And Moses said unto God, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me unto you,’ and they shall say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say unto them?”
And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” And He said, “Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me unto you.’”Exodus 3:13-14
As you read this brief history of the inception of the nation of Israel, notice the names used for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I want to show you this, for in just a few minutes, we’re going to consider Moses’ question to God, “Who shall I say sent me?”
Once upon a time there was a man named Abram. He and his wife Sarai loved and worshiped God in the town of their father Terah. One day Jehovah [the self-existent, eternal God] called Abram to leave his father’s home, take his wife, and journey to a new land. Abram obeyed immediately, though he had no idea where he was going.
Years passed as Abram and Sarai journeyed by faith in the land of promise. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, el-Shaddai [almighty God] appeared to him again. This time He changed their names to Abraham and Sarah, promising to make of them a great nation, and vowing to give them the land upon which they stood.
The following year, the long-awaited child of promise was miraculously born to Abraham and Sarah. When the child of promise, Isaac, was in his teen years, Elohim [supreme God] commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice upon the altar. Abraham did not question God, but took Isaac to the place where God had told him and prepared to make the sacrifice. When Isaac lay bound upon the altar and the knife was drawn and raised high above his head, God stopped him and provided a substitutionary sacrifice. Abraham’s faith was tested to the core. So was Isaac’s, for Isaac surely could have overpowered his aged father. Neither of them would forget that day and the great provision God made for them.
Isaac grew into a man and worshiped Elohim as his father before him had done. And he taught his sons, Jacob and Esau, to do the same. The inheritance was passed down to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, had twelve sons who became the chiefs of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. Under their father’s leadership they too worshiped Elohim. But they had a lot of growing to do.
You know the story. The older brothers were jealous of Joseph, daddy’s favorite. So they stripped him of his coat of many colors and sold him into slavery. Then they stained his coat with the blood of an animal and led his father to believe that he had been mauled. (Forensic science was not a thing back then.) They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Joseph went to Egypt as a slave, but over the years his reputation grew, and in a day he was taken from the prison and exalted to second in the kingdom, to preserve not only Egypt, but all the nations around in the famine that Elohim had revealed to him was to come. In the midst of this famine, he was reunited with his family, and they were brought into Egypt where he could provide for them. To the human mind, it may seem like a bad idea, since it would take 400 years and the mighty hand of God for them to be able to leave Egypt, but it was all in God’s plan from the very beginning. Just read what El [almighty God], Elohim [supreme God] said to Jacob: “I am God, the God of your father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation: I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon your eyes” (Gen. 46:3-4). In fact, many years earlier He told Abraham this would happen: “Know for sure that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years (Gen. 15:13).
I have just summarized roughly 600 years of history into roughly 600 words to show you that God called Himself by more than one name when He spoke with the Israelites, although He did favor one name (Elohim) above all others. Further, the Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. Very likely they had not been able to worship God freely during that time, neither did they have any sacred writings at this point. (Moses most likely wrote Genesis while in exile in Midian.) Everything they knew about God up to now was passed down orally. Without a spiritual leader, and without regular worship, their views of God could easily have become distorted by the pagan practices of the Egyptians, who worshiped many gods. So when Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me?” the basis of his question may have been more than just the meaning of God’s name, but also an understanding of the religion and culture of the Egyptians.
God did not answer in the way Moses expected. Has that ever happened to you when you pray? It has to me.
Did God say, “Tell them Elohim, the supreme God, has sent you” to signify His power over all the gods of Egypt? No, He did not.
Did He say, “Tell them Jehovah, the self-existent, or eternal God, has sent you,” indicating that unlike the gods of Egypt, He has no creator? Again, no.
Perhaps He said, “Tell them el-Shaddai, the almighty God, has sent you,” so they would know He has the power to deliver them from their oppressors. Wrong again.
He did not use any of the names by which He had previously been known. Instead, God said, “I AM THAT I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you.”
What does this mean? That God is absolute, unchanging, eternal. He is at once old and new. He is past, present, and future. He is all in all.
What Is His Name?
The Egyptians worshiped many gods, but none of them had the power to save. There is only one God. His name, Elohim, is a plural name, but it refers to one God with a plural nature: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three Persons of the triune God have been present for all eternity. They were not created, nor can they be destroyed. They are one God.
Is this hard to understand? Let me put it another way. I am known as wife, mother, teacher, pianist, artist, writer, singer, neighbor, friend, and the list goes on. I am only one person, but I have many names, or identities. Each of these names reveals a little about who I am as a person. The same is true regarding the names of God.
God has many other names in the Bible besides the ones mentioned here. Each name tells us something about His nature. Today we took a look at “I AM THAT I AM” because I wish to use this study as a springboard to jump into the book of John and look at the “I AMs” of Jesus. After all, it was Elohim, the triune God, who said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” He gave His introduction in seed form in Genesis, but He expounded upon it in John. Do you remember The Seed and The Oak from last week? Jesus was here speaking to Moses, but He was veiled.
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.John 8:58
In the fulness of time, Jesus came to earth as a baby and grew to be a man, the God-Man, God in flesh, the great I AM in a body that understands our pain, that feels our sorrow, that knows our weakness—yet without sin. He came to identify with us, so that we could identify with Him.
I look forward to seeing you here, in next week’s study, when we will finally get into the book of John and see Jesus, the great I AM, as the Bread of Life.
Image credited to nikkiboruch.com