Calling On the Name of the Lord: the I AM

 

 

As you have been “sheltering in place,” what have you been doing? Most of us are struggling with our routines, our goals, and our discipline. We have to be extra careful to be good time managers for God’s glory.

The social isolation has forced us to find new ways of talking with people. We really do need other people—especially our church family. We need to be together. We need to hear a voice other than our own. We need to hear someone we love call us by name. There’s something especially reassuring about hearing your loved ones call you by name. Remember how important it was to hear your name or your children’s name at their high school graduation. We hope our graduates get to hear their name called as they walk across that special stage in their lives soon. We will all weep with them if they don’t get that special experience.

Hopefully, we have spent some extra time in Bible study—listening to God and some extra time in prayer—talking to God. When you pray, what do you call God? Do you call him Father, Father God, Lord, Holy Father, our Father in heaven? What do you call God? What we call God can help us learn what we think about God, and the names of God in the Bible can teach us a lot about who God is. In the ancient world, the name of a person describes the character of the person. We do this with nicknames. We also name our children with the hope that they will live up to their namesakes. What does God teach us about himself with the different names he has in Scripture?

The Names of God: “I Am”

Moses asked God what he should be called. God said his name is “I AM” (יהוה yhwh Ex. 3:14). We see this same name again in Exodus 6:3. God said, “I am the LORD (the I AM); that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Is. 42:8). The word is notoriously difficult to translate. Berkhof explained: “The Jews had a superstitious dread of using it, since they read Lev. 24:16 as follows: ‘He that nameth the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death.” And therefore in reading the Scriptures they substituted for it either ’Adonai or ’Elohim; and the Massoretes, while leaving the consonants intact, attached to them the vowels of one of these names, usually those of ’Adonai. The real derivation of the name and its original pronunciation and meaning are more or less lost in obscurity.”[1] Still, theologians have plumbed the depths of its meaning since it was recorded by Moses.

Turretin noted the name implies: (a) the eternity and independence of God, inasmuch as he is a necessary being, and existing of himself, independent; (b) it implies causality and efficiency because what is the first and most perfect in each genus is the cause of the rest; (c) It implies immutability and constancy in promises because he really performs and does what he has promised by giving to his promises being (to einai), not only self-existent (autoōn), but also essentially existent (ousiōn) and essence-making (ousiopoios).[2] Perhaps, it is best to see this divine name with the translation “I will be what I will be.” This phrase maintains the immutability, eternality, and self-existence of God. Bavinck said, “He will be what he was for the patriarchs, what he is now and will remain: he will be everything to and for his people. It is not a new and strange God who comes to them by Moses, but the God of the fathers, the Unchangeable One, the Faithful One, the eternally Self-consistent One, who never leaves or forsakes his people but always again seeks out and saves his own.”[3] Aquinas said this name applies to God in a most significant way because it applies to God alone: “For it does not signify form, but simply existence itself. Hence since the existence of God is His essence itself, which can be said of no other (Q. III. A. 4), it is clear that among other names this one specially denominates God, for everything is denominated by its form.”[4] This sacred name reveals “that he is the God of the whole world; and ought to be served and worshipped, and his name to be great and had in reverence in the four quarters of it; it takes in all tenses, past, present, and to comea: the words of the evangelist John are a proper periphrasis of it; which is, and which was, and which is to come, Rev. 1:4.”[5]

When we read “I AM” in English, we expect the rest of the sentence. Around lunch time we say, “I am hungry.” Then we say, “I am full.” At night we say, “I am sleepy.” God said, “I AM.” What does that mean? It means that he is. What is God? God is the fullness of life—he is essentially absolute in every good way. John said of Jesus, “In him was life” (Jn. 1:4). This doesn’t just mean that Jesus was alive. It means that Jesus is the fullness of life. His nature is to exist in every good way with perfect infiniteness.

This is hard for us to understand. We shouldn’t expect to understand the nature of our Creator. We are just creatures. One of the reasons this is hard for us to understand is that we live in a world which depends on other things for existence. We are here because of our parents. They lived because of our grandparents. Our grandparents lived because of our great grandparents and so on. God doesn’t depend on anything for his life—he just is life. Paul said it this way, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). God is the fountain of all things—the very fountain of life.

When We Call God the “I AM”—the LORD

What we learn about God as the “I AM” is not just some speculative journey into high academic theology. Our God is the “I Am” and that is directly related to our piety—our life of worship in his presence.

  1. First, when we remember God is the “I AM,” we remember that he is. God really does exist. We serve a living God not a dead philosopher teacher. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us of the importance of God as the “I AM”—“Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” In other words, “he that would come to God must believe that he is the I AM.
  2. We also should be reminded that God, the I AM, is life and the source of life. We have been struggling with the coronavirus because we fear death and low quality of life. The only source of life and quality living is God. Everything else depends upon him for existence. If we depend on these dependent things, we are like those drinking from a stream downstream from the cattle. Go to the source.
  3. As we struggle with the constant changes around us, we realize how much we need an anchor to keep us from pacing anxiously through life. Everything in creation is in a constant state of change. Physics, in the second law of thermodynamics, teaches us that everything in creation is in a constant state of decay. Why would we pursue decaying things to sustain us? Go to God—the eternal unchanging I AM.

 

 

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 49.

[2] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 185.

[3] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 143.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.).

a Buxtorf. de Nomin. Dei, Heb. s. 10.

[5] John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity: Or A System of Evangelical Truths, Deduced from the Sacred Scriptures, vol. 1, New Edition. (Tegg & Company, 1839), 41–42.

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