October Note from Dri

What's In A Name?

Hello parents! I am writing to you from my study leave. Technically, I did not leave, logistics being as they are, but I did shift from weekly planning to long range planning and thinking about all the goodness of Scripture we can squeeze into the last months of this semester. In both Family Gathering and Youth Group we’ve been diving into Exodus, especially Youth Group. 

While I could nerd out on all the cool things I’m learning digging deep in Exodus, I just want to share one… a big one: God’s name.

It’s a major theme throughout Exodus. It’s hard to miss the number of times that it’s declared, revealed, made known, experienced, believed, etc and it’s hard to miss the frequency with which God declares “I am Yahweh.” It’s important to know that to the first readers, name doesn’t just mean the thing you are called or the sound you respond to, but your reputation and character all wrapped up into one. What we, today, would probably call identity.

In Genesis, Yahweh has called out a man, a family, and later a nation through which he will bless all the nations, and he intends to keep his promise. It’s kinda who he is. It’s part of his character, name, identity… whatever you want to call it. But this nation forgets His name. They go from calling him Yahweh in Genesis, Elohim at the beginning of this Exodus story 400 years later. But Elohim just means “deity” and is not a personal name. So He reintroduces himself to Moses in the burning bush, continuing to reveal His name and character throughout the rest of the narrative. It’s like the get-to-know-you stage of dating, only Yahweh is already committed to this relationship. So maybe it’s more like waking up from a coma to rediscover your spouse?

Yahweh is often literally translated as “I am that I am” or “I will be what I will be.” It might be more helpful to translate it as “The One Who Is,” “The One Who Is Being,” or “The One Who Exists.” (Side note, in our English Bibles, it’s written as The LORD in capital letters, which is helpful to know if you’re looking for occurrences of Yahweh, especially if you’re looking for the fun word-play that the Ancient Hebrews employed.) 

As it pertains to the character and reputation of Yahweh, it means that he is self-existing, self-sustaining, the “first cause” as Thomas Aquinas would say. It is through Him, the Apostle Paul would later explain, that we “live and move and have our being.” When Moses gives excuse after excuse for why he’s the wrong guy for the job, Yahweh tells him, “I AM/I WILL BE with you,” as though redefining Moses’ own identity in relation to Yahweh. “You are because I am. And that’s enough.”

But this is just a foreshadowing of more to come. As a friend recently said to me, it’s like at the burning bush, He gives his first name, but in Exodus 34, He’s giving His first and last name, the fullness of His character and reputation. After experiencing His name first hand – his character of faithfulness, protection, provision, mercy and grace – the people are still not getting it and make their own god. So Yahweh spells it out:

“Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

He is compassion. He is grace. He is long suffering. He is love. He is faithfulness. He is forgiveness. He is justice. Our definitions of those things should depend on Him, not the other way around. Likewise, our identity should depend on Him, and not the other way around. This name has implications not only for our identity, as it did for Moses, and our understanding of the character of God, but also for our very existence and the fabric of reality. We are because He is. We exist because He exists. We have life and breath because He is life and breath. We can love and have compassion because He IS those things. And that changes everything.