(Exodus 3:13-15, 1st Samuel 12:22, Joel 2:32, Deuteronomy 32:1-4, Isaiah 45:23, Philippians 2:10-11, Psalm 117:1-1)
Names are very important.
I remember visiting my high school a couple years after I graduated and running into one of the more stern teachers I’d had. “Hi, Mr. Finch.” Warmly, my former teacher said, “Call me Scott.” I was a bit taken aback at first. We weren’t on a first name basis when I was a student. But our relationship had changed. The teacher/student dynamic had morphed into something more personal.
When God tells Moses his personal name, something similar is happening.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”Exodus 3:13-14
God begins by describing Himself. “I am who I am.” In philosophical terms, this is an assertion of ontology, or Being, capital B. So, before anything else, God is.
In Hebrew, “I am” is a verb. It is not static. It is active. It is moving. It is not passive. It is living.
As it relates to time, “I am” is an assertion of the present. God is now. He is present to every moment in history. Even after deep inquiry by our brightest minds we can barely understand the relation between space and time. But for God, space and time are tools with which he is building a platform and showcasing his multi-splendored glory. He is, he always has been, and he always will be.
Further, “I am” is an assertion of his holiness, his otherness. God alone is a referent for God. He is the sole independent agent in the universe. He is not dependent on anyone or anything.
And if those descriptions don’t speak to you then, thankfully, God is more than a philosophical declaration of immense being. God is a person.
In fact, God is a person with personal name and a personal, unique character.
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’”Exodus 3:15a
“Yahweh,” which is often translated as “LORD,” is the personal name of God, like Mark or Susan. Though “lord” can also be a word used as a title, “Yahweh” is not a title. Sure, God has many titles. But “Yahweh” is the personal name which God gave himself. Up to this point in the story of humanity, no one knew the personal name of God. This was a groundbreaking, trajectory-setting moment in history.
In case Moses was still a little fuzzy on the identity, God references a particular people’s history: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s like God was saying, “Remember these people? Remember how improbable their flourishing was? Remember how impossible their circumstances seemed yet they were taken care of? That was me: Yahweh. I revealed my character to them, and I’m revealing my name to you.” His actions with these particular people reveal his unique character, which his unique name is meant to reference.
For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.1 Samuel 12:22
And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said…Joel 2:32
It is God’s character to save. It is his character to be faithful. Samuel asserts that Yahweh will not reject his people for the sake of his great character. “Yahweh was pleased to make you his own.” What a beautiful truth. Acting in accordance with his unique character, God took pleasure in saving you, in making you his own.
This is an everlasting hope, for his name is everlasting.
This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.Exodus 3:15b
To say that his name is forever is to say that his character is forever. His character is like no other. Generation after generation, he will be faithful and good.
When this hits you in a personal way, praise flows forth. In a final address to the Israelites, Moses recounts everything God had done for them following that name-revealing encounter at the burning bush. At the end of his speech, Moses erupts in praise:
Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;Deuteronomy 32:1-4
hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
The natural response of the people whom Yahweh has made his own is praise. And after we come to know his unchanging character of faithfulness in the course of our own lives, how can we not praise?
The Hebrew word for praise is “hallel.” The word “hallelujah” is actually a phrase that combines two words: praise and a shortened word for Yahweh. It means “praise Yahweh!”
I love this word because there is specificity in it. This isn’t praise to any old god, Baal, or Marduk, or Mammon. This isn’t praise to some cosmic benevolent energy. It is praise to one God in particular: the one faithful God of heaven, Yahweh.
“Hallelujah” is also a word we can use to praise Yahweh in the flesh: Jesus.
Before me every knee will bow;Isaiah 45:23
by me every tongue will swear.
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:10-11
Paul lifts this couplet from Isaiah because he rightly recognized that Jesus was Yahweh incarnate. Even the name “Jesus” is correlated to the name “Yahweh.” Jesus is an English transliteration of the Greek “Iesoun,” which is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word “Joshua.” And Joshua is a combination of “Yah” and “salvation” or “save.” It means “Yahweh saves.” So, Jesus means “Yahweh saves.”
Jesus is the incarnate Yahweh come to save people from their sins. When we sing “Hallelujah,” we are also singing “praise Jesus!”
When we sing Hallelujah, we are acknowledging the character of Yahweh, as supremely exemplified in Jesus.
When we sing Hallelujah, we are declaring that Jesus alone is the true God, and we are his people.
When we sing Hallelujah, we are praising Jesus, the incarnate Yahweh, for saving us.
Praise the Lord, all nations!Psalm 117:1-2
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
Great is the Lord God Almighty! You are worthy of honor and praise!
Play the song “Hallelujah Amen” and praise God for his character by singing along.