2 And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD.
3 “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.”
We all remember (at least vaguely) that famous quote from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
The Bard of Avon was trying to express that love doesn’t care about names and families but about hearts and souls. On one level, Mr. Shakespeare was right: when we are called to love our neighbors, there certainly shouldn’t be any bias, and when others give and share with us, we should realize that love so given is still very sweet regardless of the name of the one who gives it. But what about the Bible? What’s in a name in the Bible?
In today’s verses from the book of Exodus, the Lord God is responding to Moses’ complaint that the Lord has not yet freed the Israelites from slavery. God here points out something very important: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not known the name of the Lord their God–“YHWH” as it is written in Hebrew, transliterated sometimes as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” Go ahead and take a look at their stories in the book of Genesis, and you’ll see that God didn’t reveal His name to them, nor did they ask for it. Only Moses thinks to ask who this God is who is sending him to lead the Israelites out of slavery, and God tells Moses “I AM THAT I AM.” (Exodus 3:14) The name we see as “LORD” or “Jehovah” in our Bibles is “YHWH,” and the closest we can come to a translation of that Hebrew name is “Self-Existent”–i.e. He is the one who simply exists, hence, “I AM.”
“I AM” is the only name by which God the Father is known to us, and it is all we need to know. He exists, has always existed, and always will exist. In all ages and times, He simply will be, and thus the name by which we know Him is entirely appropriate: I AM.
But Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know that name. Why not? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never needed to know that name because they had never needed to be redeemed, they had never NEEDED to know. For that matter, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never had to wonder who their God was. They just accepted Him as He was, knew that He was their God and their Lord, and followed Him obediently. By faith they did as the Lord directed, and by faith they did what was right before the Lord.
The Israelites needed to know the name of their God so that they understood who it was who redeemed them from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land, and so they could return to Him. The children of Israel had been in bondage a long time, and they no longer knew their God, no longer walked in righteousness before Him. Therefore, burdened as they were by their toil and pain, when Moses told the Israelites the name of their God and told them of His coming salvation, they still did not heed Moses nor come back to the Lord.
4 “I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers.
5 “And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.
6 “Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
7 “‘I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
8 “‘And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.'”
9 So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.
God could have freed the Israelites without ever telling them a thing about Himself, without ever involving Moses, without ever mentioning His name. But He chose to tell them His name, and He chose to work through a man of great faith, and He chose to appear before the people of Israel in cloud and fire so that they would KNOW HIM.
God wants to be known by us. He wants us to know who He is and what He does. He wants us to know His name and His intentions, and He wants us to know that our salvation comes only through Him. He wants us to be His people, and He wants us to know He is our God. He desires this relationship between Him and our community of believers. As we all must realize, the Lord can and often does save individual believers from their bondages to sin and death, but His desire is to be known among the community of the saved as I AM, as God Almighty, as God Who Provides, as God Who Heals, as God Who Listens, as Savior.
“Savior”: that is a name that comes to us long after Moses. It is a new name, one that encompasses all the other names, and it is the name above all names. That name “Savior” is the name ιησου–“Iesou,” from the Hebrew “Yehoshua,” which means literally “YHWH Saved.” Today, we write that name as “Jesus.” Yes, the name of Jesus contains the name of the Lord our God.
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
We must know that name “Jesus,” and know that He is the Christ, the Anointed One sent by God to take away the sins of the world. We are to know that name “Jesus” and know that it is only through this Son that we can return to the Father. This name “Jesus” was a name not known by Abraham nor Moses nor David nor the prophets, but it is a name which has now been revealed to us. And by that name, by the blood of the Man who bears that name, by the Spirit of the Man who bears our sin and guilt, by the gospel of this Jesus we are saved. This Man Jesus, this only Son of God, this One called Prince of peace, Mighty, Counselor, Lamb of God, this One called Messiah and Christ–it is by HIS name and NO OTHER that we are saved.
THAT is what is in a name. Salvation might be a sweet gift no matter where it came from, but we would not know salvation if not for Jesus, and this salvation is far sweeter knowing that it comes from Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Before Jesus came to us, we did not know His name nor the power of His name, but now, having been saved from slavery and sin and death, we know that name, know this Jesus whom many have ignored or forsaken, know this Christ whose death and resurrection are the firstfruits of the salvation of God. Our lives now redeemed are better for knowing this Lord, and no rose nor any other gift could be greater or more beautiful than this blessed Savior named Jesus who has brought us back to the God we know as the great I AM.
Lord God Almighty, You alone have the power to save us from our own Egypt, and save us You have! By the blessed name of Jesus we know we have been redeemed and set apart to be Your special people, to be the apple of Your eye and the firstfruits of Your love. Let Jesus truly be the name above all names in our lives, and may we always live in this salvation in which we stand, living up to the name of Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of all praise and honor and glory. Amen.