The Secret To God’s Name

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote. That probably sums up what most of us can quote from the great playwright. Still, it’s a great question.

What’s in your name?

Growing up we owned a beautiful Dalmatian dog whom my dad affectionately named “Rahab.” It was an unusual name that hearkens back to a story in the book of Joshua about a woman who was most likely a prostitute. Despite her shady past, she conspired with the Israelites to conquer her home city of Jericho in Canaan, giving them their initial foothold in the Promised Land. The meaning of Rahab’s name probably wouldn’t be very popular among most women today, seeing that it means “wide.”

Insert joke here.

(awkward silence)

Actually, I know better than that…

Nevertheless, every person’s name has a meaning hiding behind it. For example, my name “Michael” means “one who is like God.” My wife Kelley’s name means “bright-headed” and “warrior”, which is entirely appropriate because she’s bright and she definitely a warrior.

In the English language, every person’s name is classified as a noun. If you’re a little rusty on your grammar, a noun is a person, place, or thing.

But God doesn’t fit so neatly into this category.

When God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, Moses asked a sensible question.

“When I tell the people of Israel that the God of our fathers has sent me, and they ask me ‘What is his name?’ What should I say?”

It’s a fair question. And you know what God said?

“I am who I am.”

I can imagine the consternation on Moses’ face. “Ummm, God, I really was listening…but could you repeat yourself?”

“I am who I am.”

Huh?

Moses was probably expecting a noun, like Levi or Elimelech, but instead, God answered with a verb. “I am” is the translation of Yahweh or Jehovah.

I can imagine that when Moses returned to Egypt, his conversation with his fellow Israelites went something like this:

“Who did you say sent you?”

“I am.”

“I am who?”

“I am.”

“You?”

“No…him. ‘I am’ him.”

Sounds like the old Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first?”

Over time, the Hebrew name Yahweh became so revered that people in Bible times weren’t allowed to say it. They used the name Adonai instead. Even when reading the torah out loud and Yahweh’s name appeared in the text, they said Adonai in its place.

But think about it: God’s name—“I am”—is a verb, not a boring noun. And what verb describes him? The “to be” verb: I am. You are. He is. She is. They are. It’s the most common, most flexible verb in every language. Any other verb would limit his power and capabilities. He isn’t defined by what he does, he’s defined by who he is.

The verb is where the action is. From a grammatical perspective, the “to be” verb is considered present and active.

He’s present in even the ordinary details of our lives. Our ever-present help in times of trouble.

He’s an active God, and not passive. Always working. Always moving. Always doing something, even when we can’t see him. He doesn’t react to our poor choices because he knows what we’re going to do ahead of time–and he’s already prepared for it.

He isn’t the God of the past, he’s the God of the now. The same, yesterday, today, and forever. The “I am” for anything and everything you need.

God is.

And he’s the great “I am” for you.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. In his spare time he works as a freelance writer.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Secret To God’s Name

  1. Rita Wells Clarke

    Try THIS for a new way to “look at God’s name.” Stop using HE or other masculine words to describe The God That Cannot Be Described In Human Terms……..use the name “GOD” instead of personal pronouns EVERY TIME and find out how liberating and humbling THAT is – all at the same time. God is NOT a HE – never was and never will be……our tiny human brains must “Set The God Free! to be The God!” Then, and only then, can we truly realize that The Great Spirit lives in every cell and not in a tiny words!!

    • Rita, I like where you’re going with that. However, God isn’t absent of masculinity. He IS a he. And he IS a she. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:27 (NIV). God is so great that he created both male and female to express his image.

      Nevertheless, your point is well-taken. We need to set God free to be who he is. And actually, he’s never been in a box–except in our finite minds.

      Thanks for contributing!

      Michael

  2. Georgie-ann

    Amen!

    I studied languages with great interest in school, working on a college French major, which also entailed some German, Linguistics, modern Greek, and a smattering of Spanish as well,…long ago. All of my teachers were basically American born English speakers. English is “so formed” around nouns/things/and names and descriptions of things. Even in using our personal pronouns, I, me, you, he, it, we are very focused on the separate identity and existence of each one, as very important in and of itself — its character, its will, the things that make each unique and different. No wonder we can often have so much trouble just “getting along!” We are much less aware of (focused on) our similarities, our shared commonality, our identity in brotherhood/sisterhood, in the human race. It can seem that we find similarity to be boring, something to be avoided at all costs, “every man for himself.”

    Fast forward a few decades, and I find myself being drawn into a new language experience, available to me locally — free of charge — in my own local Church! Spanish, of course. That little ignored, overlooked, step-child of my youthful language-studying days, that had garnered very little interest or respect from the educational elite of those times! Well well! Look at this. And all I had to do was smile and be friendly!

    Realizing that academia had not managed to impart a sufficiently durable language connection to me, and also that I was old (“old dogs and new tricks”), I decided to become a “baby,” language-wise, in their midst. I would simply immerse myself in the listening experience, and see where it got me. (Plus, I was feeling lazy about it!)

    My very first realization — (when I eventually had one!) — was that in Spanish, verbs/action/energy are the big winners, and nouns/things, are not so much differentiated, emphasized, specified. At least within a specific sub-culture, mutuality/similarity, brotherly/sisterly human consciousness and connections, flowed easily and warmly. Different! Refreshing! Intriguing! I was getting “hooked” on a new (to me) outlook. A sentence could actually consist of a certain form of a verb that inferred a noun, but the noun did not have to even be spoken. Wow! It does really make a very significant difference. Well, I’ve been “lovin’ it” ever since. (And their food and music are very good and enjoyable, too!)

    So, when you say, “the verb is where the action/energy is” and relate that to God, I’m “all over that” with you!!!!

    Amen!!

    God IS Good!!!! Always and everywhere, with us, and not separate!

    Today, tomorrow, and Always!

  3. Great insights, Georgie-ann. I didn’t know that Spanish was constructed with the emphasis on the verb. The verb is definitely the star!

    Michael

  4. Georgie-ann

    I found the northern European languages to be weightier, more ponderous, more detailed and complex, even more formal. Even though French is considered to be a “Romance Language,” the way I was taught it, anyway, it still followed a subject/predicate form, very much like English and German for declarative statements. I’m aware of the necessity of proper syntax and conjugation for verbs, and that there are usually several standard patterns to follow in a given language. But I find the Spanish to be elusive. It’s different. I’m even recognizing a unique simplicity, and I’m working on “cracking the code!”

    To break down and take a course at this point, even though I think it would be profitable, would also be admitting a certain level of defeat. So the adventure continues as is. My listening understanding and reading comprehension, btw, far outstrip my conversational abilities.

    Vowel sounds far surpass consonants in prevalence, and are very clearly enunciated, making it lovely for singing. It is phonetically written, a modern development, making it easy to decipher as well. “Amar a” is the expression for to love. Amo, amas, ama, amamos, aman,…the important and emphasized sound is “am-” (love), while the different endings imply who is doing the loving. It is also possible to add a subject — yo amo (I love) — but it is not necessary, and the meaning without the stated subject is just as clear and functional conversationally. Energy permeates the flow and intensity of the words spoken. Very exciting, actually!

    Thank you for your interest!

  5. Georgie-ann

    example:

    Amo al Senor porque escucha mi voz suplicante.

    (I) love (to) the Lord because (He) hears my voice praying.

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