Jehovah, The God of Arithmetic (4)

“I AM that I AM.” 

Thus did God speak concerning Himself when Moses asked Him what he should say to the Israelites when they would ask the name of the God who had appeared to him and had promised deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. 

This is the richest name which we have of God, and it is full of significance. It signifies His sovereignty first of all. In this name He declares that He is what He will be. He asks no one’s permission. He bows before no one’s law. He is His own law. We are to such a great extent that which men desire us to be; and in the absolute sense of the word we always are what God wants us to be. We dress the way men fashion our clothing. We are bond or free according to the influence and authority of men over us. We work or are barred from work by the wishes of men. We go to the schools our parents choose for us or else to a certain district school according to the dictates of the civil authorities. And so one could go on. We are hemmed in on every side and have to say to such a great extent, “I am what men allow me to be.” But, as we said, we always are what God wants us to be. A child is born. We may secretly have wanted a son. A daughter is born. We may have looked for a daughter and a son is presented to us. We had nothing to say. And the child is what God wanted it to be. It may be talented or mentally retarded, a normal child or one deformed, a strong child or a weak and sickly child. We are what God wants us to be. And we are on this earth just as long as He wishes to have us here. I am here as long as God wants me here. Never can I say, as He says, “I am that I am” and put the period right there! Never can we say this without any ifs, ands or buts as God does: He is what He will be; and no one can change that. No one has even the right to desire to change that! He is that which He desires to be; and He denies all others the right to change this, for He sovereignly decrees their being. 

But this name, Jehovah, also expresses, therefore, His self-sufficiency. He IS. He does not become something. Because we are dependent upon so much we can never say, “I will be.” If it is God’s will, we will be here tomorrow. If it is His will, we will be healthy and do the things which we planned to do. And we can look back and say, “I was this or that. I was a child. I was born on such and such a day.” But then we always have to add, “I was this or that by God’s providence. I am alive at this moment but not independent from God.” However, God says, “I Am.” Never does He add, “By the kind. permission or support of this one or that one.” It is not always true, as men frequently state, when observing a criminal going to the electric chair, “There, but for the grace of God, I go.” That is relatively a little thing: to go to death in the electric chair! To go to hell is indescribably more horrible. And if a man is on the way to hell, perishing in his unbelief, then it is not by the grace of God that he does not die as a criminal. For God’s grace is everlasting (we come to this in a moment) and does not cease at death. That grace if it is upon a man in this life follows him also thru death and the grave into the life to come. But that a man does not die as a criminal is according to the will of God. We can say, that is, those who perish in their sins can say, “There but for the providence of God, there but for the will of God’s sovereign decree, I go.” We depend upon God’s providence. We are controlled by His will. Rain and sunshine, famine and plenty, war and peace, sickness and health, life and death come by His decree. And though we should not say, “I am alive by the permission of God,” for to permit is not the language of: thought of Scripture in regard to God’s works—we can and should say, “I am alive by the support and providence of God.” God Himself, however, never speaks that way. Nor can He. He says, “I am.” He is that apart from all the creatures. Apart from any other being, for there is no God besides Him and all creatures and all other beings owe their existence unto Him. He does not say, “I, too, Am.” No, He alone says, “I Am.” He is the self-sufficient One Who has all His life in Himself and therefore is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

But in this name, Jehovah, He also expresses the truth that He is the unchangeable one; and that truth He has caused to be reflected so beautifully in the world of numbers which He designed. I Am means exactly that! Never does God say, “I was”, or “I will be.” Always He speaks that one truth concerning Himself, “I Am.” We must say that we were children, and if He wills we shall some day be old men and old women. With us there is constant change; so that it is claimed that in seven years we will not have one single cell in our bodies that present day. They will all be changed. But Jehovah, the Self-Sufficient One Who sovereignly does as it pleases Him, knows no change of any kind. Also in this respect He is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow and until all eternity. 

