1, 2. (a) What questions would you like to ask God? (b) What did Moses ask God?
CAN you imagine having a conversation with God? The very thought inspires awe—the Sovereign of the universe speaking to you! You hesitate at first, but then you manage to reply. He listens, he responds, and he even makes you feel free to ask any question you want. Now, what question would you ask?
2 Long ago, there was a man who was in just such a position. His name was Moses. The question he chose to ask God, though, might surprise you. He did not ask about himself, his future, or even the plight of mankind. Rather, he asked God’s name. You might find that odd, for Moses already knew God’s personal name. His question, then, must have had deeper meaning. In fact, it was the most significant question Moses could have asked. The answer touches us all. It can help you take a vital step in drawing close to God. How so? Let us take a look at that remarkable conversation.
3, 4. What events led up to Moses’ conversation with God, and what was the gist of that interchange?
3 Moses was 80 years old. He had spent four decades exiled from his people, the Israelites, who were slaves in Egypt. One day, while tending his father-in-law’s flocks, he saw a strange phenomenon. A thornbush was on fire, but it was not being consumed. It just kept burning, shining like a beacon on the mountainside. Moses approached to inspect. How startled he must have been when a voice spoke to him from the midst of the fire! By means of an angelic spokesman, God and Moses then conversed at length. And, as you may know, God there commissioned a hesitant Moses to leave his peaceful life and return to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from slavery.—Exodus 3:1-12.
4 Now, Moses could have asked God any question whatsoever. Note, though, the question he chose to ask: “Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you,’ and they do say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?”—Exodus 3:13.
5, 6. (a) Moses’ question teaches us what simple, vital truth? (b) What reprehensible thing has been done with God’s personal name? (c) Why is it so significant that God has revealed his name to mankind?
5 That question teaches us first of all that God has a name. We must not take this simple truth for granted. Yet, many do. God’s personal name has been removed from countless Bible translations and replaced with titles, such as “Lord” and “God.” This is one of the saddest and most reprehensible things that has been done in the name of religion. After all, what is the first thing you do when you meet someone? Do you not ask his name? It is similar with getting to know God. He is not a nameless, distant entity, beyond knowing or understanding. Although invisible, he is a person, and he has a name—Jehovah.
6 Furthermore, when God reveals his personal name, something great and thrilling is in the offing. He is inviting us to come to know him. He wants us to make the best choice we can make in life—to draw close to him. But Jehovah has done more than tell us his name. He has also taught us about the person it represents.
The Meaning of God’s Name
7. (a) What is God’s personal name understood to mean? (b) What did Moses really want to know when he asked God His name?
7 Jehovah chose his own name, one rich in meaning. “Jehovah” is understood to mean “He Causes to Become.” He is unique in all the universe, for he brought all things into existence, and he causes all his purposes to be fulfilled. That is an awe-inspiring thought. But is there another facet to the meaning of God’s name? Moses evidently wanted to learn more. You see, he knew that Jehovah is the Creator, and he knew God’s name. The divine name was not new. People had been using it for centuries. Really, in asking God’s name, Moses was asking about the person represented by the name. In effect, he was saying: ‘What can I tell your people Israel about you that will build their faith in you, that will convince them that you really will deliver them?’
8, 9. (a) How did Jehovah answer Moses’ question, and what is wrong with the way His response is often translated? (b) What is the meaning of the statement “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be”?
8 In response Jehovah revealed a thrilling aspect of his personality, something that is related to the meaning of his name. He said to Moses: “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be.” (Exodus 3:14) Many Bible translations here read: “I am that I am.” But careful renderings show that God was not merely affirming his own existence. Rather, Jehovah was teaching Moses—and by extension all of us—that He would “prove to be,” or choose to become, whatever was needed in order to fulfill His promises. J. B. Rotherham’s translation pointedly renders this verse: “I Will Become whatsoever I please.” One authority on Biblical Hebrew explains the phrase this way: “Whatever the situation or need . . . , God will ‘become’ the solution to that need.”
9 What did that mean to the Israelites? No matter what obstacle loomed before them, no matter how difficult the predicament in which they might find themselves, Jehovah would become whatever was needed in order to deliver them from slavery and bring them into the Promised Land. Surely that name inspired confidence in God. It can do the same for us today. (Psalm 9:10) Why?
