Meditations in Exodus: 12. Know your God (2)
Ex 3:13,14 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.’”
In the previous meditation we considered the description that the Lord had given of Himself, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which, we noted, gave a lot of content to the Israelites of Moses’ day. However it is interesting to note that this is not sufficient for Moses as he thinks of going to his people and describing him thus. The reality was that Israel had developed in a land that was full of gods and all these gods had names (we shall consider some of them in later studies). So who, they might reason, actually was this God who had been dealing with the Patriarchs? Melchizedek had described Him as “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth,” (Gen 14:19) but still that really wasn’t a name, so what name might this God go by?
And so we come to one of the most enigmatic verses in Scripture: “I AM WHO I AM” which, in the light of what follows – “I AM has sent me to you,” perhaps could be taken to mean, “I AM is who I am,” or “ I am ‘I AM’” This doesn’t work as well when you note the footnote in your Bible that it might be “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL Be,” but perhaps it is more realistic and helpful in the light of the words that followed it.
Let’s just consider what that must mean before we go on to see how it is displayed in the rest of the Bible. When we make a statement, “1 am….” We are declaring that that is what we are at this present moment. IF God made Himself visible to a time-traveler and that person asked him at a multitude of locations in history, “Who are you,” He would reply, “I am”, and he would be correct – He exists at any point in history – He is eternal and has no beginning or end. In this point He is utterly unique. Normally when we say someone or something is unique that is sufficient but we really do need to doubly emphasise this because in terms of God always existing, He is utterly unique, there never has been anyone, there is no one and there never will be anyone who always goes on existing in an unchanging form.
The Greeks and the Romans had gods in their own image and as such they were vulnerable to attack by one another. God is not vulnerable because He cannot be harmed and He cannot be destroyed – He just is and nothing can change that. The Greek and Roman gods looked after their favourites and so the description of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was insufficient because it was like saying they were his favourites in the same way the Greek or Roman gods had favourites, but now we see God as the unique unchanging everlasting One, the eternal One, the One who existed before the foundation of the world, the One who defies our intellect in that He always was and always will be. He is unique.
Now if you have not been down this path before, we need to go on to the next verse: “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 by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (v.15) What our English text does not show us is the significance of the word LORD in capital letters. The footnote in your Bible will say, “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14” and the word ‘Yahweh’ is considered a shortening of the whole into one, or shortened even more to YHWH. We might also note that pious Jews became fearful of speaking this name in this form and so took the Hebrew word ‘adonay’ meaning, ‘my Lord’ and combining it with YHWH to form a work which in English is rendered Jehovah.
This when you come across the word LORD in the Biblical text, if you wanted to expand it you could say, ‘Lord’ or ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’. I prefer, if I want to emphasise the meaning behind it, simply to say, ‘The I AM’ emphasizing His eternal uniqueness. So, for instance in Psa 2 verse 7 where it says, “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD,” to emphasise the uniqueness and therefore importance of the originator of the decree, I might read it out loud as, “I will proclaim the decree of the I AM.” It simply reminds me of the greatness of the One designated by the word LORD.
(NB. The fact that this word is printed like this in Genesis, historically long before the revelation, is simply an indication that Genesis was compiled by Moses and he used ‘The Name’ in the way he came to know it, even though not historically yet revealed)
In what follows the Lord tells Moses, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me.” (v.16). He is still to use that prior description because they would understand that. Only if they asked for a name would he them give the second name. When it comes to approaching Pharaoh his is to use a double description: “Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.” (v.18) Note he does use ‘a name’ as Pharaoh would expect him to, as strange and possibly meaningless as that might sound to Pharaoh, but he is to qualify that name by, “the God of the Hebrews” which again would make sense to Pharaoh. i.e. we have our gods and the Hebrews obviously have just one god, is how he would think of it.
Part of the process that would unfold would be to reveal to Pharaoh and his people that this ‘god’, “I AM”, is utterly different to the multitude of gods that they worshipped. This god in fact moved, spoke, directed and DID things when He said He would and that put Him on a completely different footing from anything or anyone they had known before. It will only be Pharaoh’s pride that will prevent him from seeing the truth of this and will lead to his death.
Simple question: be honest, do we expect God to be alive and moving in our affairs, really changing things, changing us, changing circumstances, changing other people, and so on? In reality, have we got a living God? Do we conduct ‘church’ as if we are on our own and thus plan our ‘program’ accordingly, or do we expect Him to intervene in what we do, and so do we give Him space? Real questions. Belief or unbelief?