For 40 peaceful years, Moses leads the bleatingly quiet life of a shepherd—until one day he is mesmerized by an ever-burning bush. God speaks out of the flames. He has seen the abuse of his people in Egypt, heard their anguish. And he is sending Moses to rescue them.
Moses stutters and fumbles through his excuses. “What should I tell the people if they ask me what your name is?” he asks, overwhelmed. The Ancient of Days reveals his personal name—I am who I am. Moses has nothing to fear—the mighty God is going with him.
For credibility and to calm Moses’ anxious heart, God gives Moses the ability to work three miracles. Still unconvinced and insecure, Moses asks God to send someone else. Frustrated, God explains that he has already sent Moses’ eloquent brother Aaron to help. The brothers join up during Moses’ journey back to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, they meet with the elders of Israel, who believe their message—God has sent someone to rescue them. But when Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh, he doesn’t believe. Pharaoh tightens his grip on the people and makes their work-burdens heavier. God reassures the fearful Moses—his powerful deliverance is coming.
The King’s Heart
“Remove your shoes, Moses. Heaven is meeting earth here. The ground you’re on is holy.”
The shepherd Moses asked an audacious question: “Who are you, really? What is your name?” And the everlasting, invisible God-King, who could have forever kept himself as the uncreated mystery, did the unthinkable. He answered. He shared his personal, eternal name. It’s a heavenly handshake. A cosmically lopsided “How do you do?”
Before the murderer-shepherd had the opportunity to do anything to prove himself, God told him who he is. He shared a piece of his heart. Our first names label our essences; sharing them is a gesture of intimacy, of closeness.
God’s name is as mysterious and massive as he is. I am who I am. The message is clear: “I don’t need anything from you, Moses. I am God. I am the ‘I am’—the eternal, self-existent One. I could accomplish anything I want to do without you. I don’t need you, Moses. But I want you—I want you to know me. Here is my identity, a little of my heart. Now that you know that about me, let’s walk on.”
To this day, God’s personal name—I am who I am, yhwh—is so sacred that, to honor him, the Jewish people refuse to say it out loud.