My Friends Call Me… The Name of God in Exodus 3 and the Rest of the Bible

Exodus 3 is the account of an amazing conversation between Moses and God, as God speaks from a burning bush that is not consumed.  In the story God gives Moses a new name for himself, a name that His people will use in the context of covenant relationship.  While the name, Yahweh is used in Genesis, this story in Exodus 3 gives the name meaning.  The Hebrew word “El” is the generic and formal name for God.  On the other hand, Yahweh is the name God gives Moses and by extension to His people as the relational name to be used by those in a covenant relationship with Him.  As God talks to Moses, He invites Moses to use a name reserved for those whom God has given grace and brought into relationship.  In other words, it is as if God is saying, “Some call me El, but my friends call me Yahway, I AM.  Not going to recover the ground we dealt with in last week’s sermon, but wanted to share some other information from Scripture about the name of God, Yahweh.  As the text tells us, this name comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”, God is the great I AM.  He is self-existent, all powerful, independent, pure being.  God is never changing, never becoming, never growing, never learning.  He is!  But this name also indicates that God will act for His people.  Whatever situation they are in, I AM will show His love and be exactly what they need.

As God revealed this wonderful name in the Scriptures to His people, He showed them Himself, His character, His love for them in covenant. As copies of Scriptures were made for reading, the people wanted to be sure never to use this name in vain, so they changed vowel markings and rendered this name as Jehovah, or the LORD.  In fact, in an English translation, any time you come across the name for God written as LORD, you are reading the translation of Yahweh, Jehovah, I AM.  Multiple times, as God acts for His people, He also finished the verb, filling in the blank.  Here are the places in the Old Testament where something is added to Jehovah further clarifying God’s acts as the great I AM.

Genesis 22:14 – Jehovah Jireh – the Lord who provides
Exodus 15:26 – Jehovah Rophe – the Lord who heals you
Exodus 17:15-16 – Jehovah Nissi – The Lord is my Banner
Leviticus 20:8 – Jehovah Mekadesh – The Lord who sanctifies you
Judges 6:24 – Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is my peace
Jeremiah 23:6 – Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord our Righteousness
Psalm 23:1 – Jehovah Rohi – The Lord our shepherd
Ezekiel 45:35 – Jehovah Shammah – The Lord is there

When Jesus shows up, the Jewish people were fully aware of this name.  It was special, and a name they revered.  Then, in Jesus’ speech about himself, he does something amazing.  He uses the same formula, using the phrase “I AM” to talk about himself.  Seven times Jesus uses the same language as the Old Testament, saying “I AM _________________________.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

If this is not clear enough, four other times Jesus, when speaking of himself calls himself “I AM”, no qualifier, no addition, just “I AM”

Many other times Jesus uses the phrase “I AM” without any qualifier, using the exact same language as God in Exodus 3.  My favorite examples are John 8:56-59 and John 18:4-8.  In the John 8 passage, Jesus is in a discussion with the Jewish religious leaders.  He says that Abraham was looking forward to his coming.  The leaders had that perplexed, “What is he talking about” look, and said, “Dude, you aren’t even 50, how could Abraham (who lived 1800 years ago) been looking forward to you.  Jesus response is amazing, He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  Note that he didn’t say “I was”, but “I AM”.  In the John 18 passage a group of men come to arrest Jesus.  Jesus asks them who they are looking for, and they say Jesus of Nazereth, and Jesus answers, “I AM.”  English translators are not sure what to do with this, because a “to be” verb needs a qualifier.  So they translate it “I am he”, but that is not the Greek text.  Jesus just answers ego eimi, I AM.  The reason this is important here is the response of the men.  This is a group of Marshalls, ala Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive coming to arrest Jesus.  But when he tells them His name they “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).  This band of marauders is driven to their knees in worship, much like Moses.  Jesus repeats the phrase, but tells them to let his friends go and do what they need to do.

These passages are amazing, because literally, Jesus is saying to the Jews (and to us). “Hey, remember the story of Moses and the Burning Bush.  You know, you learned it in Sunday School.  Remember the voice telling Moses, I AM THAT I AM.  Tell them I AM has sent you.  Hey guys, that voice was ME!  I was the one in the bush.  I am I AM, in the flesh, among you.  Wow!


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