What’s in a Name?

© Marcelo A. Tolopilo

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” rings the popular refrain from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The meaning behind those beautiful words is essentially this, the names of things are not important because they do not convey what or who they really are.

Names generally do not make or break a person, yet they are important to people. They are hopeful devices for us mortals. We like to name our children after people we admire, or bestow names on them that we hope will reflect their character, Charity, Faith, Honor, etc.

However when it comes to God, His name is hugely significant because it is an expression of His essence. For the Lord, His name is a statement of fact. It is a revelation of character, of being. With His name, God pulls back the curtain on His nature and reveals the glory of His great person to his beloved intimates (you and I), and in that name we find reason to worship Him, and we find benefit for our souls.

The name of God

In the writing of my recent book I spent a good deal of time unpacking the first paragraph of the great “Shema” of Israel, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

What truly captures our attention in the clarion cry of that first well known and beloved verse is that the God of heaven declares His name twice in the span of six words (six words in the Hebrew). In Deuteronomy 6:4, God speaks His name through His servant Moses declaring to His people Israel that He is “The LORD,” Yahweh. What exactly is in that name?

The likely translation of Yahweh is “The One who is,” “The existing One,” which points us to the mind stretching reality that God is self-existent, completely self-sufficient, eternal, and absolutely unchanging. In other words, Yahweh – the Lord – has life within Himself. He is not dependent on any of His creatures. He has always existed and He will always be as He is. That being so, God is the source of all life and sustenance. All that creation needs and enjoys has its source in the self existent One who gives generously to His creatures.

To the men of Athens, Paul proclaimed God’s self-existence with these words. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24,25).

In the name Yahweh, the Lord manifests that He is infinitely above His creation, and yet, because He has created and upholds it, we see that He reaches out in benevolent provision to His creatures. There is no one who has ever breathed a breath that he or she did not borrow from the existing One, the source of all life. Men are creatures who are dependent on God daily for life and the ability to maintain it. We need to eat and drink multiple times each day; we need to sleep for one third of our lives in order to repair and restore our aging bodies. Men have a beginning and an end. They are born, grow, weaken, and die. We change from the moment we are conceived to the day our bodies are laid in the soil to return to the dust. We are reminded every day that we are mortal, dependent, finite, and fading.

Through His name, the Lord reminded Moses and the Israelites that He was incomparable, infinitely above His creatures and their experience. Unlike man, God is self existent, eternal, immutable. And yet in that same beautiful name, Yahweh, the Lord manifested His immanence or His nearness to His people in that He was the inexhaustible supply for their every need and weakness. There was no deficit Israel could ever experience beyond God’s ability to meet. Whatever the depth of want in His people – physical or spiritual – God’s infinite resources, His indefatigable power would remain unchanged and dwarf any challenge, small or great. God’s name, “Yahweh,” preached these truths to Israel, and they proclaim the same thing to you and I.

The God who is joined to His people

The revered name Yahweh speaks primarily of God’s transcendent, incommunicable attributes.

It reminds us that God is massively great! So great in fact that our limited minds struggle to comprehend the fringes of His awesome person, and that struggle brings with it tension. Pure greatness can be daunting for finite creatures such as ourselves. To acknowledge that God is eternal and unchanging, to recognize that He is completely self-sufficient, independent of anyone, and in need of nothing, is to be cognizant of God’s aseity.

By itself, this realization seems more intimidating than comforting. Yet, the name of God is not proclaimed in a vacuum. God declares His name, Yahweh, in the context of a covenant relationship, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God.” (a phrase frequently applied to Christians throughout the NT, e.g., Acts 2:39, 1 Cor. 8:11, Gal. 1:4, Phil. 4:20, and many others). That possessive pronoun “our” changes everything, doesn’t it?

The great transcendent God joins Himself to His people. This band of desert dwellers (Israel) could claim the infinite God as their own! That my friends is every believer’s present and eternal reality. God and His people belong to one another. Often in the Old Testament, Israel is called God’s inheritance. “For the LORD’S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9). The Lord possessed His people as a treasure. Likewise, the people of God possess the Lord as their portion. This is why David the king of Israel could write, “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup,” and Asaph echoed, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:26).

Yahweh and His people are in the mutual embrace of relationship. The Lord is not a far and distant Majesty. He is the God of His people; and therefore, He and His manifold greatness is our inheritance, and like the ancient Israelites we can cry out in worship,The LORD is our God.” My friends, in the Name, the person of the LORD, we have all we will ever need or could ever desire. He belongs to us and we to Him. What is your need today? The Lord your God is your portion now and forever!

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