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Exodus 3:13-15 “Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them? v14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” v15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD 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, and this is My memorial to all generations.’”
God made this statement when he was commissioning Moses: to break the bondage in which the Egyptians were holding the Israelites, to keep them from the might of the Egyptian army and to keep the many Israelites and much livestock through a middle eastern desert. Exodus 12:37-38 says “Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds -a great deal of livestock.” Assuming that the vast majority of the Israelites were married and had at least two children that makes the Israelitish host at least 2,500,000 people, if not more, as well as much livestock. This great people and their much livestock were by implication needing to be fed and watered daily in the wilderness for an unspecified length of time and then go into the land of Canaan.
Therefore when God answered Moses’ question about His identity He said “I am” and so He was proclaiming Himself to be:
- Self existent because God was never created and His existence did not depend, even partly, on another person, and so He needs nothing.
- Therefore God must be self-sufficient and not only for His own needs and those of the angels in heaven and the universe but also for the Israelites in the desert on earth and until they arrived in the promised land. He was, and is, without any restriction or limitation (for example “And the LORD said to Abraham … Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:13-14)). God had the ability to become to His people whatever they needed because He was everywhere all of the time in the past, present, and future.
- Consequently God was also expressing Himself as a consistent God. As God is, so He will be and this belongs to Him alone as no creature can say, “I will be”. This is further confirmed by, “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6) and “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
- God had already said that He was a covenant keeping God and so true and faithful to His promises, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers” (Exodus 6:3-4). Also “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19) and “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He (God v21) who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
- Also God was also saying that He was the eternal God, because He always was, always is and always will be. This is shown by, “For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations” (Psalm 100:5) and “Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:2). Also “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1Peter 1:24-25).
God did not say that I am this or that particular characteristic but in general “I am that I am.” Therefore He was explaining His name of Jehovah, which means the “(the) self-Existent or Eternal” One. The greatest and best of people in the world have to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10) but God speaks the ultimate by saying “I am that I am.” As God is self-existent, He is, as mentioned before, also self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the infinite source of being, salvation and joy.
This is a name that reveals what God is to His people. In case the name “I AM” would be a puzzle them, Moses is further guided to use another name of God with which the Israelites were more well acquainted with as in Exodus 3:15, quoted above. In this way God had made himself know to Moses in Exodus 3:6, “Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” And in the same way God made Himself know to Israel.
It is interesting that the description of “Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come,” is spoken of God in Revelation 1:4 and of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty.” This evidenced by the Lord Jesus claiming to be the “I AM” while He was here on the earth as follows:
- John 6:20, “But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”” Is followed by v21, “Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” The Greek language for this is: “But He says to them, “I AM, fear not.” The significance of this very powerful claim to Deity meant that, with such a Person being so close, there was no reason for the disciples to fear. He Who had made the Sea of Galilee could calm its waters and could safely bring His fearful disciples to the shore.
- John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.” Again the adding of the “He” to the text by the translators somewhat obscures the significance of Christ’s statement. He plainly said He is the “I AM” and that if people do not believe that fact, then the consequences are eternal judgment. It is a personal witness to the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ by Jesus Himself.
- John 8:28, “Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [He], and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” Like the verse above, Christ also plainly states that He is the “I AM.” The “He” is in italics in the English translations was therefore not in the original Greek text. By taking out the “he” makes the “I AM” more clearly seen as a claim to Deity.
- John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” “Most assuredly, I say to you,” is stating that something of particularly great importance was about to be declared. Had the existence of Jesus been measured by time, as with all created beings, He would have had to say, “Before Abraham was, I was” which would simply mean that He came into existence before Abraham. However “before Abraham was, I AM” reveals an absolute existence, independent of time and co-existent with God. He was saying that I have existed before all ages and from all eternity. You consider Me to be only a person who is speaking to you in this specific time. However as well as this human nature, that you think you know, there is in me the Divine and eternal nature. Both exist unitedly together in My Person. The Lord Jesus made another clear claim to be God.
- John 13:19, “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am [He.]” Again the “He” is in italics in the English translations was therefore not in the original Greek text. To add it veils the major impact of the name “I AM.” The Lord Jesus revealed His betrayal to His disciples in advance so that when it came to pass, the disciples would know that Jesus was the “I AM”, that is true Deity.
- John 18:4-6, “Jesus therefore, … said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am [He].” … Now when He said to them, “I am [He],” they drew back and fell to the ground.” The very powerful demonstration of the “I AM” identity of Christ took place in the Garden of Gethsemane just as Jesus was being arrested. The Lord asked the arresters, “Whom are you seeking?” They told Him they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. As mentioned previously the word “He” in v6 is in italics and so is not in the Greek text. When Jesus said, “I AM,” all who came to arrest Christ fell to the ground. But those people were so blind in their sin of arresting the perfect “I AM”, that they stood up again and continued to arrest Him. This further demonstrates the hardening effect of sin even when the power of God is demonstrated.
The amazing part is that Jesus Christ, Who is God manifest in the flesh, because of His love for us, submitted to being arrested and their crucifixion of Him so that He could take God’s punishment for our wrong deeds, words and thoughts, which God calls sins, and die and rise from the dead. Then God could righteously offer salvation to all who trust in Jesus Christ that He died for them and so that they can go free of God’s just punishment for their sins.