God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
It was a pivotal moment in biblical history. God appears to Moses in the burning bush, to call Moses to lead his people out of slavery. In the poignant exchange, Moses asks about God’s name. Keep in mind that in the Israelite culture, your name was not a label but a disclosure of who you were. Names mattered!
So God replies: “I AM WHO I AM... Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
That reply is not so clear is it? What is God saying about himself? “I AM WHO I AM”? At the very least, this name is rather enigmatic and mysterious. But that fits, doesn’t it? There is mystery with God. He’s incomprehensible! Who else but God would have a name like this: “I AM WHO I AM”?
But we can say more about this name. It suggests that God has life in himself. He is completely free, self-existent and sovereign. He is eternal and unchanging. He is not dependent on anything else. Because he is not dependent on anything else, he is invincible. He does as he chooses. His word cannot be stopped. This all means that God is trustworthy. He has the sovereign power to come through for us.
This is who God is! Sovereign. Unchanging. Eternal. Self-existent. Free. The source of all life everywhere. Not dependent on anything else. Mysterious. Incomprehensible in his greatness. Completely trustworthy.
God gives Moses a shortened version of his name: “Tell them that I AM has sent me to you.” This is where things get interesting. Because when Jesus shows up on the scene, he uses seven “I am” statements to describe who he is, such as “I am the door,” “I am the vine,” and “I am the bread of life.” These seven “I ams” echo the burning bush passage of Exodus 3.
But there’s more. In one discussion, Jesus tells the Jews that he was alive during Abraham’s lifetime. At this the Jews go apoplectic. They are furious at what Jesus is suggesting, that he was alive at the time of Abraham. Jesus doesn’t back down an inch: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
Jesus does not say, “Before Abraham was born, I already existed” or “I was already alive.” No, in a pointed reference to Exodus 3 Jesus proclaims, “Before Abraham was, I am!”
The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying. So they picked up stones to kill him, for he was claiming to be God.
This is Jesus, the same one who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The great I AM, sovereign and eternal and unchanging. Here to rescue his people from bondage.