Names are significant. It’s always a big deal when someone knows your name, which is why we all try to be better at remembering them. I meet a lot of people, and I hate forgetting and having to say, “Hey, you!” or “Good to see you, man!” Remembering a name is a big deal, and not just because it makes it convenient to get someone’s attention. A name is a revealer of character, like when someone says, “Oh, she’s got a really good name in the industry.” It’s not just what you call someone, but what they are.
The same goes for God. The Bible calls Him by many names. Each has a story, and each reveals a different aspect of God’s character. In this post I highlight what may be the most important name for God, which reveals His loving character.
Yahweh: I Am Who I Am
The most important name for God is Yahweh, which translates to “I am who I am.” This name, which God called Himself, shows up with one of the most well-known Bible characters, Moses.
You may know that as a Hebrew baby, Moses was spared from infanticide that the Egyptian pharaoh ordered to curb the population of the Israelites, Egypt’s slave labor. His mom puts him in a basket and floats him down the Nile River, where Moses is found by one of Pharaoh’s daughters and raised as an Egyptian. As a young adult, Moses connects to his Israeli heritage and tries to ingratiate himself to them by killing an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave. It doesn’t work. The Israelites are like, “We don’t know you.” And the Egyptians are angry about the murder. So Moses runs away, ending up in another country, where he lives as a shepherd with his father-in-law, a pagan priest.
One day Moses sees a bush that’s on fire, but not burning up. Curious, he edges closer, and God speaks to him. God tells Moses that He is going to rescue the Israelites from centuries of slavery. Moses is like, “Cool, thanks for letting me know. Glad you are doing that.” Then God tells him that He’s going to use Moses to make it happen. Moses has some objections. He says, “If I go to the Israelites, they are going to say, ‘What is the name of the God who told you this?’ What do I say?” Because Moses grew up as an Egyptian, he was familiar with hundreds of gods. So which one is this?
God tells Moses, “Yahweh.” I am who I am.
Yahweh: Not Our Build-A-Bear
At first glance, Yahweh, I am who I am, doesn’t seem to reveal much. But the name actually does.
First, it reveals that God is a personal being. He is not just some force, like the Star Wars, “May the force be with you” thing. This is a big deal to understand. People who don’t know Jesus view God as an impersonal force in the universe, and will often say things like, “The universe drew us together” or “I hope the universe will guide me to make the best decision.”
This sounds nice, but when you think about it, an impersonal force is a very low hope. It’s no different than blind luck. God is not the universe; He is the personal being who has always existed. He created the universe. He is a person who desires a relationship with His creation, you and me, which is what Christianity is all about.
Second, the name tells us that God is who He is apart from our opinion about who He is. God exists outside of our imagination. He isn’t what we want Him to be — or who we are afraid He is. He is Yahweh, regardless of what we think about Him. He is I am who I am.
When I was thinking about this, a birthday idea came to mind for my granddaughter, who is about to turn two. I thought about those Build-A-Bears, and I decided to go online and build a bear for her. But God is not a Build-A-Bear. He is the eternal God who exists beyond our opinion of Him.
He created bears — and you and me. So our job is to relate to Him, not make Him in our image. When people say, “Oh, my God would ever do that,” or “I can only believe in a God who only does X,” they’re acting like God is their Build-A-Bear. But He’s not. He’s I am who I am.
Yahweh’s Unchanging Nature
God chooses eight descriptors of His essence, which all point to a God that sounds too good to be true. These words describe not WHAT God does, but WHO He is at His core. His essence:
We don’t have to try to catch God on a good day. He’s not moody; sometimes mean, other times gracious. He is always compassionate. The Hebrew word is related to the word for a woman’s womb, capturing the kind of emotion a mother feels for the baby she carries. God is saying, “I am not some distant deity who doesn’t care about you. Every ounce of My being is in love with you and concerned for you.“
Another strong and good aspect of God’s character, this lets us know that He is far more generous toward us than we can imagine. He is not stingy or stodgy. He is a giver, especially of what we don’t deserve.
Slow To Get Angry
God does not have His finger on the trigger. He is patient, and gives us a really long rope. That’s a very good thing, because we wouldn’t last a second if He were a hothead.
Overflowing with Love and Always Faithful
What fills God up is love, and what you will find when you come to Him is love overflowing your direction. His love is without limit; like His faithfulness, it won’t run out. We live in a world with very little loyalty and endurance in relationships, but God sticks with us, and will outlast our latest foolishness.
Unwavering, Committed Love
The Hebrew word chesed is one of the most important words in the Bible, and God uses it all the time to describe Himself. It’s a covenantal love, like marriage, based on a promise that He will never break. It is an irrational commitment to another person, to do what is best and to stick with that person no matter what.
Forgiving and Just
God is slow to get angry, and quick to forgive. He doesn’t hold on to grudges. He’s not passive aggressive. He doesn’t bring up stuff from the past. But He is also just, because love demands justice. Yet His justice is not a contradiction to His love. His justice and mercy come together at the cross of Jesus, where God took on our deserved punishment, to remove the guilt of our sin. At the cross His mercy triumphs over justice. He graciously gives us the choice of knowing His justice or His grace.
The Ones That Jesus Loves
God’s unchanging nature is set; we can’t custom-design God. Which is a good thing, because His love for you and me is way bigger than we can possibly comprehend. Even now, after two decades of pastoring, God continues to show me that He’s way more than I imagine.
I did a sabbatical at the beginning of the year, which was richly life-giving and life-changing for me. I went into it with some questions I wanted to pursue with God. But as I tried to take them to Him, what I got back was a sense of “Great questions, but I don’t really care about that right now. Let’s worry about all that later. I just want you to know my heart for you right now.” And that’s what happened. I was overwhelmed by God’s heart, in a deep way that surpasses book knowledge.
So this is my hope for us today: That God enables us to deeply experience His character. His love.
I don’t know how your past has shaped your view of God. Perhaps you see Him as a distant deity who sits back and watches you suffer without concern. That’s not who I am who I am is. Maybe you view God as an angry judge who is just waiting to give you what you deserve. That’s not who Yahweh is. If you’re wondering how He feels about you, the good news is that you don’t have to wonder. He loves you. He is for you. He has compassion and grace and unwavering faithfulness toward you. And nothing you can ever do can ever change that.
I love how John, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, refers to himself when he mentions himself in the New Testament book, John. John never refers to himself by his name or in the first person. Instead, he calls himself “The one that Jesus loved.” John was so overwhelmed by God’s love for him, that this became his identity. We can make it our identity, too.
The apostle Paul offers a prayer in the New Testament book of Ephesians for his friends in a church he started in the city of Ephesus. This prayer has become my constant prayer, for you and me:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
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