Jun 21 2013
When Jacob wrestled with God he asked God for his name. But God replied “Why do you ask my name?” (Gen 32:29). At the burning bush Moses asked God for his name and God said “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). And then he said “Say to the Israelites ‘THE LORD (Yahweh), 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”(Ex 3:15).
Jacob and Moses heard God speak under different circumstances. Jacob had just received a blessing from a divine being that he had wrestled with in the dark and he wanted to know who it was. This is understandable. In ancient times gods was associated with specific powers. Some gods brought strength for war, others brought power for fertility, yet others brought material prosperity. Jacob wanted to know who was blessing him. But this divine being was not any divine being, ♦ he was the one and only Almighty God who had the power for all things and was not limited in the kind of blessing he could give. So God said “Why do you ask my name,” which is another way of saying ‘I can’t be named, I am unlimited and indescribable.’ But later God gave Moses His name. How come? Why?
Moses’ situation was different. He was a Hebrew who had been raised as an Egyptian, and now God was telling him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. If Moses told the Israelites that God had sent him to them, they were sure to say ‘Oh really, and what is his name?’ to see if he gave the name of an Egyptian god. So God told Moses to say to the Israelites: “THE LORD/HE IS, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” The NIV Bible says THE LORD in capitals instead of HE IS, but the Hebrew is YAHWEH which means HE IS. God says ‘I AM who I AM’ and we say ‘HE IS who HE IS.’
Now why does God call himself I AM or HE IS? It is because this name does not limit him to a specific ability. The name HE IS implies that he exists, and you can add anything to this name: HE IS Healer, HE IS Provider, HE IS Saviour, HE IS Creator, etc.
But we will miss the point if we don’t grasp the magnitude of this name. We need to feel what Moses felt when God gave him this name at the burning bush. It was a moment of terror. The voice in the bush told him to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground. Later when Moses led Israel out of Egypt they came back to this same place as a nation and this time it wasn’t just the bush but the entire mountain that burst into flame. And the voice spoke again. But the people were so fearful of the voice that they asked Moses to be a mediator between them and God. Then God gave Moses the Ten Commandments which called Israel to be holy because Yahweh is holy. And the third commandment said “You shall not misuse the name of YAHWEH your God.” And the Jews took very seriously, in fact they stopped saying the name YAHWEH altogether in case they misused the name by accident. The name was held in reverence and awe, so much so that a Jewish scribe would break his pen and start with a new one whenever he got to the name when copying scripture. People feared God’s name because it was personal to the One was all holy, all powerful, and all knowing.
With this reverence for Yahweh in mind you can understand why the Jews wanted to stone Jesus when he said “Before Abraham was born, I AM” (John 8:56-58). Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh incarnate, and they saw this as blasphemous. How could a man be the Ever-present I AM? But Jesus was Yahweh.
Now most of us would agree this was a very risky thing for Jesus to say. Associating yourself with Yahweh is laying your life on the line. But I want to point to another statement that Jesus made that is even more risky. Jesus told his disciples “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Can you believe that? We get baptized in the NAME! That’s right; we are baptized in YAHWEH! This is the one name of the Father, Son and Spirit. This is the one identity of the Trinity. Some New Testament verses tell us to be baptised in Jesus, but that is because he is Yahweh incarnate and therefore the way to being in Yahweh.
Do we realize what we are saying when we baptize people ‘In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’? Do we see the awesomeness of that? Do we realize that we are being baptized in the One who Israel feared to go near? Do we understand that we are clothed in Yahweh and carry his Name wherever we go? Do we see the responsibility that is upon us? If we carry the Name, we must walk in a way that is worthy of the Name. Baptism in water may be a symbol, but it symbolizes an awesome reality; we are immersed in the Name and Person of Yahweh! And so we must be holy because HE IS holy. (1 Peter 1:16).
Other Illustrations used: God’s Name in Songs
Closing Song: At Your Name – ‘Lord of all the earth we shout your Name’
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