So God has a name.
And just to clarify, it’s not God. It’s Yahweh.
That might sound unimportant, like it’s just semantics. Trust me, it’s not. The fact that God has a name is way more important than most of us realize. I would argue it has the potential to radically alter the way we relate to God.
I mean, Yahweh.
But first, a little backstory . . .
In ancient writings like the Bible, a name was way more than a label you used to make a dinner reservation or sign up for a spin class or file your taxes with the IRS.
Your name was your identity, your destiny, the truth hidden in the marrow of your bones. It was a one-word moniker for the truest thing about you—your inner essence. Your inner Tom-ness or Ruth-ness.
One Old Testament scholar writes, “In the world of the Hebrew Scriptures a personal name was often thought to indicate some- thing essential about the bearer’s identity, origin, birth circumstances, or the divine purpose that the bearer was intended to fulfill.”
Names are revelatory of the nature of a person.
Think of the story of Abraham. Originally, he is just called Abram. But then Yahweh makes him a promise: “I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.”
And then God renames him— from Abram
Now, look at this.
Abram means “exalted father.”
Abraham means “father of many nations.”
It’s more than a new label. It’s a new identity, a new destiny.
And it’s not just Abram/ham. Think of his son Isaac. Isaac means “laughter.” When his mom, Sarah, heard that she would have a son in her old age, it was so preposterous that she started to laugh.
So when Sarah finally gave birth to the miracle child, Abraham named him Laughter.
Or think of Isaac’s son Jacob. Jacob means “heel grabber,” a euphemism for a liar and a cheat. And his biography is exactly that—one con after another. Until an odd story where he wrestles with God and says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Then God renames him, from Jacob to Israel, which means “he struggles with God.” From then on, he’s a changed man.
Is this coming into focus for you? Getting clearer? Names were way more than labels to pick up your coffee at the end of the bar. Names were your autobiography in one word.
So when Moses is on Mount Sinai, asking to see God’s glory and instead Yahweh says, “I will proclaim my name, the Lord [Yahweh], in your presence,” it’s an incredibly weighty and significant moment. God is saying that he’ll reveal his identity to Moses. He’ll let Moses in on his inner God-ness, the deepest reality of his being.
And this climactic moment of revelation doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the apex of a long, drawn-out story that’s been gathering motion and speed ever since the opening page of the Bible.
The narrative arc of the Bible is anything but straight. It bends and zigzags and makes wrong turns, but eventually the story all leads to a dramatic climax: the coming of Jesus.
In his biography of Jesus, the New Testament writer John makes a profound statement:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It’s hard to see it in the English translation, but this language is straight out of Exodus 34.
For example, the phrase “made his dwelling among us” is liter- ally “pitched his tabernacle among us.” That’s a reference to the tabernacle that Israel put up at the base of Mount Sinai.
“Glory”? That’s a reference to the cloud at the top of Mount Sinai.
And “grace and truth” is actually an odd reading of the Hebrew phrase translated as “love and faithfulness.” (We’ll talk about why later.)
Usually people read “grace and truth” and talk about how Jesus was the perfect balance of grace and niceness and love mixed with truth and backbone and the courage to say what needed to be said.
That’s totally true.
It’s just not remotely the point that John is making.
John is ripping all this language out of Exodus—“tabernacle” and “glory” and “love and faithfulness”—as a way of retelling the Sinai story around Jesus. He’s making the point that in Jesus, we see the Creator God’s glory—his presence and beauty—like never before. In Jesus, Yahweh becomes a human being.
Later in John, we get to eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer to the Father:
“I have revealed your name to those you gave me . . . I have made your name known to them.”
Remember, God’s name is a stand-in for his character.
Eugene Peterson translates the verse this way: “I have spelled out your character in detail.”
I love it.
In Jesus, we get a new, evocative, crystal-clear glimpse of what God is actually like.
The early Christians were quick to pick up on the gravity of Jesus’ claims to be the embodiment of God. In order to become a Christian, there was a statement, a slogan, a creed that you had to say out loud before you could be baptized:
Jesus is Lord.
People would die over this statement. Literally. Christians were burned alive and thrown into the mouths of wild beasts in the arena. This phrase had a gravitas to it.
Well, “Lord” is kyrios in Greek. For one, that was the title for Caesar, which made the claim that Jesus is Lord tantamount to treason. The Roman Empire already had a kyrios.
But more importantly, for Jews, this was the Greek word that was used to translated the Hebrew word Yahweh. So in saying that Jesus is Lord, the first Christians—most of whom were Jewish— were saying that Jesus was Yahweh in flesh and blood.
That’s a bold claim to make about an itinerant peasant teacher.
But we see this kind of blatant, provocative language all over the writings of the New Testament. The first Christians were adamant that Jesus is the bedrock for everything we believe to be true about God.
For years, I thought of Yahweh in the Old Testament as parallel with the Father in the New. Like Jesus is a newcomer in the story. That’s wrong, and dangerous. It leads to a twisted caricature, as if the Father is the grumpy old warmonger in the Old Testament, and Jesus is the son who went off to Berkeley and came home with
all sorts of radical ideas about grace and love and tolerance and basically said, “Come on, Dad, let’s not kill everybody. How about I die for them instead?”
This is a gross misreading of the story the Scriptures tell.
Jesus is the long-awaited human coming of Yahweh, the God on top of Sinai.