Faithlife
Faithlife

God's Name is Revealed

Autumn 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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"I am who I am" is a standard translation for the biblical text in Exodus 3:14. It doesn't cover all the possibilities though. It also doesn't reflect on the covenantual nature of God's relationship with God's people -- "I am" isn't part of a covenant -- a covenant is promise based -- hence future based. "I will be" might be a better translation -- or maybe both "I am" and "I will be" are necessary.

Notes & Transcripts | Handout

God appears

It isn’t often that God appears. Actually the whole idea of God appearing is pretty scary — not just for us today, but for Moses too. He hides his face because he’s afraid that he’ll die if he sees God’s face
I wonder if that’s where we get the notion that people who die go to see God.
However this is an extraordinary moment in the history of God’s people. The Israelites are crying out for help.
Exodus 1:8–11 NRSV
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.
Exodus 1:13–14 NRSV
The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
They’re captive in Egypt, being treated harshly, and want some relief.
They’re captive in Egypt, being treated harshly, and want some relief. So they cry out to God to do something for them.
They’re captive in Egypt, being treated harshly, and want some relief.
They’re captive in Egypt, being treated harshly, and want some relief.
So God decides to pick Moses as their new leader, and talk to him about what needs to be done to set the Israelites free. Understandably Moses is a little uncertain about being the new leader and wants to know some way to convince the Israelites that God has spoken to him. God says for Moses to tell them God’s name — for if we’ve spoken to someone we should know their name.

I AM WHO I AM

This one of the great translations in the bible. We see products in religious bookstores emblazoned with these words. They are to bring comfort to us in knowing and being able to proclaim that we know God well enough to know God’s name.
The problem is … what does it mean?
Name all have meanings. Colin, means “Dove”. Cameron, means “Crooked nose.” So, I’m a dove with a crooked nose. Maybe I’m called to be a sign of peace, but I might get into a scrap or two while I’m trying to achieve that peace — who knows.
“I am who I am” is a pretty obscure name. So, here’s the Hebrew.

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה

That probably doesn’t help you all that much. There are some things you should know about Biblical Hebrew though that can help. Hebrew is read from the right to the left. The squiggles — the shapes — they’re the consonants. The dots are the vowels. The vowels weren’t originally in the scriptures. So while we’ve got actually a fairly good idea on what an original text might look like, we don’t have certainty like we would assume today.
So let’s look at the individual words in this phrase. The first word is: אֶהְיֶה
היה
Hebrew words are grouped by “roots” when we study them. It’s basically a way of grouping words that are all based together. Group, grouping, grouped, groups are all different words in English, and they all have the same root. The same is true for this word we’re studying.
ROOT | NRSV היה hyh
היה
היה (hyh)
hyh
to come to pass, occur, happen; to be, become, have (178 times in Exodus)
178
177 times: היה hyh
היה (hyh)
hyh
to come to pass, occur, happen; to be, become, have
1 time: אֶהְיֶה ʾěh·yě(h)
אֶהְיֶה
ʾěh·yě(h)
"I Am", "I Will Be"
1
ROOT | NRSV אֲשֶׁר ʾǎšěr
אֲשֶׁר
ʾǎšěr
which, that, so that, if (262 times in Exodus)
216 times: אֲשֶׁר ʾǎšěr
אֲשֶׁר
ʾǎšěr
which, that, so that, if
Look at all the possibilities for translations in this simple word. Not just “Who”, but “That”, “Which”, “Where”, “What” … and more.
כַּאֲשֶׁר
kǎ·ʾǎšěr
as, according as; the more; when, after, as though
46
בַּאֲשֶׁר
bǎ·ʾǎšěr
because
0
אשׁר 1
ʾšr
to stride, lead; to be led on
262
אֲשֶׁר
ʾǎšěr
which, that, so that, if
216
כַּאֲשֶׁר
kǎ·ʾǎšěr
as, according as; the more; when, after, as though
46
אשׁר 1
ʾšr
to stride, lead; to be led on
0
אֲתָרִים
ʾǎṯā·rîm
Atharim
0
בַּאֲשֶׁר
bǎ·ʾǎšěr
because
0
So this great phrase of I AM WHO I AM could mean something completely different.
_I AM_ _WHO_ _I AM_
++ _I WILL BE_ _WHAT_ _I AM_
++ _I WILL BE_ _WHAT_ _I WILL BE_
++ _I WILL BE_ _WHERE_ _I WILL BE_
This last one is my personal favourite as a translation. Why? Well, first of all, God is a god of covenant — a god of promise if you will. “I am” is a matter of fact, believing in “I will be” takes more faith — faith that the promise, the covenant will be true.
The second part that I like is the “where”. At first, God was distant — in the heavens. Then God walked with Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. God literally came to them. Then God came to Noah. Then God comes to Abraham, and directs him to go to a new land. We just read the story of the binding of Isaac a couple of weeks ago — the potential sacrifice was to take place in a very specific spot. Also, Jacob’s dream identified a specific place where God was. Joseph travels to Egypt, and his brothers and father eventually join him.
In many ways, you need an atlas, or a globe, or now Google Maps to really understand the book of Genesis. Places are incredibly important to the stories. God is shown to be all over the place while establishing God’s covenant with what will become the nation of Israel.
The “where” becomes an important part of the “what” that happens.

I will be where I will be

There’s value in the confidence of being able to claim that God “is” — that is using the “I am” statements. I find for my own life, I need the “I will be” even more. I know that God is with me — I’m just not sure that God will be with me when I encounter difficulty. I know that God is everywhere — I’m just not sure God will be able to reach me when I stray too far from God. In short, I need to be reminded that God will fulfill God’s promise — that’s what gets me through the difficult times in life.

God’s name

Ultimately, I guess we still don’t really know God’s name — just like we don’t really know all there is to know about God. Maybe the best thing to say is we know that God is, and God will be forever our God.
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