God As He Wants You to Know Him

Throughout every generation people have wondered who God is and what He is like. Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this topic! Scripture contains many descriptive names for God that tell us about His character—some given to Him by other people but others that God gave Himself.

How God Describes Himself

One of the most explicit passages where God describes Himself is in Exodus 34. After the Lord freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, He took them into the Sinai desert and there began to reveal to them who He was. They had seen His miracles but now needed to get to know Him better. So He describes Himself through Moses:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7 NIV)

This was the second time Moses had ascended Mount Sinai to meet with God to receive the Ten Commandments. When Moses came down the mountain the first time with the two stone tablets, he found Israel worshiping a golden calf—a “great sin” (Exodus 32:31). Moses traversed up Mount Sinai again to approach the Lord to make atonement for Israel’s sin. Perhaps this is why God chose to, at this point, reveal His forgiving character.

Some people claim the God of the Old Testament is different from the loving, forgiving God of the New Testament who is described as a forgiving God of love (1 John 4:16; Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32). But here in Exodus 34:6–7, the God of the Old Testament chooses to describe Himself not only as “abounding in love and faithfulness” (which means extending more love and faithfulness than we need) but also compassionate and gracious. He also says He is “slow to anger,” what the New Testament would call “longsuffering” (Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 5:22). He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin and yet is a righteous judge who punishes the guilty.

God’s character in the Old Testament aligns perfectly with His character in the New. The God of Israel—the God of the Old Testament demonstrated in the New Testament through Jesus—is the same God, and His character has never changed.

The Premier Name of God

In ancient times, a person’s name was considered a prophetic declaration of their character or destiny. The same is true of God’s name. Before God had described His character to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34, He had revealed His name in Exodus 3 when Moses had asked the Lord how He should answer the children of Israel when they asked him, “Who sent you?” God responded by sharing with Moses His name.

There are many names for God in the Bible (each describes a particular aspect of His character or a reminder of His great acts), but the name God shared with Moses in Exodus 3 is different. It’s His premier name—the name above all the other names for God in the Bible. It encompasses all of who He is, His entire “character.”

Unfortunately, the pronunciation of God’s name was lost in the Babylonian exile (586 BC). Because no one knows how to pronounce God’s name exactly—and because God instructs His people in the Ten Commandments against taking His name in vain—a religious Jew will not attempt to speak it aloud out of reverence for Him. Instead, they refer to God as “the Name” or Ha Shem.

In Hebrew, four letters make up this name: Yod (Y), Hey (H), Vav (V), Hey (H), or YHVH. In academic circles, YHVH is known as the “tetragrammaton.” In the Bible, the tetragrammaton often appears as Lord (in all caps); it’s not a translation of YHVH but rather replaces the four Hebrew letters.

God tells Moses His name in Exodus 3:14 (NIV):

I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”

“I AM WHO I AM,” a translation of YHVH, does not just refer to the present tense—that God is who He is. Instead, it’s more of an ongoing tense: God always will be who He is. Therefore, another Bible version translates this phrase as, “I will be who I will be.”

Still another translation that goes back to the time of Christ offers a slightly different tense that is not just present and future but also past. We see this reflected in the words of Jesus in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Because “Alpha and Omega” means “from eternity to eternity,” some translators believe YHVH refers to God’s past, present, and future: I AM the one who was, who is, and who will be.

This is the eternal God, who has no beginning and no end.

El Shaddai, “Almighty God”

It is interesting that though God revealed His premier name to Moses, He had previously introduced Himself to Abraham, referring to Himself with another descriptive name:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1–2 NKJV, emphasis added)

The words “Almighty God” in Hebrew are El Shaddai. God wanted Abraham to know He was the Almighty God and fully capable of fulfilling His promises. When speaking to their sons about God, El Shaddai is the name that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob used.

When God revealed His name to Moses, He explained that He is the El Shaddai who had spoken to Abraham several hundreds of years earlier:

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai) but by My name theLord (YHVH) I did not make myself fully known to them. (Exodus 6:2–3, emphasis added)

The eternal God with no beginning or end had only revealed Himself as El Shaddai to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—He did not make Himself fully known to them. The New Testament also connects these two names—in Revelation 1:8, God describes Himself as the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

We don’t have to wonder who God is and what He is like—our loving God has revealed not only His character and essence throughout the Bible but His very name. The more we sift through His Word and seek to learn about Him, the more we will come to know Him as our Almighty God who is compassionate, gracious, and forgiving but also as YHVH—who has no beginning and no end. This is the incredible God we serve!

Shabbat Shalom 25: God as He wants You to Know Him

Who is God? What is He like? These are the key universal questions of every generation. Thankfully, the Bible is full of descriptive names of God that help us answer these questions. We also have an amazing verse in which God describes Himself. If you have questions about God’s nature or whether the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New, make a note of this one verse found in Exodus.


Shabbat Shalom 26: The Name God Gave Himself

In ancient times a person’s name was considered a prophetic description of their character or destiny. So when God named Himself, it was a definitive description of who He is. When studying God’s character, we must start with the name He gave Himself—the name of the eternal God who was, who is, and who is to come.


Shabbat Shalom 27: The Almighty God

In ancient times a person’s name was considered a prophetic description of their character or destiny. So when God named Himself, it was a definitive description of who He is. When studying God’s character, we must start with the name He gave Himself—the name of the eternal God who was, who is, and who is to come.

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