Knowing God By Name
Text– Exodus 3:1-15
…And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord 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 this is My memorial to all generations.’
The most famous self-help book ever published is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It has sold an amazing 30 million copies and continues to be a bestseller today, which means that it can come across as kind of corny. But if you look through its suggestions, they are still pretty good. One of the most famous ones is this, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together.” Calling people by their name has an incredible power to it.
Think about how you feel when someone says your name. If they remember it after only one meeting, you’re impressed. You can probably hear it from across the room, even if it’s said in a low tone. Consider how big the difference is between, “Hey, you there” and “Hey, Justin.”
We feel this way because this is how God made us, in His image. And the Bible tells us that God feels something of the same way. His Name is powerful. We are not to take God’s name in vain. When we use God’s Name, we are invoking His presence and authority. That’s why our text this morning is so important. It teaches us God’s name: I AM.
It doesn’t only teach us the content of God’s name. God’s name reveals God’s identity. It tells us who God is, and it also tells us what God is. In fact, it tells us what He’s going to do. God’s Name teaches us about God’s salvation. This famous scene at the Burning Bush shows us that, by knowing God’s name, we know God.
Exodus 3 begins by saying, “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian” (Ex. 3:1). In Acts 7, Stephen tells us that Moses had lived in Midian 40 years by this point (Acts 7:30). Moses is in or near Mt. Horeb, and that’s important because we find out that Mt. Horeb is the same mountain as Mt. Sinai. Ex. 3:1b calls it “the Mountain of God,” and a little later, in vs. 12, God says to Moses, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” After the Exodus, they will come back to this spot, to Mt. Horeb. When Stephen retells this event in Acts, he simply says that it was at Mt. Sinai (Acts 7:30).
Moses looks up at Mt. Horeb, and he sees a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. He says in vs. 3, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” When he climbs up to it, he meets God
God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” … “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 upon God. (vs. 4, 6)
This is an amazing thing in its own right. Moses “meets” God. This is a preview of what will happen later at Mt. Sinai, where Moses will see God again. It’s a smaller sort of vision here, but it is still powerful, and Moses is still afraid.
And God tells Moses that He has seen what is happening to Israel and that He is going to deliver them.
I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey. (vs.7-8)
Thus the whole Exodus story is predicted.
Then God gives the final surprise to Moses. Moses will be the divine instrument by which this occurs. “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (vs. 10).
All of that would be enough to make for an amazing story. It’s very similar to the commissioning of the prophets. For his part, Moses is overwhelmed. “Who me?” he asks, again and again. Indeed, Moses might be a little too timid. We’ll get to that point in another sermon. Since he doesn’t feel sufficient for the job, Moses asks for help. It’s interesting to see just what kind of help he wants. He wants to know God’s name.
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (vs. 13)
Essentially, Moses needs some authority, and he needs to know how to properly summon God’s authority. That means, he needs to know God’s specific name.
There are a lot of questions at this point. How is it that Moses doesn’t know the name? Have the Israelites all forgotten it? Was it actually not yet known at all, as perhaps Ex. 6:3 suggests? Whatever the exact answer, the bigger point is that Moses needs God’s unique and covenant name in order to have full authority from Him. So he asks for this name, and God gives it.
God answers Moses, saying:
“I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord 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 this is My memorial to all generations.’ (Ex. 3:14-15)
The Knowledge of God’s Name
What do we learn from God’s name? The first thing is simply that this is where God’s personal name comes from. You may have heard the name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” as it was pronounced in earlier times. That is the literal reading of the Hebrew text in the Old Testament. Your English Bibles don’t print it that way. Due to a longstanding tradition, they use the word “LORD” and they put it in all caps. It’s the Hebrew name Yahweh, and it comes from this basic root, “I am.”
Hāyā-hāwā. That’s what it would have sounded like in Hebrew. You can hear the similarity with that and Yaweh. And it really is a duplication of the expression “I am.” The Hebrew grammar will allow for it to mean “I am who I am,” “I am what I am,” or even “I will be what I will be.” All are allowable translations, and all are self-supporting when you consider the basic meaning: God is fundamental existence, stability, and consistency. God’s name means that He is ultimate and total reality, the realist of all. His name tells us that He is unchanging. As He says in Malachi, “For I the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “I, Yahweh, I do not change.” “I, I am, I do not change.” And that’s good news because as Malachi 3:6 goes on to say, “therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”
Yes, God is “I am who I am” and “I am who I will be,” and this is what causes Him to take notice of His people and deliver them. He has sworn an oath to Israel. He has made a covenant with them. So, quite literally, His name is on the line. His very character requires Him to deliver them.
