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?” 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.’”-Exodus 3:13-14
Why was Moses so concerned that when he returned to the Israelites they would demand to know God’s name?
Couldn’t he just tell them, “The God of your forefathers has come to rescue you”?
Or just say “El Shaddai” has come to your rescue, which was the common term Moses’ forefathers used?
What was so darn important about knowing God’s personal name?
Actually, this concern is a reflection of how much the Israelites had absorbed the pagan mindset of the Egyptians.
According to Egyptian religious beliefs, knowing a god’s personal name gave you the power to manipulate that god into doing your bidding in a given area.
But you had to know the name.
For instance, if you were a farmer, you would have a personal interest in knowing the name of the god who controlled the rain that watered your crops.
So Moses’ question here reflects nearly 400 years of the Israelites being totally immersed in the polytheistic belief system of ancient Egypt.
As I’ve said before, even after the Israelites left Egypt, it would take quite some time for God to wring the Egypt out of them.
In this interaction with Moses, God will for the first time reveal His personal name.
However, before that He offered up an answer that has mystified theologians throughout the centuries.
God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that He is “I am who I am”.
In Hebrew this is “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH”.
Various English Bibles will render it as follows:
“I am that I am”
“I will be What I will be”
“What I will be, I will be”
“I am that which I am”
…and so on, I think you get the idea.
The truth is there isn’t anything essentially wrong with any of these translations.
They are all honest attempts to produce a nice pithy phrase that is as faithful to the original Hebrew as possible.
But what did God mean when He said “I AM WHO I AM”?
Well, here’s my attempt at an explanation.
Every heathen god that pagan man has worshipped from time immemorial were simply reflections of what man already knew from his personal life experience and his observations of nature.
In order to survive, man needed water for his crops, shelter to live in, fire to keep warm, and when ill, an antidote to his ailments.
In addition, when man experienced the scarier side of the forces of nature like hurricanes, floods, and/or earthquakes etcetera, he needed protection from these devastating manifestations that in his mind were nothing short of supernatural.
I know I’m oversimplifying things here, but basically pagan man assigned names to gods according to those parts of the natural world they believed these gods ruled over that were specifically connected to man’s survival.
So, I think the point God was trying to get across to Moses when He said “I AM WHO I AM”, is that He is way beyond any idea of what a god is according to pagan man’s belief system at the time.
He is a being that cannot even remotely be compared to anything in nature or man.
God is self-existent=I AM THAT I AM
God is eternal=I WILL BE AS I WILL BE
God is distinct=I AM THAT WHICH I AM
See, before God gave Moses His personal name, he had to drive home the point that in no way whatsoever is He to be compared to any Egyptian god or any other pagan god for that matter
He is a one-of-a-kind super unique being.