“We can learn about God by understanding the meaning of His name as revealed in Scripture. His name is identical with His attributes in terms of how He manifests them to us in His Word.
God does not need a proper name. His self-appointed name describes Him not as He exists within himself but as He reveals himself and relates to His creatures. Thus, by using names, God accommodates Himself to His creatures and reveals Himself to us.
God’s names function as a synonym for His character, the sum of His attributes (Ex. 20:7; Ps. 8:1). Correspondingly, to know His name is to know Him (Ex. 6:3). While they are anthropomorphic, these names do not originate with humanity, as if we were in any position to name God.
Rather, these names disclose to us God’s personal existence, His attributes, and His glorious being. Although nameless within himself, God in His revelation has many names. We have chosen to focus on just one in this chapter, the “LORD,” or Yahweh (sometimes also referred to as Jehovah or YHWH), which is used roughly five thousand times in the Old Testament.
The etymology of Yahweh has been discussed a great deal through the course of church history, with no firm consensus on all the details. Coming from the root hwy or hyh (meaning “to be, be at hand, exist, come to pass”), the name of God may be understood in light of God’s works rather than the name’s sheer etymology. To ask for God’s name is to ask for His character:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Ex. 3:13–14)
With the revelation of His “name,” we must remember that no one name can fully reveal who God is. Nevertheless, this revelation tells us a great deal about God. Yahweh reveals His nature, particularly that He is not only self-existent (“I am”) but also unchangeable (“I will be what I will be”). God’s immutability (i.e., unchangeability) carried no small consequence for the Israelites, who depended on his covenant faithfulness. This proclamation was the high point of God’s revelation up to that time in redemptive history.
In the context of Exodus, the name Yahweh points to His covenant faithfulness: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7; see also 3:7–9, 13–14; 6:1). His name also reveals His sovereignty and glory: “that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18). As the Lord, Yahweh is the everlasting, omniscient, omnipotent God:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)
His name remains synonymous with his eternal being (Isa. 41:4; 44:6). As the Glorious One, Yahweh expresses jealousy for the worship of His people and the glory of His name: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa. 42:8).
His name can strike terror in hearts. Yahweh speaks in thunder and shoots lightning across the sky (Ex. 19:16–19; 20:18). He reveals His presence by fire (Ex. 13:21) and controls the elements of the earth, such as the sea (Ex. 14:21). Yet as noted above, Yahweh deals with his people as the God of the covenant. He creates and preserves all things, but in a special way, He sustains His people according to His promises to them. Thus, the name Yahweh is peculiarly significant to God’s people because it represents his covenant-keeping faithfulness toward them.
After Christ fulfilled the work that the Father gave him to do, God bestowed on Him the divine name:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)
The name is not explicitly given, but there is good reason to assume that it refers to Yahweh. Jesus has perfectly represented the Father on earth as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). As such, He has the public authority to receive the highest blessing possible: the name above every name. What name could be higher than Yahweh and all that it means?
Not only Paul but also John uses language from Isaiah that enforces this basic theological point about Christ’s exalted status. In Isaiah we read the following claims by Yahweh:
I, the LORD, the first,
and with the last; I am he. (Isa. 41:4)
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god. (Isa. 44:6)
I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last. (Isa. 48:12)
Now look at John’s description of Jesus in Revelation:
Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. (Rev. 1:17–18)
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” (Rev. 2:8)
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 22:13)
As these passages in Revelation show, Jesus’s name speaks to His prerogatives as the immutable, eternal, and living God. The exalted Christ bears the name of Yahweh.
God names Himself to bless his people. He names Himself to instruct His people. God does not need to name Himself, but He chooses freely to condescend in order to give us knowledge of God’s being and his purposes toward us. Remarkably, while God does not need to name Himself, He does name His Son.
The God-man has the peculiar dignity of being recognized as Yahweh. In light of that truth, we can be as sure of Christ’s heart toward us as we can be of God’s heart toward the Israelites when he brought them out of Egypt.
As the exalted Messiah and High Priest interceding in the heavenly places, Jesus is trustworthy. Christ’s purposes, and thus his teachings, remain the same toward believers. He is unchangeable in his purposes. Hence, the author of Hebrews assures his readers of this aspect of Christ’s ministry: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
If God is able to bestow a name on Jesus, he is also able to bestow a name on those who remain faithful to the end like Jesus did. In Revelation 2:17, we are told that believers will receive a new name. This promise extends to all of God’s faithful servants and is not limited to the immediate recipients of John’s letter.
To receive this new name is to receive Christ’s kingly name (Rev. 19:12–16). We are named in baptism, as we enter into a new relationship with God. At the end, we shall also receive a new name that will confirm to us our exalted status.
Without this new name, we will not enter into the new heavens and the new earth.”
–Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 91-95.