Moses said to God, “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?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘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.’
In the book of Exodus we read about God’s encounter with Moses. God wants Moses to bring His laws down from Mount Sinai to the Israelites. Moses’ response is similar to what a lot of us might have said.
They’re not going to believe me!
How will I convince them you’re really God?
Who should I tell them sent me?
God responds: “I am who I am.” (Other translations are: “I am He who Is” —or—“I am who am.”)
This divine “name” is mysterious and confusing. Just as God is Mystery—Everything that is. Mysterious and hard to know, but always there just the same.
Far above anything that we could understand or say, our human brains don’t have the capacity to understand all that God is. So in some ways he remains the “hidden God.” And yet, the great paradox is that more than anything else, God wants to be known. He wants to be close to us…His beloved ones.
We see this in God’s act of revealing Himself to the people of Israel by making His “name” known to them. When you meet a stranger and want to get to know him her or, what’s the first thing you do? You give your name. It’s a sign that you want to have a relationship or a friendship with this person. To give your name is to make yourself known to others; if you can be addressed personally, then you become accessible. You can be known intimately.
God wanted to have a friendship with Moses and the people of Israel. He didn’t want to be a stranger to them. God is no longer an all-powerful, unknowable force, but someone who has a name. This idea holds true for us today. God seeks a relationship with us… a friendship… a closeness… and a daily encounter with us.
This theme of name-giving continues in the New Testament when the angel Gabriel visits Joseph after he learns Mary is with child.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When we were born, many of us were given names that had special meaning. Perhaps you were named after a grandmother, or given a name of cultural significance. In Matthew’s Gospel we hear about how Jesus got his name. And we see in this Scripture reading the ultimate gift that God has given us. In the words of St. Athanasius: “He became what we are so that He might make us what He is.” Our connection with God is bonded even more closely through Jesus Christ. And by giving His son the name “Jesus” (the original Hebrew was “Yeshua” which mean’s the Lord’s Salvation), once again God is confirming that desire to be known.
Now, sometimes a person might be given additional names of significance. My kids call me “mom.” My husband sometimes calls me “sweetie.” Alexander the Great was called so to show how great his power was. In much the same way, Jesus was given additional names to describe more about Him. In fact, in the Bible, there are over a hundred different names given to Jesus. Immanuel, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, Chief Cornerstone, Horn of Salvation, King of Kings, True Vine, Rock. Many of these are given by Jesus himself.
Why does He need so many names? Because each name helps us learn more about who Jesus is and how He works in our lives.
When you think of God…what names come to mind? What word or phrase sums up what you would call God? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.