity to be reconciled with God. Also, understand than the New Testament is less than a quarter of the length of the Old Testament. So to call the Old Testament harsh and the New Testament sweet is a naïve oversimplification.
In fact, Jesus even specifically called himself “I AM” (the translation of God’s name, Yahweh). While arguing with the Jews about what it means to be a child of God and to follow God, Jesus said he was God. In John 8:58, Jesus referred to himself with the ancient eternal name of God when he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” Remember how I told you the Jews were extremely superstitious about God’s name? Saying God’s name was enough to get a person stoned to death and the Jews in John 8 tried to stone Jesus to death. However, because Jesus is Yahweh, the great I AM, He was able to disappear and escape unharmed.
So many people only see Jesus as their friend or their buddy. Jesus is a friend for sinners, bu a true friend is someone who tells you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it. Furthermore, Jesus is more than just your friend. Jesus is the eternal, all knowing, all present, all powerful God of the universe. We would be fools to forget it and only think of Jesus as our buddy.
The God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament are one in the same. There is no difference whatsoever in the character and actions of the Old Testament and New Testament God. He is who He is. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can disregard it. The Old Testament focuses more on the power, judgment, and sovereignty of God. The New Testament focuses more on God’s reconciling mercy, love, and grace. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. That is why Jesus preached throughout the Gospels, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)
The Bad News you don’t want to hear because it makes you feel uncomfortable is that you have sinned, and the consequences of your sin is death and eternal punishment. The Good News is Jesus/God loves you so much He paid for your sin by dying on the cross. He took your place. Therefore, you can repent and be saved. However, you must repent and let God be the absolute Lord of our life or you are in eternal danger.
I want to do something strange as we close. Right now, you are on Holy Ground in the presence of a strange and Holy God. When Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “Take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground…”
So now, in the presence of Holy Yahweh in this Holy place, I invite you to take off your shoes…
Now, Bow your head and close your eyes. Imagine that Yahweh is with you right now (because He is). Feel the heat from the burning bush warm on your skin. God is calling your name... He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of your ancestors. I am the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament and the God of today. I am Yahweh—the Great I AM. I Am Who I Am. I do not change. You cannot control me. You cannot make Me who You want me to be, but I can make you into the person you were designed to be.”
Now talk to Yahweh… or just listen to what He would say to you for a few moments…