This post originally appeared on Scripture Dig during a series on the Names of God.
There’s so much about God that I don’t understand. For instance, why He loves me and how He keeps the universe spinning along. But possibly the hardest thing to get my puny mind around is His eternal, self-sufficient existence.
There has never been a time that God was not, or a moment when He will not be. He exists because of Himself and He needs nothing outside of Himself.
God’s name “Yahweh” (also known by the Christian transliteration “Jehovah”) signifies His timeless, ever-present existence. The root word of Yahweh means “to exist,” “to be.” In fact, some scholars suggest that “I am that I am” in Exodus 3:14 would be better translated as “I am He who exists” or “I am He who is.”
The name God gave Himself
This is the name God gave when Moses asked Him:
“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13, NIV)
Since God’s name identifies his nature, when Moses requested his “name” he was asking about God’s character. Can we trust you to be with us? Can we believe that you can deliver us?
God’s answer: “Yahweh.” I am the One who exists. I have no source, yet I am the Source of everything. If nothing else was, still I would be.
God chose the name Yahweh for Himself. It is His personal name by which He related specifically to His chosen people. It is His covenant name, particularly in His relationship with the nation of Israel.
Yahweh is first found in the second chapter of Genesis. Abraham (Gen 12:8) knew God by this name. Adam probably did as well since we are told during the lifetime of his son, Seth “men began to call upon the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26).”
Yahweh is God’s most sacred name. Scripture speaks of it as “this glorious and fearful name” (Deut 28:58) or simply “the name” (Lev 24:11). The Jews would not speak it out of reverence, but generally substituted another name such as Adonai.
Because the sacred name was not spoken, precise pronunciation is uncertain. This problem is compounded by the fact that Hebrew was written without vowels until about 850 BC. YHWH or Yahweh, the personal name of God occurs more than 5,000 times in the Old Testament. In your Bible, it is typically designated by all caps: LORD.
According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the name Yahweh connotes “God’s nearness, his concern for man, and the revelation of His redemptive covenant.” Oh, there is much in a name!
What does it mean to you personally that God is “He who exists?”