There were all sorts of “gods” in ancient Middle Eastern religions when the Creator God revealed himself to his chosen people Israel. God gave them a name by which they could know him personally and understand his uniqueness. He revealed it to Moses, who was to pass that name on to the  people                                                                                                     

Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors 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.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘YAHWEH,* the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations. (Exodus 3:13-15) 

As the Israelites settled in their promised land and the worship of YAHWEH became their religion, writings about this faith and calling developed and emerged into what became the Old Testament of our Bible. God’s name, YAHWEH, is mentioned 5,410 times, which is more than any other noun. Apparently, YAHWEH wanted to be known as YAHWEH. And yet, ironically, it later became taboo to speak that name. This seems to have happened during the time of Israel’s return from their Babylonian Exile and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the fifth century BC– more than 800 years after Moses received the name YAHWEH by divine revelation. The name that God had given as his personal name for his Covenant relationship with them came to be treated as too holy to be spoken out loud. What originally emphasized the intimacy of their connection with him now symbolized its impersonality, his distance. 

When portions of the Old Testament were read aloud in Temple worship or in study, rabbis disciplined themselves to replace YAHWEH with the Hebrew word for Lord. During the next few decades, these Scriptures were translated into Greek and into Latin, and in each of these languages the word for Lord was used instead of YAHWEH. Early English translations in the fourteen century began a practice that has been followed since, using Lord for Adonai, the Hebrew word that actually means Lord, but translating YAHWEH by an all-caps version -– LORD. That gives us the chance to read YAHWEH every time we see LORD, though we seldom do. 

Remember, God’s name YAHWEH comes from his declaration to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM!” 

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The Apostle John heard something in Jesus’ teaching that others seem to have missed: the fact that he repeatedly began statements about himself with the formula “I AM.” John understood the origin of that phrase in God’s Old Testament self-revelation:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58; see also vs. 24)

He heard Jesus say “I AM,” and he thought “YAHWEH.” So did the crowd around him; they picked up rocks to stone him for blasphemy (vs. 59). 

Throughout his Gospel, John shares several specific I AMs about Jesus that help us see YAHWEH in and through him. Here is a summary chart of these I AM passages in John’s Gospel.

These are the focus of the Sunday Morning sermons Pastor Connie and I will be preaching during Lent (now through Easter). We hope they will be lenses through which you can better appreciate who Jesus is and why the Church honors him as the I-AM SON of the I-AM FATHER, YAHWEH himself! 

Jesus came to make YAHWEH pronounceable once again!         

 – – Pastor George Van Alstine 

 * YAHWEH is the third person of the verb which translates in English as I AM, so YAHWEH literally means “HE IS.”