Who is God in the Bible?


God is the main character of the Bible. The stories of all the men, women, children, tribes, and nations in the Bible have to do with God. All the Bible’s events, from the universe’s creation to Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, relate to God. Not surprisingly, many people are interested to know who the God of the Bible is.

In the Bible, God reveals that his name is YHWH, pronounced Yahweh, meaning “I Am.” God’s name appears over 6,000 times in the Old Testament. “Jehovah,” a Latinized version of YHWH, appears in some Bible translations. Likewise, “Lord” is used in many English translations to represent God’s name.

What is Yahweh like? How does he describe himself? Is he kind, furious, or unstable? Who did God reveal his name to in the Bible? Why and where did he do it? What does the name “I Am” mean? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Christian Bible
Is the God of the Bible patient with people? See below

What is Yahweh like?

In Exodus 34:6-7, Yahweh describes himself. Some Bible scholars teach that this is the only passage in the Bible where God describes himself. In the statement, God reveals not just his name but his identity and character. The verses answer the question, “God, are you real?” and “God, what are you like?”

In the verses, the English word “LORD” represents the Hebrew name “YHWH” (more below). God says, “The LORD [i.e., YHWH], the LORD [i.e., YHWH], a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (ESV). Therefore, the God of the Bible is:

Merciful (ESV); the NIV says, “compassionate.” This word means that God cares deeply about people. He is kind and tenderhearted toward them.

Gracious (ESV); most translations say “gracious.” This word means that God is good to people who don’t deserve his mercy or kindness.

Slow to anger (ESV); the KJV says “longsuffering.” The phrase means that God is patient with people, even when they make unrighteous choices and live in ungodly ways.

Abounding in love and faithfulness (ESV); the NLT says, “filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” The Hebrew word for “abounding” is literally “great.” God doesn’t extend regular or average quantities of love and faithfulness to people, but overflowing amounts of it.

Forgiving (ESV); translations use different words for sin, like transgression, rebellion, and wickedness. It’s in God’s character to forgive people. He doesn’t excuse or tolerate people’s sins; he forgives them.

In his explanation of this description, Exodus scholar Douglas Stuart writes, “However fickle and unreliable humans may be in their relationship to God, he is nothing of the sort but can be counted on in every situation and at all times to be completely faithful to his promises for his people.” [1]

Bible reading
What does the name “I Am” mean? See below

Who Did God Reveal His Name to and When?

Moses’ story is one of the most fascinating in the entire Bible. He led the Israelites out of slavery in the 15th century B.C., after confronting and challenging the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt (Exod. 12:31-15:21). Moses also received the 10 Commandments from God on Mount Sinai (20:1-17).

Additionally, Moses wrote and is a central figure in the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch. His narrative dominates the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He also wrote Psalm 90. Moses’ legacy in the Old Testament and his influence upon the New can’t be overstated.

God identified himself to Moses

Moses, a Hebrew, miraculously survived birth and was adopted and raised by an Egyptian woman (Exod. 1:1-2:10). After growing up, he killed an Egyptian man one day who was beating one of his fellow Hebrews.

Fearing retaliation, he fled west to the region of Midian (Exod. 2:11-25). While in Midian, Moses got married and became a shepherd. At that time, God came to him with a special assignment.

One day while Moses was tending his flock near Mount Sinai, God came to him (Exod. 3:1-3). He called Moses, commissioning him to be his instrument and rescue his people from slavery in Egypt. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (v. 10).

In response, Moses asked God, who should I say sent me to free the Israelites from slavery? (v. 13). God replied, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14, ESV).

The phrase “I am,” used twice in God’s answer, consists of four Hebrew letters that are transliterated into English as YHWH. Old Testament Hebrew didn’t contain vowels, so the alternative spelling of “Yahweh” developed later in history.

I AMWHOI AM
’eh-yeh’ă-šer’eh-yeh
אֶֽהְיֶ֖האֲשֶׁ֣ראֶֽהְיֶ֑ה

People sometimes refer to the word YHWH as the Tetragrammaton, which comes from a Greek word meaning “four letters.” Using alternative names for YHWH has always been common in an attempt to avoid misusing it. Even most modern English Bible translations avoid using YHWH and Yahweh.

Why is God’s name “I Am”?

To many Bible readers, the phrase “I am” doesn’t seem like a name akin to Abraham, Moses, or David. Why is God’s name a first-person statement? Theologian Wayne Grudem finds significance in the present tense of the phrase.

He writes, “The implication is that God’s existence and character are determined by himself alone and are not dependent on anyone or anything else. This means that God’s being has always been and will always be exactly what it is. God is not dependent upon any part of creation for his existence or his nature.” [2]

Why did Jesus say his name was “I Am”?

In a debate with Jewish leaders, Jesus Christ referred to himself as the “I am” identified in Exodus. John writes, “So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (8:57-58, ESV).

New Testament scholar Karen Jobes writes, “With this statement Jesus asserts not a simple identity with Yahweh but an equality of power and authority that is in effect through all the millennia of human history.” [3]

Readers can detect the powerful and serious nature of Jesus’ statement in the response of the Jewish leaders. In ancient Israel, stoning was the punishment for blasphemy.

God of the Bible
Why don’t Bible translations say “Yahweh”? See below

The sacredness of the name YHWH

Most English Bible translations don’t translate YHWH as “Yahweh” but use the word “LORD” instead, sometimes in all caps and other times with the “L” capitalized and the “ord” also capitalized but in a smaller font. This spelling distinguishes it from “Lord,” with a lowercase “ord,” which represents the Hebrew name Adonai.

For example, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 use the name YHWH in Hebrew, but English translations render it “LORD.” The verses read, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV). The NIV, NLT, KJV, NKJV, and NASB also read “LORD,” not YHWH.

The lesser-known Legacy Standard Bible is an example of a translation that precisely renders the Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” Another example is Young’s Literal Translation, which reads, “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”

In most English Bible translations, the verse that follows God revealing his name YHWH to Moses (Exod. 3:14) renders the same Hebrew word, “LORD.”

Exodus 3:15 reads, “God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (ESV).

References:
[1] Exodus by Douglas Stuart. New American Bible commentary. p. 716.
[2] Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. p. 191.
[3] John Through Old Testament Eyes by Karen Jobes. p. 159.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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