THE GREAT ‘I AM’

‘I AM WHO I AM’ – Exodus 3:14

For over 400 years the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been living in Egypt, many of those years as slaves. The covenant promises made to these ancestors were a long way off. The Promised Land and the promised blessings seemed no nearer fulfilment than when they were first announced. Through all the years between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses only two Israelites are mentioned by name: Shiphrah and Puah, the two midwives [Exodus 1:15-21]. In these two midwives we see evidence of a faith in God that endured despite the physical and social hardships, in the context of the idolatrous religion of Egypt, and regardless of the seeming silence and inaction of God.

In Exodus 3 when Moses, exiled in the Sinai peninsular, was commissioned by God to go back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites Moses asked by what name he was to identify the God who had sent him. God said:

 ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.” … Say to the Israelites “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, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.’

‘I AM’ [Yahweh, Jehovah] is written in English translations as LORD. It is God’s personal, self-identifying name. It speaks of him as the eternal, ever present One, the one who simply is, the always existing One: uncaused, uncreated, unchanging, unconditioned, undetermined, unlimited, independent, absolute. As such he is also the omni-competent One – the One who is whatever he wants to be, the One who can do whatever he wants to do. No matter what situation confronts him he is able to address it.

Here into the despair and disempowerment of the Israelite slaves, here into the fears and uncertainties of Moses, God comes and says ‘I AM WHO I AM …tell them “I AM has sent me to you”.’ He is still the sovereign God he was to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the worker of miracles, the God of the promises, the God of grace, the Almighty. Time has not changed him. Geographical location has not restricted him. He is beyond time, he is beyond place.

Barnes comments: “I am what I am.” The words express absolute, and therefore unchanging and eternal Being.’

Wesley comments: ‘I am that I am - This explains his name Jehovah, and signifies, [1] That he is self-existent; he has his being of himself, and has no dependence upon any other. And being self-existent he cannot but be self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible fountain of being and bliss. [2] That he is eternal and unchangeable, always the same, yesterday, today, and for ever: he will be what he will be, and what he is. [3] That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in his word as well as in his nature, and not a man that he should lie. Let Israel know this, I am hath sent me unto you. A name that speaks what he is to his people.’

Kiel/Delitzsch comment: ‘The question, “What is His name?” presupposed that the name expressed the nature and operations of God, and that God would manifest in deeds the nature expressed in His name. God therefore told him His name, or, to speak more correctly, He explained the name … by which He had made Himself known to Abraham at the making of the covenant (Genesis 15:7), in this way … “I am that I am,” and designated Himself by this name as the absolute God of the fathers, acting with unfettered liberty and self-dependence. This name precluded any comparison between the God of the Israelites and the deities of the Egyptians and other nations, and furnished Moses and his people with strong consolation in their affliction, and a powerful support to their confidence in the realization of His purposes of salvation as made known to the fathers. To establish them in this confidence, God added still further: “This is My name for ever, and My memorial unto all generations;” that is to say, God would even manifest Himself in the nature expressed by the name Jehovah, and by this He would have all generations both know and revere Him. The name, expresses the objective manifestation of the divine nature …’

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013