“I am” tells us about God’s covenant. Yahweh is the name that God uses to ratify His covenant, and it is His “memorial.” As Ex. 3:15 states, “This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” A memorial in the Bible is a reminder, both to man and to God, about what God has promised to do. It is a call for God to act upon the covenant. And so to call God the great I AM is to call on God to be who He is, to be faithful to His covenant. Calling God by name is a call for salvation.
On this point, you might be interested to know that the expression, “then you will know that I AM YAHWEH” occurs at least 10 times in the book of Exodus. It’s always used by God to explain how His mighty act of deliverance will reveal His identity. 3 of the 10 times, He’s talking about the Egyptians. “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Ex. 7:5; see also 14:4, 18). The Egyptians will know quite obviously because the God of Israel will have defeated them! The other 7 occasions refer to Israel’s own knowledge. They will know God’s identity as He saves them. They will know that He is Yahweh, He is the LORD. “Tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD” (Ex. 10:2).
Jesus is I AM
Where does this name go in the New Testament? Some of you might be wondering if I’m going to start telling you to use the name Yahweh more often now. Well, not exactly. You are certainly allowed to use it, but I don’t think it continues to carry an uniquely effective power—more than saying “Lord,” for instance. And this is because something very important happens with God’s name in the New Testament. Its substance and truth remains, but the external name is changed. It’s changed to Jesus.
What do I mean? Well, in several places in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have some unique connection to “the name” and to the memorial of God’s covenant. On at least one famous occasion, Jesus even says “I AM” and applies it to Himself.
Philippians 2 has the famous section which says that Christ, “being in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Philip 2:6). It says that Christ humbled Himself, even to death on the cross, and therefore God rewarded Him. How did God reward Him?
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11)
The association between “name” and “Lord” is no coincidence. Paul is giving Jesus the covenant name of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is Yahweh.
But that’s not all. As we said, Ex. 3:15 calls “I AM” God’s “memorial.” Jesus claims this word to. At the Last Supper He says, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). In English you might not catch the similarity, but in the Greek it is simply “do this as my memorial.” The symbol of Christ’s body, about to be sacrificed, is His memorial, a covenant marker which we continue to remember and memorialize today.
And so Jesus has “the name” and He is our memorial. But he goes even further. In John 8, there’s a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees about Abraham. They want to know if Jesus thinks He is greater than Abraham. Jesus answers by saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). The Pharisees were confused. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). And then what does Jesus say? It was extreme. It was scandalous. He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
Now why does Jesus use that odd grammar? Why doesn’t He say, “before Abraham was, I was”? It’s because he’s not just talking about time. He’s purposely claiming the divine name. Jesus is saying “I AM.” He is the I AM. He is claiming to be the covenant God of the Old Testament. And the Pharisees understood. John’s text says, “they took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:58). To their ears, this was blasphemy. But to all who believe, it is the very gospel itself. Jesus Christ is I AM WHO I AM. He reveals the Father (John 1:18). Through Him and His saving work, we know God. And so we use the name of Jesus in our prayers and covenant oaths today.
We have only just begun to scratch the surface of the glory and mystery of God’s Name. Theologians have written entire books on it, connecting it to “absolute being” and “real reality.” God is unchanging, and He always remains Who and What He is. That is how we can always trust Him. He is forever the same. Truly this is a mystery that demands our worship.
For now let us take glory in the basics. God has shown us Who He is. He did this in His works of deliverance in the Old Testament. And He did them most fully in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is how we know God today. And so I invite you all to know Him. Look to where He may be found, in God’s word, and in those places where He has promised to be, in worship and in the sacraments. Seek Him there. Know that He IS and He will Be. He is for you, and in Christ we have God’s faithfulness to His covenant, to His divine oath. He has promised to deliver us, and He has.
And let us consider the power of using God’s name, especially the name of Jesus. It is not a thing to be trifled with. We shouldn’t joke about it, and we certainly shouldn’t use it as a cheap expletive. The name Jesus carries power. It summons God. It sets forth God’s very character to the world.
Let us use God’s name with authority. It tells us Who He is, and it tells us what He will do. His name is Salvation, and we will know that Jesus Christ is Lord when we see the cross and when we see Christ’s glorious resurrection from the dead. And to those who do not believe, they will, like the Egyptians of old, see God’s terrible judgment, and when Christ puts them down under His feet, they will know that His name is the Lord.
Let us not be Egyptians brothers. Let us not miss the signs of our deliverance. Let us see Jesus and what He has done. Let us see God.
Let us pray.