Who Is I AM?
3rd Sunday in Lent
Who Is I AM?
Text: Exodus 3:1-15
Just another day out in the fields. Just an ordinary day for Moses, like each day of the last 40 years had been, quietly tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro. In the past, but not forgotten, were his people the Israelites whom he left as slaves in the land of Egypt. That’s because in the past, but not forgotten, was what he had done there. Forty years earlier he tried to intervene in a fight between an Israelite and an Egyptian and he ended up killing the Egyptian and burying him in the sand. The Israelites did not appreciate this intervening, as if he was forcing himself upon them as their ruler. So he ran away. After 40 years of quiet solace and solitude with his wife’s family, those events were in the past but not forgotten. But this would be no ordinary day for Moses, nor would the rest of his life be ordinary. There was no more hiding.
That day Moses led the flocks out to the far side of the desert and he came to a mountain called Horeb, a mountain that later would have the name Sinai. There he saw the strangest sight. He saw a bush on fire, something not uncommon in a dry and arid desert. But this was the strange part—the bush was on fire but did not burn up. “So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.’”
We’re told in the the previous verse that it was the angel of the LORD who appeared to him in the flames. The angel of the LORD is identified in verse 4 as the LORD himself. This is an interesting concept in the Old Testament. The angel of the LORD appears often and he often is identified often as the LORD. Also interesting is that the word angel can also mean messenger, someone who is sent out. So which person of the Triune God was sent out by God to do his work, to reveal his Word? God so loved the world that he sent his Son the Bible says. Thus, it would seem that the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament is likely Jesus himself, the Son of God before he took on human flesh.
So when the LORD saw that Moses had come closer to look he called out to him, “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This strange sight of a burning bush that wasn’t actually burning defied human logic and science because God was in that place. The God who had been silent for some four hundred years, since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was there now with Moses in his presence.
The reaction is understandable. “At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” All the stories that had been passed down for 16 generations—the stories about God making a covenant with Abraham, or reigning down fiery sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, or appearing to Jacob on a glorious ladder, and so many more—all the stories of the mighty God came flooding back to mind. Now here was Moses standing in the presence of the God of his forefathers! Here was Moses, the murderer, the guilty sinner, standing before a holy and righteous God. He was afraid, and rightly so!
But instead of burning Moses with a blast of burning fire, the LORD was merciful. He said, “I have heard the misery and seen the suffering of my people. I am concerned and I am going to rescue them. I’m going to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Oh, and by the way, Moses (verse 10), “Now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Not only was God merciful to Israel, but he was merciful to Moses and was going to use now him as leader!
Was Moses thankful to God for his mercy and confident in God’s blessing of his leadership? No. Moses acted more like sinner than saint. “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” Moses responds with doubt and fear. Later on in the story he even makes excuses like, “Lord, I don’t even speak very well.”
But God was merciful to Moses again, “I will be with you,” he promised. God would be with him and bless him and he promised that Moses would lead the people out to that very mountain to worship him again.
Now was Moses thankful to God for his mercy and confident in God’s blessing of his leadership? No again. More doubts and fears. Moses asked, “What if they ask me who sent me? What if they don’t believe me and want to follow me? Then what, Lord?”
Mercifully, patiently, “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.”’” God was sending Moses to declare his great name—I AM.
This is a name that the Israelites could not mistake because it is special for multiple reasons. First of all, God was making a play on his own name. Many of you know that in Hebrew the name of the LORD is Yahweh. Well in Hebrew this name I AM is pronounced Yihyeh. Yahweh – Yihyeh.
But it isn’t just a name that sounds the same. The name also means something special. Who is this God that would be with them? It’s the God who simply is. He’s the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the God who was and who is and who is to come. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he would be their God now, and he would be their God forevermore. He never changed in his love. He never changes in his mercy. He is always faithful to who he is, to his promises, and to his people. The Israelites would get all of that by Moses telling them just one thing, “I AM has sent me to you.”
God told Moses that this would be his name forever, the name by which he would be remembered from generation to generation. Indeed, the Israelites held this name I AM and the name the LORD (Yihyeh and Yahweh) in such high honor that they wouldn’t even say the name Yahweh. It was so holy to them that every time they read the name or said the name, they wouldn’t say the word Yahweh, they would say a different name—Adonai. So get this, over time, they would refer to Yahweh as The Name so much that they even took the Hebrew vowels from the word The Name and added them to Yahweh. And when you mash those up together, what do you get? Yihovah, or as we say it in English, Jehovah. Indeed, this special name of the Yahweh-LORD, the great I AM, is a name still remembered and feared today as God declared.
So now we think about this great name and we think about this great God whom we worship today. He has not changed. He was the great I AM 3,000 years ago, and he’s still the great I AM today.
That first of all causes great fear. Like Moses, here we are today in the presence of God himself. The place where we are standing is also holy ground. And like Moses, this causes great fear. Who are we to be in the presence of a holy God? Like Moses, we know the sins of our youth. We know what we are hiding from and we know the guilt we try to tuck away and suppress in our conscience. We also know the guilt of what we do every day.
God is holy and righteous and just, he is our almighty and everlasting judge. He never changes in his unapproachable glory because he is the great I AM. He is always this way, and that terrifies us.
But the one who doesn’t change in his holiness or his glory is also the one who doesn’t change in his mercy and forgiveness. The angel of the LORD who appeared to Moses is the same one who appeared in this world born of human flesh—Jesus Christ. He is the one who fulfilled the promises made to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. He is the one who came to deliver his people from slavery, not in Egypt, but slavery to sin. Jesus is the one who came to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey, not to Canaan, but to the Promised Land called heaven. The I AM who was constant in his faithful and forgiving love 3,000 years ago remains constant in his faithful and forgiving love today.
Do we always thank God for this today? Are we always eager to go out into the world to lead others out of slavery to sin? Are we always confident in God’s blessing as we let our lights shine and spread his word in the world. No. Like Moses we sometimes act more like sinners than saints. We have doubt and fear about being God’s people. We make excuses. “Who am I, Lord? Who will listen to me, Lord? I can’t do this, Lord!”
Mercifully, patiently, God says to us too, “I AM WHO I AM.” God answers all our doubts and all our fears with his great name. We ask, “LORD, are you still the same God as you were for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses?” And he says, “I AM.” “But LORD, aren’t you a holy and righteous God who punishes sin?” “I AM,” he says. “LORD, I have sinned against you. I am not worthy to be called your child. Are you still merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love?” “I AM,” he says. “LORD, will you forgive my sin for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ? Will you wash me clean in his blood? Are you still true to those promises?” “I AM,” he says. “LORD, this is a scary world. It’s filled with temptation and sin. It’s filled with danger and disaster. It’s filled with enemies and persecution. Are you going to be with me today?” “I AM.” “But what about tomorrow, LORD?” “I AM.” “Will you be with me forever?” “I AM.”
This is the blessing of our God and his great name. Who Is I AM? I AM, Yihyeh, is Yahweh, the LORD. He is the God who was and who is and who is to come, the God who is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is unchangeable in his holy glory. He is constant in mercy and forgiveness. He has been with is people in the past, is with us today, and will be with us into eternity.
All glory be to our God, the great I AM, today, tomorrow, and forever.