My birthday is this week.
I don’t tell you that to solicit any sort of well-wishes or gifts, though neither would be rejected. The reason I bring it up is because as I’m spending time reading about the names of God, my birthday reminded me that I am not like God. I know. It’s obvious to even casual observers that I am not like God, but egos are slippery things, and while I might not ever claim to be like God, sometimes the way I live my life makes a different declaration. So, my birthday is an annual reminder in case I forget on the other 364 days of the year. I am not like God. I began being at a precise moment sometime in February 1975. I took my first breath on October 24th of that same year and have needed to keep doing so at regular intervals ever since. I have a beginning because I was made, and apart from regular healthcare and wearing a seat belt in the car, I don’t have a lot to do with my continued existence. I did not make me, and I do not sustain me. My existence is dependent.
God, on the other hand, was not made. He simply always is. The name that gets our attention today is one that deals with the nature of God’s essential being.
In Hebrew, the name is four letters. In English, the equivalent letters are YHVH.
There are some complicated historical linguistic issues surrounding this name, which means there are a variety of ways people pronounce YHVH. Some say Jehovah, Yehovah, Yahuah, etc. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the most familiar pronunciation, Yahweh (yah-WEH).
Yahweh is the second name of God that appears in the Biblical narrative in Genesis 2:4. It’s difficult to see because, instead of transliterating the name (using English letters to approximate the sounds of the Hebrew letters), our translations of the Bible use LORD (in all capital letters) everywhere YHVH appears in the original text. Though the name appears first in Genesis 2, God makes the personal introduction of Himself as Yahweh in Exodus 3:14, and there is where we find the meaning of the name and the character of God revealed by the name. If you are using this material to instruct your children, spend a few minutes setting the context for this name by reading Exodus 3. The Israelites are slaves in Egypt. Moses is in exile in Midian and is shepherding sheep in “the far side of the wilderness.” Everyone in the story is where they don’t want to be. While pushing stinky sheep around in the middle of nowhere, Moses happens upon an amazing sight…something that looks like a bush on fire that isn’t burning up. Speaking to him from the flame, God instructs Moses to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery and lead them to the land He promised. We read in Exodus 3,
Then Moses asked Elohim, “If I go to the Israelites and say the them, “the Elohim of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what should I tell them?”
When Moses anticipates the question the Israelites will ask, it’s not that he thinks they just need a name to be satisfied. He knows what they will want to know is, “In whose name are you coming? Under whose authority are you speaking to us? In whose nature are you acting? Are you coming in authority granted to you as a son of Pharaoh? Or are you acting under the Elohim who made promises to our ancestors?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: YHVH, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.”
The refrain in this passage is difficult to miss. About himself God says, “I AM.”
“I AM” what?
That’s just it. He IS.
In essence, God says, “I am always being what I am always being.”
Remember, in an ancient eastern mindset, names=nature. So when he says, “My name is I AM WHO I AM,” God was explaining who he is and what he is like. As you might imagine, Yahweh means so much more than this article has the space explore, but we need to touch on a few.
Yahweh is self-existent.
As I mentioned before, God did not begin. Only things that are created have a beginning, and God was not created (Psalm 90:2). God is just…existing. His existence depends only on himself. This matters to us because God does not need anything to stay alive (see Acts 17:24-25). He won’t succumb to famine, or suffocation, or freezing temperatures. He cannot be touched by tragic accidents or catastrophic storms. He is his own source of life. That lets us off the hook! God isn’t anxiously looking to you or me to fulfill any of his needs or provide his protection. God graciously tells us, “I AM WHO I AM. I exist because I exist. I don’t need anything from you. I don’t depend on you, and you can’t deplete Me.” That’s why Jesus can issue the invitation to come to Him for rest! He can bear our burdens without being taxed in the least, AND He doesn’t need anything in return! Don’t you see? God doesn’t invite you to come to him for any reason other than to experience the manifold blessing of being sustained by his own self-existence.
Yahweh stands outside of time.
The Elohim that created all things created time, and all of his creation is subject to it. As its Creator, however, He is not. He stands outside of it, unbound by its tyranny, unaffected by the change it demands.
This week Eugene Peterson died. My husband and I were memorializing him, and Daron observed that he was a man who looked the way we expect a man to look who has walked humbly with God his whole life. His white hair and wrinkles looked as if they were drawn on by the hand of Wisdom. Peterson didn’t start out wrinkled and white haired, though. He evolved into it. His body was no different than ours. Age is the interest charged on the loan of time.
Time is our master, but Yahweh is the master of time. He won’t ever change. What He is, He always is. He doesn’t get tired, so we can’t weary him with our needs. He doesn’t ever fall asleep, so we’ll never be left unattended. Best of all, He can’t die, so we’ll never be left as orphans.
Yahweh deals intimately with needy, dependent mankind out of the abundance of the infinite source of himself. As Elohim he creates and judges, but as Yahweh, he mercifully sustains.