More Than a Name
In some cultures, the meanings behind names don’t matter much. We choose a name because we like the sound of it, or because it’s precious to our particular family. In other cultures, though, a name itself may carry great significance. Its meaning can establish something about the person who bears it or the hopes of the people who bestowed it.
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he asked, “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?” (Exodus 3:13). The name God shares with Moses—YHWH (translated into English as “I AM WHO I AM”)—has four consonants with no vowels. Try to pronounce YHWH and you’ll find that it’s nearly impossible. It is, if you like, an unspeakable name.
What was God doing in answering like this? Moses was requesting a name of authority to give to the people of Israel and to Pharaoh, and God gave him this unpronounceable name. God seems to have been saying, There is no name that can adequately encapsulate the totality of who I am. So, tell them that I AM WHO I AM has sent you. Tell Pharaoh to watch what I do on behalf of My people. Then he will know who I am.
The Bible is the story not only of God’s work of salvation but also of the unfolding of God’s character. Many of us have become adept at reading our Bibles and asking important questions of application: “How does this relate and apply? What does this mean for me?” These matters are not irrelevant or wrong, but they are not the primary questions to ask. God is the hero of the story and the theme of the book, and so the first question we ask of every passage ought to be this: “What does this tell me about God?” The Bible was written to establish God’s dealings, character, and glory.
Many of us believe that what we need from church each Sunday are anecdotal bits and pieces or inspirational lists dealing with our finances, relationships, and any other issues we might be facing. There has never been a time in Christianity’s history when more how-to books have been written for believers. Yet how are we really doing? We seemingly know how to do everything, but we don’t know who God is!
In order for Moses to do what God had called him to do, he needed to understand who God was (and is). He, like us, needed to know that God is more than just a name.
Lives are transformed when we read the Bible and ask, “What can I discover about God?” It is as we see what God has done and better understand who He is that we grow in our awe and love of Him—and then we will be able to live as He desires, fulfilling His call in our lives. We will never plumb the depths of the glories of our unspeakably awesome God, but we will spend eternity seeing more and more of Him. And as we read His word, that can begin today.
The Burning Bush
1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13Then 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?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”1 And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord,2 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. 16Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.3 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
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