10, 11. How does Jehovah’s name invite us to think of him as the most versatile and the best Father imaginable? Illustrate.
10 To illustrate: Parents know how versatile and adaptable they must be in caring for their children. In the course of a single day, a parent may be called upon to act as a nurse, a cook, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a judge, and much more. Many feel overwhelmed by the wide range of roles they are expected to fill. They remark upon the absolute faith put in them by their little ones, who never doubt that Daddy or Mommy can make the hurt better, settle all disputes, fix any broken toy, and answer whatever question pops into their endlessly inquisitive minds. Some parents are humbled and occasionally frustrated by their own limitations. They feel woefully inadequate to fill many of these roles.
11 Jehovah too is a loving parent. Yet, within the framework of his own perfect standards, there is nothing he cannot become in order to care for his earthly children in the best possible way. So his name, Jehovah, invites us to think of him as the best Father imaginable. (James 1:17) Moses and all other faithful Israelites soon learned that Jehovah is true to his name. They watched in awe as he caused himself to become an unbeatable Military Commander, the Master of all natural elements, a peerless Lawgiver, Judge, Architect, Provider of food and water, Preserver of clothing and footgear—and more.
12. How did Pharaoh’s attitude toward Jehovah differ from that of Moses?
12 So God has made his personal name known, he has revealed thrilling things about the person represented by that name, and he has even demonstrated that what he says about himself is true. Unquestionably, God wants us to know him. How do we respond? Moses wanted to know God. That intense desire shaped Moses’ life course and led him to draw very close to his heavenly Father. (Numbers 12:6-8; Hebrews 11:27) Sadly, few of Moses’ contemporaries had the same desire. When Moses mentioned Jehovah by name to Pharaoh, that haughty Egyptian monarch retorted: “Who is Jehovah?” (Exodus 5:2) Pharaoh did not want to learn more about Jehovah. Rather, he cynically dismissed the God of Israel as being unimportant or irrelevant. That outlook is all too common today. It blinds people to one of the most important of all truths—Jehovah is the Sovereign Lord.
The Sovereign Lord Jehovah
13, 14. (a) Why is Jehovah given many titles in the Bible, and what are some of them? (See the box “Some of Jehovah’s Titles.”) (b) Why is Jehovah uniquely qualified to be called the “Sovereign Lord”?
13 Jehovah is so versatile, so adaptable, that he rightly bears a wide array of titles in Scripture. These do not compete with his personal name; rather, they teach us more about what his name represents. For example, he is called the “Sovereign Lord Jehovah.” (2 Samuel 7:22) That lofty title, which occurs hundreds of times in the Bible, tells us Jehovah’s position. He alone has the right to be Ruler of all the universe. Consider why.
14 Jehovah is unique as the Creator. Revelation 4:11 says: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.” These majestic words could apply to no other being. Everything in the universe owes its existence to Jehovah! Without question, Jehovah is worthy of the honor, power, and glory that come with being the Sovereign Lord and Creator of all things.
15. Why is Jehovah called “King of eternity”?
15 Another title applied exclusively to Jehovah is “King of eternity.” (1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 15:3) What does this mean? It is difficult for our limited minds to comprehend, but Jehovah is eternal in both directions—past and future. Psalm 90:2 says: “Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.” So Jehovah never began; he has always been. He is rightly called “the Ancient of Days”—he existed for an eternity before anyone or anything else in the universe came into being! (Daniel 7:9, 13, 22) Who can validly question his right to be the Sovereign Lord?
16, 17. (a) Why can we not see Jehovah, and why should that not surprise us? (b) In what sense is Jehovah more real than anything we can see or touch?
16 Yet, some do question that right, as did Pharaoh. Part of the problem is that imperfect men put too much stock in what they can see with their eyes. We cannot see the Sovereign Lord. He is a spirit being, invisible to human eyes. (John 4:24) Besides, if a flesh-and-blood human were to stand in the immediate presence of Jehovah God, the experience would prove fatal. Jehovah himself told Moses: “You are not able to see my face, because no man may see me and yet live.”—Exodus 33:20; John 1:18.
