Background information

Names have occupied a significant place in Bible times. People’s names were changed to reflect some calling from God or a significant event in their lives. No wonder Moses was so eager to learn the name of God. He knew that the name of God would tell him something of God.

(Exo 3:13-14 NIV)  Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” {14} God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM (Hebrew YHWH). This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

The Hebrew word YHWH that God gave to Moses was not a puzzle just for Moses; it remained a puzzle to Bible scholars even to this day. It has no clear-cut translation. The closest it has been translated is “I am who I am”.

How did the name of God become just four consonants YHWH without the vowels? Surely when God spoke His name to Moses, it is something pronounceable and had vowels. His name became this way because people who copied the Bible deemed the name of God too holy to even pronounce. Therefore they took out the vowels so that the name of God cannot be pronounced.

Since God’s name was written in a way that cannot be pronounced, did the Jews just skip over His name when they read the Bible? No, in every occurrence of YHWH, the Jews inserted the vowels of the Hebrew word for Lord Adonai. This is how we got the word YaHoVaH (which is pronounced Jehovah).

The God who always is

God’s name is “I am”. This means that He has always existed, even from the beginning of time.

When Jesus wanted to tell His listeners that He existed even before Abraham, He used the term “I am”.

(John 8:57-58 NIV)  “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” {58} “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

What does it mean to us that God is the ever-existent God? I think it means that God is always in control and we need not fear. It is as if someone tells us to do something. When we are afraid he says, “Don’t worry. I will be there with you. I will be there even before you. I will continue to be there even after you have left.”

The Bible uses the fact that God has always existed to convince us of His control over everything.

(Isa 43:13 NIV)  Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

(Isa 48:12-13 NIV)  “Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. {13} My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together.

The ever-existent God was the attribute God revealed to Moses when Moses was afraid to appear before Pharaoh. It was the attribute of God that was meant to dispel his fear.

In many other parts of the Bible, we are told that Jesus is the First and the Last, the ever existent, so that we need not be afraid.

(Rev 1:17 NIV)  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.

When we face difficult times, remember that our God is the First and the Last. The God who has always existed. The God who is always in control of everything around us.

The God who never changes

“I am that I am” also speaks about His unchanging character. It is all in present tense. There is nothing about Him that has become past tense. We can say of ourselves, “I was an alcoholic but not anymore” or “I used to be more fervent for the Lord.” We use the past tense to describe a state that has changed. But God’s name Yahweh emphasizes the present tense of God. The God who never changes.

(Heb 13:8 NIV)  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

What does it mean to us that God never changes? It means that we can count on God. If God has helped us in our past problems, we can be confident that this God will help us in our present and future problems. If Jesus has healed people, He can do the same for you.

The God who is beyond comprehension

“I am that I am” also speaks about the God who is beyond comprehension. This phrase has sometimes been translated “I am what I am”. Names were very important during the Old Testament days and Moses wanted to know the name of God so that he could know God.

But God could not explain to Moses in a way that Moses could comprehend His nature. It is as if God is saying, “I am beyond your comprehension. Who am I? I am what I am.”

(Rom 11:33 NIV)  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Because God is beyond our comprehension, there will be some actions of God that will be hard to accept. We question why God allows some things to happen.

(Isa 55:8-9 NIV)  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. {9} “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We cannot understand everything God has done. If we do, we would be God ourselves. We need to accept what God has permitted in this world and in your life. And trust God to work things for good.