The God “Who IS”

In the Hebrew scriptures, the divine name Yahweh literally means “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). He is the God “who is.” Yahweh was the prized name for God among the Israelites. Known as the tetragrammaton, the pronunciation of this four-letter term in Hebrew, which never appears with its own vowels, is debated. It is normally transliterated as YHWH (Yahweh) or JHVH (Jehovah). Although it is the most common name for God in scripture (occurring some 6,828 times), it was increasingly regarded as too sacred to be spoken aloud and thus was replaced by the Hebrew Adonai (“My Lord”) for use in the synagogue.

The meaning of the name Yahweh implies the attribute of self-existence—as the God “who is,” the life and purposes of Yahweh are not conditioned on any other being in the universe; indeed, he created everyone and everything. This attribute is sometimes called his sufficiency, independence, or “aseity” (from the Latin phrase a se, meaning “from himself”). God lacks nothing. He is in no way dependent on creation, including humanity (the apex of the created order). Not only is God not dependent on anything or anyone, but he is completely capable and strong to meet the needs of every created thing and creature.

God’s self-existence means he is responsible for creating and sustaining everything and everyone. All that exists, animate and inanimate, comes from the God “who is.” He is the source of all that is seen and unseen. His existence cannot be contained. God is so teeming with existence that his being overflows, giving way to other things and creatures. God abounds as the “the fountain of life” brimming over (Ps. 36:9)—a perpetual storehouse of new waters with which to create, nourish, and restore. In this way, God’s self-existence is the ground of his creative power. As we find in the opening chapter of scripture, at God’s command, the land, sea, sun, moon, and stars were created. He spoke and the earth brought forth living creatures (Gen. 1:6-25). The Genesis creation account climaxes with God speaking humanity into existence—crafted from his very likeness (1:26–27). Because God exists, humans have life, bearing the divine image.

God’s self-existence also means he is the sustainer of creation. After the flood waters subsided, God’s promise to Noah was his continual protection over and provision for the earth: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). God is committed to upholding each natural process responsible for nourishing and prolonging creation. He is likened to the “sun” (Ps. 84:11), the center of our solar system—created for plant growth, light, warmth, and energy. God, the author of light, is also the “light of the world” who illumines the pathway of salvation (John 8:12; Ps. 27:1).

Crepuscular Ray Sunset – Telstra Tower, Canberra (Wikimedia Commons)

God’s sustaining prowess extends to redemption in his commitment to preserving a people after his own name. The sufficiency of God is embodied in the biblical name Jehovah Jireh (“the LORD will provide”). On the mountain in Moriah, when God supplied the sacrifice he demanded from Abraham—the ram instead of his son—Abraham named the site of the altar Jehovah Jireh. Abraham wanted the legacy of God’s faithfulness to endure so others might find the same confidence—“on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Gen. 22:14). In Exodus 3, God assures Moses that he would deliver his people, the Israelites, from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors and lead them to the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey” (v. 8). Wishing to share this news with the Israelites and instill in them the confidence of the Lord’s promise, Moses asked God whom he should say was making such an extraordinary claim. God’s reply:

“I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (vv. 14-15).

He who would save the Israelites was the one who had always looked after them—reaching back to their ancestors many generations earlier. The one and only “I am”—the God “who is” (and had “always been”) their God, would deliver and establish them in the land of abundance.

As the Hebrews plodded the path to the Promised Land, God looked after them, leading them through the barren land of the Sinai wilderness:

The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place (Deut. 1:30-31).

For forty years, Yahweh ushered the Israelites through unfamiliar desert lands, revealing himself strong on their behalf amid hunger, dehydration, and the many quarrels threatening to divide them. He steered his people’s course and, in due time, brought them into the Promised Land—Canaan (encompassing modern-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, northwestern Jordan, and some western areas of Syria). God’s self-existence thus includes not only his sufficiency in creating and sustaining creation but in preserving a people after his own name. Yahweh is the one from whom all things derive and in whom all things and every purpose hold together.

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. He is the author of the books "Embracing Our Roots: Rediscovering the Value of Faith, Family, and Tradition," "Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity" (Routledge Studies in Religion series), and "Grassroots Pentecostalism in Brazil and the United States: Migrations, Missions, and Mobility" (Palgrave Macmillan). He is also a contributing writer for Paul enjoys spending quality time with his family on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, and doing work around the yard.

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