By Ava Pennington
‘I am the Lord, that is my name’ (Isaiah 42:8).
Do you like your name? Does it fit you? Is it a name you would choose for yourself?
Names in the Bible often reflected the character of their owners. God revealed many names for himself throughout Scripture, but when asked, he selected one in particular.
When God prepared to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage, he chose Moses to lead them. However, 400 years of living in Egypt had exposed the Israelites to hundreds of gods worshipped by the Egyptians. Moses knew the people would ask which god was delivering them. What is his name?
God could have selected any one of the many names he used elsewhere in his Word. Surely names such as Creator, Deliverer, or Refuge would have been appropriate. But in answer to Moses’ question, the name he chose for himself was “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). Transliterated to English as Jehovah or Yahweh, it is the name that differentiates him from all other gods.
I Am. He is . . . always. He is self-existent. He is the “uncaused cause.” Nothing caused him to be and nothing can end his being. He is dependent on no one else and nothing else for who he is.
Confirmation that this truly is God’s proper name is found elsewhere in Scripture. Psalm 68:4 tells us “his name is the Lord.” God declared through Isaiah, “I am the Lord, that is my name” (Isaiah 42:8). When you see the word Lord in all capital letters, it is the modern English translation of God’s name, Jehovah.
Other names of God, such as compound names that include Jehovah, describe his character and how he works. For example, we might think of names such as Jehovah Jireh (the Lord will provide) or Jehovah Rapha (the Lord who heals). But the single name Jehovah is the essence of who he is.
Jehovah is the name that sets apart the one, true, living God. The third of the Ten Commandments reinforces the sacredness of this name. Exodus 20:7 tells us, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
Fear of breaking this commandment and misusing the name of God was so ingrained in the ancient Israelites that they would not even speak his name aloud. As a result, today the original pronunciation of God’s name is not known with certainty. Since the ancient Hebrew language does not contain written vowels, scholars disagree as to whether his name is more accurately transliterated Jehovah or Yahweh.
The written name of the Lord was also revered by the ancient Israelites. In their work of copying Scripture, Hebrew scribes would stop when they came to this name, remove their clothes, bathe, put on clean clothes, and use a new pen to write God’s holy name.
More than 1,500 years after Moses, the name of God was still viewed as sacred. Jesus understood the importance of revering God’s name when he taught his disciples how to pray. He began his pattern of prayer with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). The name of God is hallowed, which means holy, set apart from common use. Everything else in the Lord’s Prayer builds on this foundation.
We might be inclined to think of Jehovah as a designation only for God the Father. But since Jehovah is the name of our triune God, it also applies to God the Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus claimed the name “I Am” for himself when he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Any doubts as to his meaning are swept away as we read the reaction of the Pharisees. “At this, they picked up stones to stone him” (v. 59). Why stoning? Because it was the prescribed penalty for blasphemy.
Later, when Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one,” the Jewish leaders again tried to stone him “because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:30-33).
It was only because Jesus is the Lord that he could live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death. It was only because Jesus is the great “I Am” that his sacrifice was acceptable to God the Father, and his resurrection was the final nail in death’s coffin.
God has always been one in essence, yet three beings. The reverence required by the third commandment applies as much to the Son and to the Spirit as it does to the Father.
Today, God’s name is often used carelessly at best and profanely at worst. We hear his name in casual conversation invoked as an oath, spit as a curse, and paired with obscenities. Even Christians have been influenced by an irreverent, secular culture. Euphemisms for God creep into our dialogue. The third commandment becomes an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all.
A right view of God begins with what he says about himself, but it doesn’t end there. What we think about God will be reflected in our actions and our words. A high view of God acknowledges his rightful position in our lives. It also provides the framework for a right view of ourselves. But a right view of ourselves means we must also be willing to be separate from the world.
It’s not easy to be out of step with the culture. We naturally want to fit in, to be part of the crowd. To be different is often to be painfully misunderstood. Yet God does not call us to be separate for the sake of isolation. He desires us to be different from an unbelieving world so we might show them what they are missing: a relationship with the living God who sent his Son to die for them.
Because God is set apart from all other gods, the people who belong to him are also set apart. Ancient Israel understood their identity was entwined with their God. They were different from all the nations around them, and God expected them to speak and behave in a way that reflected this difference and manifested their relationship with him.
Christians must also be set apart. Jesus said we are “in the world” (John 17:11), yet not “of the world” (v. 16). The apostle Paul exhorted us “not [to] conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). We are able to do this only through our relationship with Jehovah and through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Intimate relationships begin with a name. We meet someone new and get to know her by learning about her and spending time with her. We learn what she says about herself and whether her behavior is consistent with what she says. Is she really who she says she is?
The most important relationship we have is our relationship with Jehovah, restored to us through his Son, Jesus. This relationship begins at the cross and grows in intimacy as we experience the reality of the one who is. He is Jehovah Jireh and Jehovah Rapha, our provider and healer. He is Jehovah Sabaoth and Jehovah Shalom, the Lord of Hosts and the one who is our peace. He is Jehovah Tsidkenu and Jehovah Mekoddishkem, the one who is our righteousness and who sanctifies us. He is everything we will ever need.
The more we learn to turn to the Lord for all that he is, the more our relationship with him grows in intimacy. This intimacy also enables us to nurture our earthly relationships. Knowing to whom we belong gives us the confidence to enter into relationships that are God-honoring and advance the kingdom of Christ. It also gives us the strength to stand against temptation and to live a life uncompromised by sin. The name that sets God apart from all other gods is the name that sets us apart, too.
God chose a name for himself that best describes his essence. He is the Lord, Jehovah, the great I Am. His name reflects all that he is. It also defines those who belong to him. When we obey the command to revere his name, we send a message to a watching world: The Lord is unlike any other God, and his people are unlike any other people.
Ava Pennington is a freelance writer in Stuart, Florida.
The Bible describes many of God’s attributes to help us know and love him. Here are just a few of God’s names that we find in Scripture.
Jehovah. The name of independent being—“I AM WHO I AM”—belongs only to Jehovah God. As we consider his greatness, we fall down in fear and awe of the one who possesses all authority (Exodus 3:13-15).
Jehovah-M’Kaddesh. This name means “the God who sanctifies.” A God separate from all that is evil requires that the people who follow him be cleansed from all evil (Leviticus 20:7, 8).
Jehovah-jireh. This name means, “the God who provides.” Just as he provided yesterday, he will provide tomorrow. He grants deliverance from sin, the oil of joy for the ashes of sorrow, and eternal citizenship in his kingdom (Genesis 22:9-14).
Jehovah-shalom. This name means “the God of peace.” God could never give to others a peace that exceeds understanding if he himself were not perfect, unfailing peace (Judges 6:16-24).
Jehovah-rophe. This name means “Jehovah heals.” God alone has the remedy for the healing of mankind. The gospel is concerned with the physical, moral, and spiritual healing of all people (Exodus 15:22-26).
Jehovah-nissi. This name means “God our banner.” We may go from triumph to triumph and say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57; Exodus 17:8-15).
El-Shaddai. This name means “God Almighty.” It is best understood as God who is all-sufficient and all-bountiful—the source of all blessings, fullness, and fruitfulness (Genesis 49:22-26).
Adonai. This name means “Master” or “Lord.” God as Adonai calls all God’s people to acknowledge themselves as his servants, recognizing his right to command them as the Lord of their lives (2 Samuel 7:18-20).
Elohim. This name means “Strength” or “Power.” He is transcendent, mighty, and strong. Elohim is the great name of God, signifying supreme power, sovereignty, and a covenant relationship that he is ever faithful to keep (Genesis 17:7, 8).