In Exodus 3, God called Moses to go speak to Pharaoh about setting the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. Moses asked, “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.” Say to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” So, God’s name was “I AM.” This was God’s personal name, which the Israelites referred to as “Yahweh.” Read this description of Yahweh taken from John Piper's 1984 sermon, "I Am Who I Am" found on DesiringGod.org.
The most common and the most important name for God in the Old Testament is a name that in our English versions never even gets translated. Whenever you see the word LORD in all capital letters, you know that this name is behind it. In Hebrew the name had four letters — YHWH — and may have been pronounced something like Yahweh. The Jews came to regard this word with such reverence that they would never take it upon their lips, lest they inadvertently take the name in vain. So whenever they came to this name in their reading, they pronounced the word adonai which means my lord. The English versions have basically followed the same pattern. They translate the proper name Yahweh with the word LORD in all caps.
This approach is not a very satisfactory thing to do, because the English word LORD does not communicate to our ears a proper name like John or Michael or Noël. But Yahweh is God’s proper name in Hebrew. The importance of it can be seen in the sheer frequency of its use. It occurs 6,828 times in the Old Testament. That’s more than three times as often as the simple word for “God” (Elohim — 2,600; El — 238). What this fact shows is that God aims to be known not as a generic deity, but as a specific person with a name that carries his unique character and mission.
(Note: The word Jehovah originated from an attempt to pronounce the consonants YHWH with the vowels from the word adonai. In the oldest Hebrew texts there are no vowels. So it is easy to see how this would happen since whenever YHWH occurred in the text, the word adonai was pronounced by the reverent Jew.)
Now…fast forward to John 8. Jesus is talking with the Jews, and He makes an incredibly bold statement. He says, “before Abraham was, I am.” By stating that, Jesus is declaring Himself to be God…to be one with Yahweh. And this statement almost got Him killed (John 8:58-59). But seven other times (seven is the number of completeness in the Bible), Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM.” And by doing so, He is making no bones about it…He is the Great I AM! Here are the 7 “I Am” statements made by Jesus:
- I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
- I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
- I am the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7)
- I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
- I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
- I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)
- I am the Vine (John 15:5)
Each time, He is declaring Himself to be God. And He is declaring Himself to be something that we desperately need. Let me encourage you to take a 7-day challenge of reading each of these statements in their context, and discover how the Lord can be the Great I AM to you. Or even better, take a 28-day challenge and read each statement four times over the course of month. You will be strengthened to know that Jesus is God and has come to provide you everything you need!