What’s in a Name?

Exodus 3

1One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he went deep into the wilderness near Sinai, the mountain of God. 2Suddenly, the angel of the LORD appeared to him as a blazing fire in a bush. Moses was amazed because the bush was engulfed in flames, but it didn’t burn up. 3“Amazing!” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go over to see this.”

4When the LORD saw that he had caught Moses’ attention, God called to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

5“Do not come any closer,” God told him. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” 6Then he said, “I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he hid his face in his hands because he was afraid to look at God.

7Then the LORD told him, “You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites live. 9The cries of the people of Israel have reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians have oppressed them with heavy tasks. 10Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

11“But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12Then God told him, “I will be with you. And this will serve as proof that I have sent you: When you have brought the Israelites out of Egypt, you will return here to worship God at this very mountain.”

13But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they won’t believe me. They will ask, ‘Which god are you talking about? What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14God replied, “I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS. Just tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15God also said, “Tell them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This will be my name forever; it has always been my name, and it will be used throughout all generations.

16“Now go and call together all the leaders of Israel. Tell them, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—appeared to me in a burning bush. He said, “You can be sure that I am watching over you and have seen what is happening to you in Egypt. 17I promise to rescue you from the oppression of the Egyptians. I will lead you to the land now occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (Exodus 3:1-17, NLT)

The Daily DAVEotional

I’m not sure that it’s as much of a thing in our modern culture but in ancient times, a person’s name often said something about how they were born or the aspirations the parents had for their child.

For example, Jacob was born grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau, who was born first. The name Jacob means “grasps the heel”, but figuratively can mean “he deceives”.

Some time later, Jacob deceives his father Isaac into thinking he is Esau and he secures the blessing that normally was reserved for the oldest child, his brother Esau. When Esau learns that his blessing has gone to his brother, his response is “No wonder his name is Jacob, for he has deceived me twice, first taking my birthright and now stealing my blessing.”

Another example is Benjamin, whose mother Rachel died giving birth to him. In her last breaths before dying, she named the child Ben-Oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” However, Jacob called his son Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.”

So you see, names in the Old Testament often had meanings beyond just what was most popular in that year’s baby name book.

In this chapter, we are many years beyond the life-span of Jacob and his son Benjamin. While Jacob and his family were warmly welcomed in Egypt at first, thanks to Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh, over time the Israelites became so numerous that they became a threat to the king, who enslaved them as a means of controlling them and ensuring they would not be able to rise up  against him.

Moses, a Jew who grew up in Pharaoh’s household but who was wanted for murder, escaped to Midian, where he has been living for 40 years. One day he sees a strange occurrence, a bush that is burning but not being consumed.

He goes to take a look and finds out that it is God in the bush. God tells Moses that He has seen the suffering of His people and He’s commissioning Moses to go and rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh’s grip.

Moses really doesn’t want to go and he comes up with excuse after excuse as to why God shouldn’t send him. One of his excuses is centered around God’s name. “Look”, Moses says. “They’re going to ask me who sent me. What am I supposed to say? If I tell them the God of their ancestors sent me, they might ask ‘Which one? What is His name?'”

God is patient with Moses, addressing every one of his excuses. God’s response to Moses’ question about His name is “I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS. Just tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God’s response is significant because it tells us something about His nature.

The phrase “I AM” is based on the verb “to be”. God is saying, “I’m the one who is.” Essentially, God is referring to Himself as the eternally self-existent one.

This is important because in this descriptive name of Himself, God is setting Himself apart from and above all other gods. It’s important to note that people in the Ancient Near East (ANE) were conditioned to believe that there were many gods who oversaw regions. Hence, they might think Moses was referring to some regional deity. In response to their question about which regional god sent Moses, God’s answer is to tell them “the eternally self-existent one” has sent you.

In our culture today, we sometimes give people nicknames, based on who they are or how we perceive them. In this chapter though, we see God giving Himself a name that describes himself as eternal and self-existent, meaning that he is not created and therefore is above all other created things.


Did you have a nickname growing up? If so, what was your nickname and why were you given that name? If you didn’t have a nickname, think of someone you knew who did. What was their nickname and what was the reason they were called by that name?

What is the reason your parents gave you your name? If you were named after a relative, what was it about that person that motivated your parents to give you their name?

What are the implications for you in knowing that God calls Himself “I AM – the eternally self-existent one”? What other names do you find for God revealed in Scripture and what do they tell you about God’s nature?


Photo by Guido Jansen on Unsplash

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