The First Commandment states, ““I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” In an excerpt of chapter two of Ten Essential Words, I write that it is not the second part of that command that is important, but the first part, “I am YHWH your God.” God is introducing himself to his people. He is establishing a relationship with them by giving them the personal name of God.
I am reading a fascinating book by John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. In this book, Walton purports a further nuance to this introduction by God. This introduction does not necessarily indicate they have never heard the personal name of God before, though being dispersed throughout Egypt this many have been true for some. Rather, God is introducing his new role among them – God is introducing “a function that they had not as yet experienced.”
The name YHWH can mean “to be” or I Am, but in that same sense it can mean “the God who creates” or brings into being. When God says, “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” God is literally calling Israel into existence: “I am the God who is creating at this very moment!” In the Ancient Near East, something did not exist until it had been “separated out as a distinct entity, given a function, and given a name.” So it very well may be that by separating them out from Egypt, giving them the name Israel, and establishing a covenant with them, God is announcing his creation of them as a people. “I am YHWH, the God who is creating.” The Hebrew people may have existed before in the physical sense, but God was announcing that from this time forward, they would start living and having purpose. He was bringing them into existence!