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September 2021 GPS

In last month’s GPS we saw that one purpose for names of people in the Bible was to identify the origin/nature of the subject under consideration. This month we want to look at how that purpose is reflected in God’s name.

When the Lord commissioned Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt we read the following interchange between them. “Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 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 3:13–15, ESV) It is not surprising that Moses would anticipate that his people would ask who this God is that has promised to deliver them from captivity for throughout the ancient near east all nations were polytheistic. God identified Himself to them in two ways. He tells them what His name is and that He is the same God that their ancestors had worshipped and who had made promises to those ancestors.

Moses is to tell Israel that His name is “I AM.” Then, in verse 15, Moses is instructed to say to Israel, “The LORD… has sent me to you.” It is important to understand that “I am” in Hebrew is a form of the same verb that lies behind the English word “LORD” when it is in all capital letters. If the Hebrew word behind “LORD” [normally pronounced “Yahweh” in Hebrew] were actually translated it would be “HE IS,” which is the correct response of the people to the declaration of God’s name as “I AM.” If, as I wrote above, one of the purposes for a name in the Bible is to identify the origin/nature of the subject under consideration, what does the name I AM” tell us about God? Obviously, it does not tell us about His origin because He does not have one. He has always existed. It does tell us something about His nature, however. Old Testament scholars have made a number of suggestions about its significance such as that God is saying He is eternal or self-existent or that He will be what He will be. In my opinion the simplest explanation is that God is simply declaring that He is a being who really exists, which is something that cannot be said about any of the other gods of the ancient world. None of the gods of the Egyptians or of the Canaanites had objective reality. They were no gods, but Yahweh (He is), did and does exist.

Throughout the Bible several names are ascribed to God in compound forms, such as “the LORD is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6) and “the LORD of hosts” (1 Sam. 1:3). I plan to look at some of these in the coming months.

Another name of God which provides information about His nature is, in Hebrew, “El Shaddai” which is usually translated “God Almighty.” It means exactly what it says. He is all powerful. We find the first occurrence of it in Genesis 17, where the Lord again confirms His covenant with Abram. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”” (Genesis 17:1–2, ESV) I believe that God identifies Himself with this name because He is going to reaffirm His covenant with Abram for the third time after having given it to him in chapter 12, and He wants to use a name for Himself that was designed to strengthen Abram’s faith in the reliability of God’s promise of a son. Furthermore, we are told that Abram was ninety-nine when this promise was given and that he was one hundred when Isaac was born (Gen. 1:5). It would take an almighty God to fulfill this promise. The second use of that name is when Isaac sends Jacob away to Laban’s home to find a wife. “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”” (Genesis 28:3–4, ESV) Isaac knew that it would take an almighty God to fulfill his request. The third use of this name was when God appeared to Jacob after Simeon and Levi had dealt treacherously with the Shechemtes. “And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”” (Genesis 35:11–12, ESV) Again, it would take an almighty God to fulfill the great promises He made to Jacob that day. He is and He is almighty. Next month we will look at what some other names of God tell us about Him.