“God” Isn’t God’s Name (#EatThisBook Exodus 3)

by Andrew Forrest

Does God have a name? Zeus has a name; Marduk?has a name; Baal has a name. What’s the name of the God of the Hebrews?

Exodus 3 is important for (at least) two reasons. First, it’s the account of one of the most consequential callings in history: the calling of Moses to be God’s agent to free God’s people. It’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of the world hangs on Moses’s curiosity to see the bush that burns without being consumed. Without Moses’s turning aside, there’s no Exodus, no Israel, no David, no Temple, no Judaism, and no Jesus.

Second, Exodus 3 is important because we learn that God has a name. God’s name is four Hebrew letters that from a very early time pious Jews reverently refused to pronounce. In fact, when they came upon the name of God (translated in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO I AM”) they would just say the word “Lord” instead, even though “Lord” isn’t spelled like that.

English translators of the Bible preserve this ancient Jewish reluctance to say the name of God by a peculiar technique that you’ve probably seen for years and never noticed.

  • When the Hebrew says “God,” English bibles say “God”
  • When the Hebrew says “Lord,” English bibles say “Lord”
  • But, aside from here in Exodus 3 when it’s translated “I AM,” whenever the Hebrew says the special four letter name of God (called the tetragrammaton by scholars), English bibles say “LORD.” All caps indicates that it’s the special name for God that the Jews would have pronounced as “Lord.”

God isn’t an impersonal god. God is the LORD, and he introduces himself to Moses in an astoundingly gracious act of revelation.

Whole libraries have been written about Exodus 3 and the name of God, but I’ll stop there.

What else struck you about today’s passage?


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