The scripture is Exodus chapter three. The scene is Moses standing in front of the burning bush. Moses has been in the desert, herding sheep and putting his old life in Egypt far behind him for forty years. Whether his family and his people ever fill his dreams or come to mind for him, the Bible does not tell us. All we know is that he escaped the wrath of Pharaoh and landed here in the desert. Here he has found a wife, a new life, and a full time gig as a shepherd in his new home. Now, right before his eyes, God is present in the form of a flame on a bush. Out of seeming years of silence He steps in to tell Moses, I want you to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to free my people – your people – Pharaoh’s cheap and efficient workforce. Yes, you heard that right. God says, “You go back there and tell Pharaoh to set my people free!”
I think the graveness and absurdity of this request gets lost on us. We have the benefit of knowing how this turns out. We know there are plagues and the power of God on the horizon. We know that his brother Aaron is already on the way to offer Moses aid in this crazy God-quest. Moses doesn’t have the benefit of knowing any of this! Can you put yourself in his place? It’s no wonder he stammers out five different excuses; one reason after another why this idea of God’s is not a good one.
In the midst of this dialogue, God explains that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses queries back, “What if this is not enough? What they ask me to give them your name?” God answers “I AM who I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you.” At first blush it seems that God has answered Moses’ question with a riddle. In essence, I think Moses knew exactly what God was saying. In addition, God would explain it to him further as Moses obeyed and God walked with him. This answer meant that God is the ultimate “Who” and the ultimate “Why.” He is, always was, and forever will be! No pharaoh or even any other God could honestly say that about himself. There is no other God who created all things and has always been. To say that God is I AM is to say that He was before all things. Nothing caused his beginning; nothing can bring about His end. In him all things hold together. Ultimately history is in His hands.
Jumping ahead to the first century, the Jewish religious leaders understood this truth about God. The story of Moses and God being known as I AM was central to their identity as the people of God. That is why when Jesus uses phrases like ”I am the light of the world; I am the bread of life: I am the way the truth and the life, I am the Resurrection and the Life, and Before Abraham was I am” the Jewish leaders became so upset. They instantly understood that Jesus was claiming the Name of God for himself. He was claiming to be God. They got and instantly rejected it. Do we get it? I mean really get it? The big question is what do we do with that?