13 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?” 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.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:13-22 ESV
While shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks in the wilderness of Sinai, Moses had an unexpected visit from God. This divine manifestation took the form of a burning bush from which the voice of God declared His plan to deliver the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. But for Moses, the most shocking thing about this encounter was the part in which God revealed him to be the chosen deliverer.
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:10 ESV
His immediate reaction was to disqualify himself from service.
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11 ESV
The thought of going home to Egypt, where he was a convicted murderer with his name on Pharaoh’s most-wanted list, must have scared Moses to death. Despite being Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, he would no longer have any negotiating capital with the Egyptian monarch. He was persona non grata back home. Even his fellow Israelites would refuse to listen to this former member of the royal family, who was more Egyptian than Hebrew.
But God was not buying what Moses was selling. The Almighty refused to listen to his excuses. Instead, God assured Moses that he had no reason to fear because he would not be alone. God would be with him every step of the way. And God provided Moses with an ironclad guarantee that he and the emancipated Israelites would one day return to Mount Horeb (Sinai) and worship Him. And the miraculous burning bush was to be “the sign” that confirmed the veracity of God’s words. Moses could trust God.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Deuteronomy 23:19 NLT
But Moses was still reluctant to accept God’s commission. He was not yet convinced that he was the right man for the assignment, so he asked, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 NLT).
Moses knew that his people had long ago lost interest in Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. During their 400-year stint in Egypt, they had acclimated to the ways of their Egyptian hosts. In time, they had assimilated into the surrounding culture, adapting themselves to the local customs and even adopting the Egyptian gods as their own.
In the book of Ezekiel, God confirms that during their stay in Egypt, the Israelites had developed an unhealthy attachment to the false gods of Egypt.
“When I chose Israel—when I revealed myself to the descendants of Jacob in Egypt—I took a solemn oath that I, the Lord, would be their God. I took a solemn oath that day that I would bring them out of Egypt to a land I had discovered and explored for them—a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the best of all lands anywhere. Then I said to them, ‘Each of you, get rid of the vile images you are so obsessed with. Do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt, for I am the Lord your God.’” – Ezekiel 20:5-7 NLT
Having lived in Egypt most of his adult life, Moses was well aware of this problem and knew the people of Israel would be reluctant to obey the commands of a God they didn’t know. It didn’t help that there had been a 400-year period when God had seemed to go silent. Their increasing apostasy had led Him to cut off all communication with His people. But with His appearance at the burning bush, God broke that silence. Now, Moses was wanting to know how he was supposed to reintroduce this long-forgotten God to the people of Israel.
At this point, even Moses is unsure of his visitor’s identity. While he seems to know that he is conversing with a deity, he has no way of knowing that it is Jehovah, the God of his forefathers. So, he seeks a name, an appellation by which to identify the God to whom he is speaking. And God responds:
“I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14 NLT
The answer Moses receives is not so much a name as it is a declaration of authority. God is declaring that He is the “existing one,” the eternal, all-powerful creator of heaven and earth. He is uncreated and has always existed. Unlike the gods of the Egyptians, God is not the byproduct of man’s imagination.
“I AM is the ultimate statement of self-sufficiency, self-existence, and immediate presence. God’s existence is not contingent upon anyone else. His plans are not contingent upon any circumstances. He promises that He will be what He will be; that is, He will be the eternally constant God. He stands, ever-present and unchangeable, completely sufficient in Himself to do what He wills to do and to accomplish what He wills to accomplish.” – https://www.gotquestions.org/I-AM-WHO-I-AM-Exodus-3-14
Moses is being sent by the one true God. And to ensure that Moses fully comprehends who it is that is speaking to him, God adds:
“You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The Lord—the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’” – Exodus 3:15 NLT
Moses is communicating with the very same God that his forefathers worshiped. The man who asked, “Who am I?” has been talking to the great “I am.” This self-doubting prince turned murderer turned shepherd had questioned his own identity and qualifications for service. But God provided Moses with the assurance that there was no reason to doubt His identity and qualifications. He was Jehovah God.
And with His identity fully disclosed, God instructs Moses to return to Egypt, gather the elders of Israel, and let them in on the news.
“Go and bring together the elders of Israel and tell them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, appeared to me—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—saying, “I have attended carefully to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt, and I have promised that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’” – Exodus 3:16-17 NLT
This was great news, but it would have been difficult for Moses to comprehend. After four centuries of life in Egypt, would the people of Israel want to pack up and leave? Yes, things were difficult and they had been crying out because of their suffering and pain. But was a relocation what they had in mind? And how was Moses supposed to carry off this impossible mission? All of these thoughts must have rifled through the mind of Moses as he listened to God’s instructions.
But as Moses wrestled with doubts, God assured him that the elders would eventually listen to what he had to say. Then, having convinced the Israelites, Moses would need to turn his attention to Pharaoh, who would prove to be a challenge. God discloses that the Egyptian king will not allow the people of Israel to leave.
“I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, not even under force.” – Exodus 3:19 NLT
Moses was going to face strong opposition from his former adoptive grandfather. But God reveals that Pharaoh’s resistance is part of the plan. His refusal to cooperate will bring about God’s judgment.
“I will extend my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do among them, and after that he will release you.” – Exodus 3:20 NLT
God was letting Moses know ahead of time that his assignment would not be easy, but it would eventually prove successful. So much so, that God assured Moses that not only will the Israelites leave Egypt, but they will do so with great wealth.
“I will grant this people favor with the Egyptians, so that when you depart you will not leave empty-handed. Every woman will ask her neighbor and the one who happens to be staying in her house for items of silver and gold and for clothing. You will put these articles on your sons and daughters—thus you will plunder Egypt!” – Exodus 3:21-22 NLT
Surrounded by bleating sheep and still staring at the burning bush, Moses’ head must have been spinning as he considered the words of Jehovah. It was all too good to be true. Not only that, it was all too impossible to even consider. He had grown up in Egypt. He had been raised in the royal court and knew what he was up against. The Egyptians were a powerful and proud people. They were not about to let millions of slaves walk away scot-free and loaded down with the riches of Egypt.
But God patiently endured Moses’ questions of concern and expressions of doubt. He wanted His deliverer to be fully on board with the plan and fully convinced of its ultimate success. So, that when the great “I Am” finally asked Moses if was ready, he would be able to say, “I am.”
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.