The Great I AM

When I was growing up, our family would sometimes recite in unison a prayer to thank God for the meal. A prayer I recall is

“God is great; God is good;
let us thank Him for our food…”

One day while I was at home the phone rang and I answered it. I recall it was near mealtime because I heard myself say to the caller: “God is great…” Then I realized I wasn’t saying a blessing; I was answering a phone call! I don’t remember who was on the other end of the line. They must have wondered about my zealous faith. Sometimes we give verbal recognition to the greatness of God without really contemplating His awesome attributes. The essence of the Christian life is the cultivation of a loving relationship with the true and living God. As our Lord declared in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” What a privilege!

Paul prayed that the Colossians believers would keep learning of God:

“For this reason we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).

How can we grow in our knowledge of God?

One of the essential aspects of God’s revelation of Himself is the disclosure of His personal name. In biblical culture, names usually conveyed a particular meaning. In the account of the burning bush, Moses said to God,

“‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”‘” (Exodus 3:13-14).

This name is transliterated from the Hebrew as Yahweh (sometimes rendered “Jehovah”). The name is based on the verb “to be”, meaning “He is” or He will be” (see Exodus 4:12).

Consider the significance of “I AM.” This implies several truths:

  • God is personal – I (God) AM
  • God is knowable – I AM (verbal self-disclosure)
  • God is eternal I Am (Not “I was” or “will be”)
  • God is self-existent – I Am (not “I came to be”)

Have you ever wondered “Who made God?” The answer is no one. God is self-existent–the “I AM”! If this seems to be avoiding the philosophical challenge of how God could be uncreated, consider the alternatives: 1) Matter created itself out of nothing (uncaused), or 2) matter is eternal (and at a point in time past, the big bang suddenly exploded–uncaused–to produce the universe as we see it, or 3) a personal, almighty, eternal God created the universe. So the atheist requires a faith-based answer to the question of origins just as the Christian does. Which alternative is more likely?

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible … Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:3,6).

It’s interesting that Scripture assumes the evidence of the existence of God to be morally compelling:

“because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).

God is eternal–the Great I AM. “But I can’t comprehend this!” someone says. Yes, but we can apprehend (have true knowledge) about God. Should we be surprised that we cannot comprehend (completely understand) the infinite God with our tiny, finite minds? No; instead, we should revere our Maker:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

“I AM–YHWH–represents four Hebrew consonants. Three thousand years ago the name was considered too sacred to pronounce. The scribes instead pronounced “adonai”–the title for God meaning, “Lord.” They used the vowels from “adonai” when writing YHWH and eventually the precise, original pronunciation of “Yahweh” became unknown.[1] Evidently, the meaning of “Yaweh” has more importance than the sound of the word.

In the New Testament we discover that the Lord Jesus is Yahweh incarnate (in the flesh). As the apostle John declared:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14).

Many people who have not experienced meaningful love and acceptance from their parents carry a distorted view of God. How can this be corrected? Refocus your attention on God’s real character by learning more and more of Jesus Christ’s character–His identity, His nature, His words, and His actions. Paul saw the risen Christ face to face when he was converted. Later He was inspired to write: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The best way the infinite God could make Himself known to us was by clothing Himself with human nature. That’s exactly what He did! As the writer of Hebrews pointed out, Christ is the sureme revelation of Yahweh: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2, see 1:8-13).

When the apostle Philip asked Christ to show them the Father, Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?'” (John 14:8-9). Note also how Christ linked His identity to Yahweh as–the “I AM”: “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.'” (John 8:56-58). [2]

The New Testament’s Greek term for “I am” is “ego eimi.” You recognize it in words like “EGOtistical” (conceited). Ironically, our main problem is letting our “ego” crowd out “The Great I AM”–God. Self-centeredness is our usual problem; God-centeredness is our crucial answer. So Christ’s call to discipleship is, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). We will gladly embrace God as the center of our lives when we believe in His infinite love for us (1 John 3:1).

Believer, you are blessed with total acceptance by Him in Christ (Eph 1:6). You will gain a new perspective on Christian living when you grasp that you have been spiritually united to Christ Himself! No wonder “you are complete in Him!” (Col. 2:10). Yet, with this intimate relationship with God, never loose sight of His majesty.

He is not only God most nigh; He is God most high! He is great and greatly to be praised (see Psalm 96:4).

Almost 300 years ago a clergyman’s gesture defended God’s unique greatness:

“In 1715 King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He had called himself ‘the Great,’ and was the monarch who made the famous statement, ‘I am the state!’ His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, ‘Only God is great.'” [3]

Since God is so worthy, let’s continue to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

.


[1] “God, Names of” in The New Bible Dictionary, (Tyndale House, 1962).

[2] The Jewish audience knew exactly what Jesus meant; they picked up stones to execute Him for blasphemy, assuming Christ was not God, John 8:59.) The Watchtower Society has made the prominent use of “Jehovah” a cornerstone of their belief system. However, the transliteration of YHWH never occurs in the original Greek New Testament. Instead, Christ and the apostles endorsed the customary respect for the divine name by replacing it with “Lord”, “God”, or “heaven.” For example, the Kingdom of God is sometimes designated the “Kingdom of heaven”; the prodigal son sinned against “heaven” (God); and Jesus asked His critics, “the baptism of John–was it from heaven [God] or from men?” (Matt. 3:2; Luke 15:18; Mark 11:29). The translation of John 8:58: Greek- “ego eimi,” means”I (Myself) am” (the first person singular present indicative of the verb “to be”). The Watchtower Society’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses’) New World Translation renders it “I have been”; note that this is a mistranslation. Their literature defends this twisting of Scripture by calling it the “imperfect indefinite tense” (but there is no such tense in Greek)! For a further critique on this group’s doctrine, see this article by CRI:
http://www.equip.org/article/are-jehovahs-witnesses-christian-3/

[3] “Today in the Word”, April, 1989, p. 24.

(c) 2001 by John Woodward. 2nd edition Permission is granted to reproduce this article for non profit purposes if credit is given to the author and Grace Notebook. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).


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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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