What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Oh, dear Juliet. So much is in a name. Romeo was still a Montague and you were still a Capulet…and how did that work out for everyone in the end, huh? Caused everyone a lot of grief you did. And I bet it wouldn’t have happened if Romeo was named Jones! Look, I didn’t come here to debate the merits of Romeo and Juliet (It’s the worst!). I came here to talk about names.
So much is in a name. Putting a name to something is powerful. Just ask any Harry Potter fan! Nowadays, it may not be as significant or literal of a meaning as in Biblical times (Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Peter), but even so, it can be the symbolism behind it. This why parents often name their children after important people in their lives – like grandparents or mentors. And why they don’t name them after others – Adolf, Benedict, Judas.
Recently, I have been spending some time looking at the names of God. I could write volumes on this topic, but I want to take a close look at the name God calls Himself when Moses asks who He is as the burning bush.
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.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, 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. (Exodus 3:14-15)
The bold words above are translations and transliterations of the Hebrew YHWH which is where we get Yahweh (and sometimes Jehovah). This was the holiest of names the Jewish people had for God. It even got to the point that they were so fearful of taking this holy name in vain (Exodus 20:7), they refused to ever utter it out loud – often using Adonai in its place.
I love how God introduces Himself here. He was taking the time to remind Moses that He is unchanging. “I am” is a verb in the present perfect progressive tense. For those of you who didn’t major in English like me, this means it’s an action that began sometime in the past, is currently happening in the present, and may continue into the future. For all intents and purposes, it could be eternal. Hey, does that remind you of anyone? God reminded Moses that He’s the God of his ancestors, He keeps His promises, and He is unchanging – all with His name!
Ok, now here’s where we get a little crazy. Fast forward to the New Testament in John 8. “The people” are straight up grilling Jesus left and right on theology. I mean, they are putting Him through the wringer and He is laying it on thick with the truth bombs. They are really missing the points Jesus is making entirely. They childishly ask him the question, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). So finally, Jesus lays this on them:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
YOU GUYS! He said it. He said the holiest of names! He said it outloud and He said it was HIM! Can you imagine what it would have been like hearing that as a Jewish leader or even a Jewish layperson? It would be beyond shocking! Jesus was making His first public claim that He is God. He is Immanuel. He is God with us. (Matthew 1:23) This is not coincidence. He’s a God of details – right down to that killer grammatical wordplay.
Now, this “scholarly” approach to how God uses language might not be inspiring or even important to you. However, it fascinates me. This aspect of God spurs me to worship Him all the more! He has created language and He is using its intricacies to affect me and my relationship with Him. So I want to encourage you to explore the things about God that cause you to become fascinated, and then worship Him for it!
If you’re interested in further exploration of the names of God, the Blue Letter Bible is a great resource. Here are some good starting points: Rabbi, Messiah, Almighty, Adonai, High Priest, Creator, Advocate, Abba, Shepherd, El Shaddai.