Come Ye Apart
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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, NIV).
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 just 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.
I wrote these devotional thoughts while I was in Italy as a missionary. They originally were published in the September 21, 1980 edition of Standard, a curriculu piece for adult Sunday school classes
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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