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.
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.”
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 who?”
“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.
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.