[Again, this week, I am doing an "extra" blog because I must be away from Abilene and my office for 3 days next week. Blessings to all].
Bible readers of all type, know the famous story about God's appearance to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-4:17. I plan to discuss various aspects of this story in later blogs. In this blog, I want to focus on Exodus 3:13-14 [see also Exodus 6:2-9], which relates five "excuses" that Moses gives to God to try to avoid having to return from Midian to Egypt and guide the Israelites out of bondage. Moses' second excuse is this--with God's response:
"But Moses said to God, 'If I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?' God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you."'"
Moses wanted to know "God's Name." God's response was: "I AM WHO I AM." Because of the Hebrew word used here, most scholars agree that this "name" is YAHWEH. One earlier English translation incorrectly combined YHWH with ADONAI, and strangely came up with JEHOVAH, which still appears often in English religious lore.
Irrespective of all this, one who studies this passage seriously very long soon comes to reach two important conclusions:
1. Biblically, NOWHERE does God have a proper name OF ANY KIND, like our English names like Fred or Susie or Bill or Jane. Most [not all] biblical names indicate an important nature of a person's character or name. This is VERY CLEAR when one studies the Bible. To cite ONLY a few examples: Hagar "named" God "El-roi," meaning "God who sees" (Genesis 16:13); Jacob called God "the Mighty One of Jacob" in Genesis 49:24; Psalm 21:7 calls God "the Most High;" and the passages go on and on. "I AM WHO I AM"=Yahweh is NOT a proper name, BUT a great truth about God's nature or character.
2. BUT, unfortunately, no one knows for sure what God had in mind when he responded to Moses on this occasion. In my classes at ACU, I remind them that good, well-trained, often committed Christian believers, do not know what this term means. Here are a FEW of proposed understanding.
a. An emotional cry or cultic outcry=yah huwah: "O He, O That One."
b. "Yahweh" is the qal imperfect 3rd masculine singular of hayah, "to be." So "Yahweh" means "The One who is," i. e., the absolute and unchangeable God.
c. "Yahweh" comes from an Arabic stem meaning "to show passionate love." So "Yahweh" means "He Who acts passionately, the Passionate One."
d. "Yahweh" comes from a Ugaritic root hwt, "to speak." So "Yahweh" means "He Who Speaks," indicating that Israel's God reveals himself.
e. "Yahweh" is a hiphil imperfect meaning "to cause to fall, to fell," referring to rain, lightning, or enemies.
f. "Yahweh" is from the Arabic hwy, "to blow," indicating Yahweh was originally a storn-god.
g. Analogous to a verb form in the Phoenician Karatepe inscription, "Yahweh" is a causative participle meaning "Sustainer, Maintainer, Establisher."
h. "Yahweh" is a hiphil imperfect of hawah, "to come to pass, to come into being, to be." So "Yahweh" is "The One who causes to be" what comes to pass. Hence, he is creator and sustainer of all that is.
i. Exodus 3:14 suggests "Yahweh" is qal imperfect of hayah, "to be." "I am" means "I am here, I am present, I am ready to help." "That I am" suggests Yahweh makes hkmself present when and as he wills; He acts according to his sovereign freedom--see Exodus 33:19.
j. "Yahweh" is the hiphil imperfect of hayah, "to be." So the meaning is: "I cause to be what comes into existence," referring to natural occurrences and to historical events.
k. God deliberately withholds his name from Moses. Moses wanted to know God's name to give him control over God. God responsed by rebuking him with a hidden reply, "I am who I am, and it is none of your business who I am," and called on Moses to serve Him who is free to act as he wishes. See Genesis 32:22-32; Judges 13:17-18.
There are other views as well. But this is too much already. It is certainly true that any of these ideas appears elsewhere in the Bible in describing God. But the point is: the meaning of Exodus 3:14 and 6:2-3 is far from clear concretely. There are numerous passages which are not clear to us. We can live with this.
My encouragement is that we not let ourselves get dogmatic and insistent that we MUST take this or that interpretation, especially when it is impossible to know what such a passage means.
Whatever God meant in Exodus 3:14 and 6:2-3, the important thing is that God was WITH Moses and the Israelites "through thick and thin." AND, our same God is WITH us "through thick and thin." We can always DEPEND on Him, when everything looks the exact opposite. To borrow a line from Joshua 1:9: "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go." I am so thankful we have such a steadfast and faithful God.