Day #18b: Exodus 3. “I am”
I am glad that we can get a whole day to discuss this one chapter, because it is one of the most important ones in the Bible. In Exodus 3, God enters the story in a new way. He reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush, promises action for oppressed Israel, and reveals himself by the divine name. When Moses asks God, “Who shall I say sent me?”, God answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” That sounds cryptic to us, but it is a revelation of God’s character. God’s defining aspect is his underived self-existence. It is what sets him apart from every other thing that exists. Every other thing is created by God. It is “derived” by God’s power – that is, it comes from God. But God does not come from anything else. As we learned in Genesis, “In the beginning, God…” Before anything was created, God was. There was never a time in which God did not exist. All other aspects of our experiential reality were created, but he is uncreated. The Hebrew word for “to be” was represented by the (Hebrew) letters YHWH. This was understood to be the personal name for God, in distinction from the more general title of “god” – which could be used for other, false, gods. The name that sets the God of the Bible apart from every other deity that can be named or imagined is his unique divine name, “YHWH.” This name became so sacred to the Jewish people that they stopped speaking it out loud. Instead, they would say, “The LORD” whenever the name of YHWH was written. Later, Bible translators were uncertain of how to render this, or even how to pronounce it. Early English translations rendered the divine name as “Jehovah.” Later translators rendered it as “Yahweh.” Following the practice of the Jewish scholars, most modern translations write the name “the LORD” (notice all caps) whenever they encounter this word in the Hebrew text. This is distinct from the word “lord” (not in caps) which is a title of respect that can be used for people. Traditionally, the first five books of the Bible were attributed to the authorship and direction of Moses, so it is understandable that the name YHWH was used, even prior to the burning bush revelation (for example, in the book of Genesis._ The thing that we want to understand is that, generally speaking, when God is referred to as YHWH (“the LORD”) it is showing the specific relationship that he has with his covenant people. On the other hand, when the term “God” is used it often speaks of God in a more general way and may even be used for false gods or angels.
Reflect: God invites you to be on a “first name basis” with him. To call God, “The LORD” is to know him as the uncreated, self-existence deity that is the source of all things in existence. We have a powerful friend.
Connect: The New Testament is written in Greek and not Hebrew, so the authors don’t use the Hebrew letters YHWH and therefore, the same sort of capital letter distinction does not exist in the New Testament. But in his letter to the Philippians, Paul proclaims that Jesus is given “the name above every name” and shows that all humans will one day confess that he is “Lord.” This is a clear reference to the divine name and he is showing that Jesus shares the same divine name “Yahweh.” Furthermore, when Jesus says about himself that “I AM”, he is assuming to himself this divine identity – an action that his listeners understood to be an infuriating claim to divinity.
Philippians 3:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John 8:58-59 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
*Note: When the schedule of readings was first published, I made a mistake and cut out this date. Since other parts of this program had already been published using the dates, it was easier to simply create “Day 18b” than shift the whole schedule back a day. So, the technical count for 90 days is a bit off, but I hope that you will agree that is not a very big deal. – MK
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.