“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’ 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 tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”‘” (Exodus 3:11-15).
Moses asks God how he’ll know that what God is saying will come about, and this is essentially God’s answer: “You will know that it’s going to happen when it happens! And when you worship Me on the mountain to which I am bringing My people! I will be who I will be! Tell them Yahweh is coming!” I’m not sure why most translators translate what God says as, “I am who I am.” The verbs are the “to be” verbs in the Qal imperfect, which denote a futuristic tense. A more literal and better translation would be, “I will be who I will be.”
Either way, this is no answer! “Who am I that I should go?” Moses asks. God’s answer is, “I will be with you. And this is the sign for you: when it happens and you worship Me on the mountain to which I am bringing you.” Then Moses asks, “Who do I say to the people of Israel has sent me?” And God answers, “I will be who I will be. I am Yahweh.”
This is no answer! At least, not the answer anybody wants. When we ask God how we know something is going to happen, the answer we want is not, “When it happens,” but some miraculous sign as assurance. And God saying He’s going to be who He is, along with His personal name, is no answer we want either! Thus, what are we to make of God’s words here?
God is God; you are not. God does what He does however He wants to do it, and He does it according to who He is. Who is He? His name is Yahweh. Who is Yahweh? It just so happens that Yahweh reveals who He is on the mountain He said He would bring them. In the following verses, I’m going to translate “the LORD” as Yahweh (anytime you see “the LORD” in the Old Testament, God’s personal name, Yahweh, is being used).
Yahweh passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”Exodus 34:6-7
“I will be who I will be,” Yahweh tells Moses. Who is He going to be? Merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love for thousands, forgiving of iniquity and transgression and sin, and He is just and wrathful against the guilty wicked. These words of who Yahweh is are fulfilled in Christ. In Christ, God is merciful and gracious as all our sins, transgressions, and iniquities are forgiven in Christ, in whom His anger and just wrath are appeased on the cross. And we have the promise that Christ is coming soon to dwell in our presence for all eternity. And death, evil, and the devil will be eternally destroyed.
What is the sign that this is going to happen? First, the sign is Christ’s resurrection. And second, the sign is when it happens and we are with Christ in glory, worshiping the Father, the Lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit in the New Jerusalem.
Theology Terms Used
- New Jerusalem: the apocalyptic City of God symbolic of God’s restored, eternal dwelling with His people in Christ Jesus, which is to come at the same inauguration as the new creation (the new heavens and the new earth that Jesus Christ will usher in at His second coming).