Perhaps the most well-known name for God in the Old Testament is “Yahweh,” the special name that demonstrates His covenant lordship over Israel. The Lord revealed this name to Moses at the burning bush in the process of calling him to be His agent for liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, an episode recorded in today’s passage.
There were no written vowels in ancient Hebrew, but vowels were vocalized whenever the text of the Hebrew Scriptures was read aloud in ancient times. During the medieval period, Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes developed a system of written vowels, although they never added them to the word Yahweh, which appears as four letters (YHWH, in the Latin alphabet) in the Hebrew text. Interestingly, the English word Jehovah derives from a German transliteration of those four letters that goes all the way back to the 1500s when translators combined YHWH with the vowels from Adonai, the Hebrew word for “Lord.” Linguists today are unanimous that “Jehovah” is a mispronunciation and that “Yahweh” best reflects the Hebrew consonants and vowels revealed to Moses. The name Yahweh is related to the verb “to be,” as in the phrase “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). Yahweh thus means “I Am.”
That Yahweh means “I Am” tells us several important things about God’s identity. First, it shows that the Lord’s character is unchangeable. We can say of ourselves, “I was x last year, but now I am y, and next week I could be z,” but not our Creator. Yesterday He says, “I Am,” today He says, “I Am,” and tomorrow He says, “I Am.” He cannot learn any new information or become more holy. None of God’s perfections can be subtracted or added to. He can never be anything other than what He is today. There is absolutely no shadow of change for our Creator (James 1:17). Importantly, Jesus speaks of Himself in similar terms (the “I Am” sayings of John; see 8:58, for example), which reveals that He is one with the Father and worthy of worship and praise.
A vital difference between God’s essence and our own is also revealed in the name Yahweh. Human beings and the Lord both possess the attribute of “beingness” — we both exist. Yet our being is derivative, as we have not always existed. On the other hand, God is self-existent: He has always been and can never cease to be (Ps. 90:2).