Exodus Bible Study (God Saves)

Exodus 3:13-22, I Am Who I Am


The book of Exodus is the book of redemption. This book is God’s picture book for showing the world who he is and how he will save. In Exodus 3 Moses has encountered the Lord at the burning bush that is not consumed. Moses was told that now is the time for the people to be delivered from slavery and Moses is going to be the deliverer to do it. Moses feels insufficient for the task but God’s answer is that he will be with Moses (3:12).

What Is His Name? (3:13)

Now Moses is going to ask another question and it is a very important question. The question Moses asks is about who God is. Turn to Exodus 3:13 and listen to Moses’ question.

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?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV)

This sounds like a strange question. Moses is going to tell the people of Israel that God sent him and they are going to ask, “What is his name?” Remember that names were not merely names in the scriptures. Names represent the character of the person and what the person was going to do. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham because he would be the father of many nations. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel because he struggled with God. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter because he would be the rock upon which God’s kingdom would be built. Names are not just names. Names reflect what the person will do. This is what Moses is asking God. What should I tell the people about your name? To put this another way, Moses is asking what he should tell the people God is going to do. Moses recognizes that it is not going to go very well if he returns to Egypt and tells the people of Israel that God sent him to deliver them. How is that going to happen? Moses is just one person. He cannot overthrow Pharaoh and Egypt. Further, Moses already tried this and was rejected by his people. So Moses is looking for an explanation of God that will show the people that Moses is their deliverer and they will be leaving Egyptian slavery.

God’s Name (3:14)

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.’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV)

This is a staggering revelation of God. This is the first time God gives an explanation of who he is.  In fact it is the only place where God explains his name. Thinking about this answer breaks our definitions of personhood. We say, “I am something.” I am a teacher. I am a man. I am 42. We speak like this. But God is not defined by anything outside of himself. He is who he is. The Lord is. This fact changes everything.

I AM WHO I AM. He is the God who is always there. This Hebrew construction is often used to express totality, intensity, or emphasize the form. We see an example of this construction in Exodus 16:23.

And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” (Exodus 16:22–23 ESV)

What does it mean to bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil? It means to bake and boil everything you can. Bake what you can bake. Well, I can bake a lot. That’s the point. It emphasizes totality and intensity. For God to say, “I AM WHO I AM” means I am truly he who exists and will always be present then and there and everywhere I send you. I AM and therefore you will succeed. God is not avoiding the question or being elusive when he says I AM WHO I AM. God is answering the question fully. I am there. I am always there. It pictures the permanence of his presence.

I AM WHO I AM. He is not the God you want him to be. The Lord is. He does not change. He is who he always is. God is and will always be unlike false gods. But consider something unique about his name.  His name is not a noun but a verb. God is active. God is always active. It is all of these concepts that are bound in God’s declaration: I AM WHO I AM. Therefore, in verse 14, tell the people the I AM who is with you, has always been with you, and will continue to be with you has sent Moses.

Tell Israel What God Will Do (3:15-17)

God continues to express what his name means in reference to Israel’s condition. The name of the Lord will be remembered forever because God will keep his covenant and is with his people. So gather the elders of Israel and tell them that God has watched you and seen what has happened to you in Egypt (3:16). God promises to bring the people out of the affliction of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. God promises to save from your oppression and lead you into the land of blessings. God watched over them in Egypt. We need to hear this because we would think that God did not see what was happening considering all of these years of suffering. But God did see. God did know what was happening. God made his promise and is going to act on his promise.

Tell Pharaoh What God Will Do (3:18-22)

In verse 18 God tells Moses that the elders of Israel will listen to Moses when he comes to them. Moses and the elders of Israel will then go before Pharaoh and deliver this message from the Lord. The Lord has met with us and we must go on a three days’ journey to the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord. But listen what God says. God knows that Pharaoh will not allow this happen (3:19). The king of Egypt will not let the people go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So God will stretch out his hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that he will do. Only then will Pharaoh let the people go (3:20).

Further, the people of Israel will have favor with the Egyptians so that when they leave Egypt they will plunder the Egyptians. You will take the jewelry and clothing of the Egyptians and put them on your children. When God gets through with Egypt, the Egyptians will be pushing you out of the land.

All of this is an explanation of who God is. I AM means that God is ever-present and is with his people. God is the God who rescues and saves. God is the God who comes down to help his people because he knows what they are going through and will act on their behalf (3:8). This is who God is. God is and always will be so that he is and will always be with his people. The prophets note this connection between the eternal existence of God and what he does for us.

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8–11 ESV)

I AM means that God accomplishes his purposes, declaring the beginning and the end of any matter.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:6–8 ESV)

I AM means that there is no other Rock but God. No one else can help us like God.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:10–11 ESV)

I AM means that there is no other savior. God is our savior because he is the I AM.

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:18–22 ESV)

I AM means that God is a righteous God and our savior. So the call of the I AM means that all the ends of the earth must turn to God to be saved.

New Testament Implications

The meaning for the name of God in the New Testament is staggering and will mean much to us in our walk with God. There are at least three important places where I AM is a powerful declaration to the New Testament people of God. Listen to how God describes himself as the book of Revelation opens.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8 ESV) Notice how this is the same message. I AM means that God is, God was, and God continues to be. God is ever present and always with his people. God being eternal is for our good for he always knows our condition and is always with us.

Consider what God said he was doing when he revealed himself as the I AM. God said he was coming down to rescue his people from Pharaoh with many wonders (3:8,14,20). We have noted that these pictures in Exodus were given to show us how God would save the world. Listen to Jesus’ words as he comes to Israel to teach them who he is and what he has come to do.

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:56–58 ESV)

Earlier Jesus said this to the same audience:

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (John 8:24 ESV)

Notice that same connection that God as the I AM means salvation for those who turn to him because there is no other god and no other savior. Jesus took at the majesty and hope of the name of the Lord and placed it on himself as the answer for the world. God saw our sinful condition, was moved with compassion, and has come down to rescue us. This is why Jesus says that when you see Jesus you are able to see God.

No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son— the One who is at the Father’s side— He has revealed Him. (John 1:18 HCSB)

Jesus is the I AM who reveals the Father whom no one has ever seen so that we can be saved from our sins. Being eternal means that he can save forever and to the uttermost. God came down and we see him in Jesus who is our only Savior. Will you turn to him today and be rescued from your sins?

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