17 That should not surprise us. Moses got to see just a part of Jehovah’s glory, evidently through an angelic representative. With what effect? Moses’ face “emitted rays” for some time afterward. The Israelites feared even to look directly at Moses’ face. (Exodus 33:21-23; 34:5-7, 29, 30) Surely, then, no mere human could look upon the Sovereign Lord himself in all his glory! Does this mean that he is any less real than what we can see and touch? No, we readily accept the reality of many things we cannot see—wind, radio waves, and thoughts, for example. Furthermore, Jehovah is permanent, unaffected by the passage of time, even untold billions of years! In that sense, he is far more real than anything we can touch or see, for the physical realm is subject to age and decay. (Matthew 6:19) Should we think of him, though, as merely some abstract, impersonal force or a vague First Cause? Let us see.
A God With Personality
18. What vision was Ezekiel given, and what do the four faces of the “living creatures” near Jehovah symbolize?
18 Although we cannot see God, there are thrilling passages in the Bible that afford us glimpses into heaven itself. The first chapter of Ezekiel is one example. Ezekiel was given a vision of Jehovah’s heavenly organization, which he saw as a vast celestial chariot. Especially impressive is the description of the mighty spirit creatures around Jehovah. (Ezekiel 1:4-10) These “living creatures” are closely associated with Jehovah, and their appearance tells us something important about the God they serve. Each one has four faces—that of a bull, a lion, an eagle, and a man. These evidently symbolize the four outstanding qualities of Jehovah’s personality.—Revelation 4:6-8, 10.
19. What quality is represented by (a) the bull’s face? (b) the lion’s face? (c) the eagle’s face? (d) the man’s face?
19 In the Bible, a bull often represents power, and fittingly so, for it is an immensely strong animal. A lion, on the other hand, often pictures justice, for true justice requires courage, a quality for which lions are renowned. Eagles are well-known for their keen eyesight, seeing even tiny objects miles away. So the eagle’s face would well picture God’s farsighted wisdom. And the man’s face? Well, man, made in God’s image, is unique in his ability to reflect God’s dominant quality—love. (Genesis 1:26) These facets of Jehovah’s personality—power, justice, wisdom, and love—are so frequently highlighted in Scripture that they may be referred to as God’s cardinal attributes.
20. Do we need to worry that Jehovah’s personality might have changed, and why do you so answer?
20 Should we worry that God might have changed in the thousands of years since he was described in the Bible? No, God’s personality does not alter. He tells us: “I am Jehovah; I have not changed.” (Malachi 3:6) Rather than arbitrarily changing, Jehovah proves himself an ideal Father in the way he responds to each situation. He brings to the fore those aspects of his personality that are most appropriate. Of the four qualities, the one that predominates is love. It permeates everything God does. He exercises his power, justice, and wisdom in a loving way. In fact, the Bible says something extraordinary regarding God and this quality. It says: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Note that it does not say that God has love or that God is loving. Rather, it says that God is love. Love, his very essence, motivates him in all that he does.
“Look! This Is Our God”
21. How will we feel as we get to know Jehovah’s qualities better?
21 Have you ever seen a small child point out his father to his friends and then say with innocent joy and pride, “That’s my daddy”? God’s worshipers have every reason to feel similarly about Jehovah. The Bible foretells a time when faithful people will exclaim: “Look! This is our God.” (Isaiah 25:8, 9) The more insight you gain into Jehovah’s qualities, the more you will feel that you have the best Father imaginable.
22, 23. How does the Bible portray our heavenly Father, and how do we know that he wants us to be close to him?
22 This Father is not cold, aloof, or distant—despite what some austere religionists and philosophers have taught. We would hardly feel drawn to a cold God, and the Bible does not portray our heavenly Father that way. On the contrary, it calls him “the happy God.” (1 Timothy 1:11) He has feelings both strong and tender. He is “hurt at his heart” when his intelligent creatures violate the guidelines that he provides for their well-being. (Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:41) But when we act wisely according to his Word, we make his “heart rejoice.”—Proverbs 27:11.
23 Our Father wants us to be close to him. His Word encourages us to “grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) How, though, is it possible for mere humans to draw close to the Sovereign Lord of the universe?