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Devotional reflections on God's statement, "I am who I am"

Exodus 3:1-10, 13-15

3 1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight -- why the bush does not burn up."

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"

And Moses said, "Here I am."

5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." . . .

. . . 13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I am has sent me to you.'"

15 God also said to Moses, "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 you shall call me
   from generation to generation."

Moses: The three periods of his life
First 40 years:
Moses thought he was somebody (he lived as a grandson of the Pharaoh)
Second 40 years:
Moses discovered he was a nobody (he had fled to the desert where he lived with nomadic shepherds)
Third 40 years:
Moses found out what God can do with a nobody

graphic of a burning bush"Though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up" -- (Exodus 3:2,

Week 38 (September)

The sight of a bush on fire begins a remarkable account of God's revelation of Himself to Moses and -- through him -- to Israel. The burning bush episode in Exodus provides us with one of the clearest biblical descriptions of who God is.

When Moses realized what the Lord was calling him to do, he began to ask for some confirmations for himself and for the children of Israel.

In reply to Moses' question, "Suppose . . . they ask me, `What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?" God responds, "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:13-14).

The answer is brief, but it is far more than just a name. In fact, Moses' question and God's answer have far deeper implications than we 21st century Westerners realize.

Within both Egyptian and Hebrew culture it was believed that a person's name revealed the very essence of one bearing it. It is for that reason that the Bible will sometimes explain a name (such as that of Moses, for example) or it will recount the changing of a name to better reflect a person (such as when Jacob became Israel and Abram became Abraham).

The ancient Egyptians and Hebrews took their belief that a name was to be the exact representation of the person one step further. They believed that to know a person's name was to know that person wholly and utterly, even to the extent of sometimes having power and authority over that person.

For this reason, while the Egyptian Pharaohs had a public name, they carefully kept their real names secret as a way of protecting their power and authority.

It's against this cultural backdrop that Moses asked for God's name. In making such a request, Moses wasn't asking for a label to distinguish Yahweh from pagan gods. Moses was asking for a description of God's very essence. That's what God gave to him. Eheyeh asher Eheyeh is a Hebrew phrase that has been variously translated as "I am who I am," "I am He who exists," "I become what I will become," or even "He shall cause to be." It is one of those little phrases that wraps up volumes of rich meaning.

This name-phrase which God gave to Moses speaks of an absolute timeless kind of existence. What the Lord proclaimed to Moses from the midst of that burning bush was His own self-sufficiency and eternal unchangeableness.

This phrase which God spoke, taken in context with the whole experience, could be rendered, "I will become with you." As the Eternal One spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, He was offering to begin a living relationship with the people of Israel. He was offering to go forward with them into the unknown future in a relationship that would continually unfold His nature and purposes.

Indeed, all that "I am" contains was to be manifested through the ages to come, culminating in the incarnation of the Messiah-Emmanuel The revelation to Moses from that burning bush was only the beginning of the "emptying" of God himself before His people.

The great I am continues to call people to Himself today. As they come, He asks that they follow the pattern of Moses in living a life of obedient service to Him.

Written during the author's missionary service in Italy, these devotional thoughts originally were published in Standard, a take-home curriculu piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by what is now called The Foundry.

     -- Howard Culbertson


More devotional articles:   Year-long series in Standard   Devotional reflections with illustrations from ham    Christmas   Come Ye Apart 1   Come Ye Apart 2   Come Ye Apart 3   Pre-trip for Short-term Mission teams: Waiting

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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