Considering our “Knowing God” theme, there is no better word to explore in this first “In a word” feature than the personal name of God. Found about 6,800 times in the Old Testament, much mystery and meaning surround the Tetragrammaton, a term referring to the four Hebrew consonants yod, he, waw, he that make up The Name: YHWH.
We know God because God has made Himself known. Revealing the name Yahweh to Moses prior to the Exodus is one of the best examples of this in Scripture. It links Yahweh with Israel as His special people and His gracious acts on their behalf.
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ . . . This is My name forever . . . to all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15, NASB throughout).
Yahweh is considered a form of the Hebrew verb hayah (“to be”), leading to the common translation “I AM.” YHWH is! And acts! He exists and is the cause of existence. Known first as Israel’s covenant God, He is also the only God and the Creator God (Deuteronomy 27:9; Isaiah 37:16; Genesis 2:1-8).
Prior to this personal revelation, God was known to the Patriarchs by more general Divine titles based on the ancient Semitic appellative for Divinity, El. As creatures existing in a world of space, time, and matter, Yahweh was thought of as the maximal of each: El Elyon (“God Most High,” Genesis 14:18), El Olam (“Everlasting God,” 21:33), and El Shaddai (“God Almighty,” 17:1). Retrospectively, Yahweh was identified with each.
God spoke further to Moses . . .“I am the Lord [Yahweh]; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord [Yahweh], I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2, 3).
So precious and sacred was the name Yahweh to Israel that over time, they refrained from saying it at all. Instead, through scribal notations, the title Adonai (or “Lord”) was read in its place. With the Greek equivalent Kyrios used in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and later New Testament writings, this replacement practice continues in most translations to this day. Where we see Lord capitalized in the Bible, Yahweh is being translated and reverentially concealed. Eventually its exact pronunciation was lost, with Yahweh becoming the common, if educated, guess.
The revelation of the great I AM reaches its personal climax in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s name is made known, and made flesh, proclaiming the personal God of Israel to the very maximal extent (John 1:14-18; Exodus 34:5-7). In Jesus, Israel’s loving, faithful, and longsuffering God reaches down to the world in a cosmic Exodus of grace and truth and power. This is seen in John’s Gospel, as Jesus is suggestively presented as the great I AM on fourteen different occasions (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5; cf. 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).
The great confessions “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11) recognize that Yahweh unites the personal God of Israel and our personal Savior Jesus in one (John 1:1; Isaiah 45:22-25).
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