This, we said, is reflected in the world of numbers which He has designed. We compute exactly as Adam did in Paradise. We may call our digits or numbers by different names; but these numbers or digits retain the same value over against each other. This never changes. Two and two always is four. That has not varied in the least through all the centuries of this world’s history. And you could not teach your children anything else! That is truth and you cannot make a man believe anything else. Try it and you will run so stuck that nothing will work out anymore. O, indeed, as we said, you can rearrange the numbers so that your series of numbers runs thus, one, four, three, two, five and so on. Then four and four will make two. But you have not changed, the basic principle that the second digit in your series multiplied by itself equals the fourth digit. This you cannot change. And you can never teach a child to follow that way of confusion. Leave the numbers in the order in which we use them and call them by those names and then try to teach that two and two is five; the child will not go along with you because he will discover upon his own fingers that two and three is five, and that therefore two and two cannot equal the same number. The value of these numbers—call them what you may—always retain their value according to their position in the series; and nothing can change that because the I Am is pleased to have it that way. And all your and my desires to change this will be to no avail; for He truly does as He pleases in His good pleasure. You can run against Him only to your own hurt and confusion. 

So unchangeable is God in all His works. As we remarked at the outset of this series, water will always freeze at the same temperature; light always travels at the same speed; and sound also has its own definite, invariable rate of speed. These are God’s works in the realm of the natural. They show us how exact He is but also how invariable are His ways, how unchangeable He is. His sun rises and sets with amazing accuracy. The moon goes through its four phases on an unchangeable schedule. Men figure on it and depend upon this unchangeableness of God. 

But so are His dealings with men unchangeable. His fierce wrath burns unchangeably against the wicked, “God is angry with the wicked every day” is the testimony of Psalm 7:11b. It is not true that as long as man is on earth in this life God loves him, has pity upon him, and looks with a certain common grace upon him and then suddenly at death changes into a God of fury and terror which is unrelenting and unchangeable. He does not say, “I Am one thing while you are in this life; and I will become the opposite when once you take your last breath of life.” He says, “I Am that I Am.” Is it really true that He hates sin but not the sinner? Why, then, does the sinner die before God has caused him to repent? Is God’s love for him not strong enough to work in him both to will and to do? Jesus says, “No man can come to me, except the Father Who hath sent .Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day,” John 6:44. Is that grace, that mercy of God not strong enough to draw this sinner that He loves and now lets perish in his unbelief and sin? Listen, for this awful!, you who know yourself to be His child and expect to see His face in glory, can you be sure that He will not change also towards you, if after death He does change His attitude towards some of whom you claim that He does show grace, does pity and does love? 

Let us rather hold fast to His name and its beautiful meaning: He IS and does not change in any way or in regard to anything. Listen to His own word through the psalmist, “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him . . . ,” Psalm 103:17. From everlasting to everlasting is not from the moment that one begins to fear God. It goes back into God’s counsel in eternity. The thief on the cross did not fear God all the days of his life. Ruth did not know and believe God in the early days of her life. Yet since God’s mercy was (or rather is) from everlasting to everlasting upon these children of His who did fear Him in the latter parts of their lives, it was upon them also before they repented and believed. Let us grasp and hold with all our might and main to that blessed truth that exactly because His mercy was upon them in their unconverted state, He caused them to repent and believe. Is not that what Paul writes when he says that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” Romans 9:16. No, God does not change; and the attitude He assumes now over against a man is the same attitude He will everlastingly have over against him in the new creation. 

Let us be sure that we do not corrupt that truth. And if we do, we will find that even the system of numbers which He has designed and created will rise up to testify against us. He never makes two and two equal anything more than four, nor anything less. And we can find comfort and have peace of mind in that truth that He is the Unchangeable I Am. For then we know that His promises to us are sure. We know that He will keep every word and every letter of them. We know that even as we cannot make two and two equal three, so can we not make Him fail to keep His promises to us. No conditional promise does He give us. Then He would not be the I Am but the I Might Be—If You Let, or the I Would Like To Be (your Savior). Paul writes that nothing present nor to come can possibly separate us from His love. That means that your and my sins and unfaithfulness, too, cannot keep Him from being unchangeable in His promises to us. In my sins I may lose the consciousness of His promise. In my sins I may find that I have no reason to believe that His promise is for me. But for those whom He from eternity has promised it, nothing can possibly enter to work unfaithfulness and a change in Him. 

Indeed all these things cannot be taught thus to the child in the arithmetic class; but a serious effort ought to be made, not now and then, or simply at the beginning of the year but from time to time to impress these truths on the child’s mind as he works with God’s numbers. 

—J.A.H.