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The Great I Am

Ryan Joy


September 3, 2023

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Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exod. 3:13-14).

“But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” (John 6:20).

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever had someone act like they know you and then call you the wrong name? When we first meet someone, they introduce themselves, so if you don’t know their name, they probably aren’t your best friend.

Shakespeare’s Romeo asked the question, “What’s in a name?” But he knew his fair Juliet’s last name was a problem — not because of the word she went by, but what it meant about who she was. As servants of God, we need to know God, and in the Bible that’s synonymous with knowing his name (Ps. 91:14) and trusting in his name (Ps. 20:7).

Willing & Able

When we need help, where do we turn? God’s people call on his name (Gen. 4:26; Joel 2:32). But we won’t do that if we don’t believe he can help. We might even affirm he’s powerful enough to help but still not trust that he cares enough to act in our lives, thinking those days are over and he’s now distant and uninvolved. That’s why we need to hear what God says to his people about who he is. We need to know his name.

Two Relatable Questions

By the time Moses stood before the strange fiery bush on Mount Horeb, he had fallen a long way from Pharaoh’s house. As a humbled shepherd in hiding, when God gave Moses him the daunting task of confronting Pharaoh, Moses’ first question was, “Who am I?” (Exod. 3:10-11). Looking at the task before us at times, we might wonder, “Why me, Lord? I don’t know if I can do this!” But that’s when we need to hear what God answered Moses: “I will be with you” (Exod. 3:12). The deciding factor of our success isn’t who we are but who God is. Which leads to Moses’ second question, “What’s your name?” And God’s answer couldn’t be more profound: “I am who I am” — so Moses should tell people “‘I AM’ sent me” (Exod. 3:14).

He isn’t just the Almighty, he’s the one who knows us and wants to be known by us.

What’s It Mean?

In the next verse God uses his personal name. The name Yahweh seems to relate to the Hebrew word for ‘I AM,’ carrying the same idea in the third person: ‘He is” or “He is and will continually be.” God IS being. All that is exists because He is. He is the one self-existent being, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). God began everything, sustains everything, and will bring history to the end he chooses.

But he isn’t just the Almighty, he’s the one who knows us and wants to be known by us. He discloses himself to us and invites us to be his and he ours, to bless and deliver us (Exod. 6:7; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

At some point, Jews stopped saying the name as a way to show reverence, replacing it with their word for “lord,” Adonai. The word Jehovah later came from people inserting the vowels from “adonai” into the four Hebrew characters that make up the name Yahweh (sometimes called the Tetragrammaton). When you see “the Lord” typeset in small caps in your Bible, it represents Yahweh.

A Dark, Stormy Night

Centuries after Moses’ encounter on the mountain, some disciples had their own encounter with the Great I AM. They were alone and frightened in the middle of a storm at sea, when Jesus came and said, “It is I. Don’t be afraid” (John 6:20). Except the phrase he used was the same one the Greek translation of Exodus 3 used to identify Yahweh. It was the same words that made Jews want to kill him later, when he said, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58-59). Jesus is our Lord, the Great I AM. Will you put your trust in him?

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