I AM THAT I AM
Recently Reebok ran an advertising campaign with the slogan “I am what I am.” I wonder whether they knew they were ‘taking the LORD’s name in vain’?
But actually, anyone who says “I am what I am” must be aware of what a divine pronouncement they’ve uttered. They are giving a final word on their own identity. They are who they say they are and that’s that.
When the LORD of the burning bush says “I am that I am” it’s in response to a question from Moses. He’s worried about what will happen when he goes to his people with a story about a burning bush and a promised deliverance:
[When] they say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? (Exodus 3:13)
And so the LORD answers
I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me to you. (v14)
You could translate it in either the present or future tense (you could say “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.”) But this is the name by which He wants to be known. And it’s a name preserved for us in the Hebrew name “Yahweh.” Essentially if you write “I AM THAT I AM” in Hebrew and then squash down the letters you end up with “Yahweh.” And when it’s anglicized we might say “Jehovah”. In our Bible translations it’s indicated by the word “LORD” when all the letters are capitals. Every time you see “LORD” – over 6000 times in the Old Testament – it’s the personal name of this One from the burning bush: “I AM THAT I AM.”
This is the LORD naming Himself. But what does it mean?
Well first of all, the LORD is taking the job of identifying Himself into His own hands. He’s ending the game we like to play when we say “I like to think about God like this…” God is who He is, not who we say He is. He names Himself, we don’t name Him. The direction of travel is always down. From Him to us.
Thus, we are released from the prison of our own imaginations about God. We don’t have to come up with God – He comes out with Himself. He’ll define Himself in His way.
But that doesn’t mean He’s keeping Himself to Himself. “I AM THAT I AM” is not about His splendid isolation. How could it be? Think of the One who utters it. He is the Angel of the LORD (verse 2). He is the One Sent from the Unseen God. He is the eternal Son of the Father. This is not the name of a lonely monad defining Himself in stark opposition.
Think of where He is pronouncing the name from. A burning bush – symbolising His presence with the people in their suffering.
And think of the context. Just two verses earlier He has used the same phrase “I AM / I WILL BE…” in a promise of tremendous solidarity:
And he said, Certainly I will be with thee (Exodus 3:12)
In a sense the LORD’s name in verse 14 is saying,
“I will tell you who I am. I will end the guessing games. I AM who I WILL BE in my mighty saving acts. You want to know who I am? Watch this space. Watch how I am with you. Watch how I will deliver you. Watch as I work unlike any other god or any other human – in glorious redeeming love.”
And if we really want to know the ins and outs of this name, we have to wait and see – not only what He does in the Exodus, but what He does 1500 years later. In the fullness of time, He stands before His people again and says:
“I AM the Bread of life” (John 6:35);
“I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12);
“I AM the Gate” by which you must enter (John 10:9);
“I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11);
“I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25);
“I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6);
“I AM the True Vine” (John 15:1).
When we proclaim loudly who we are, it is to distance ourselves from the claims of others. When Jesus does it He puts Himself – sovereignly – at our disposal.
What do you need to get through today? How will the great I AM meet your needs?