Something interesting happens early in the story of Moses. God is sending this stuttering, stumbling Hebrew son of an Egyptian ruler to be His messenger, and Moses asks, "Who should I tell them has sent me?" Who are You, God? What is Your name?
Most of us read right by this little section, not understanding the significance of it. But what's happening here is powerful.
The gods of this time period, the gods of the other peoples in the region, were plentiful. And all had names. They were given these names either by themselves or, more often, by other gods, and the gods were not considered anything at all until they had a name. It was their name that revealed what, exactly, they did in the cosmos. It was their name that told their worshipers whether they were a god of sun or a god of rain or a god of fertility or a god of the dead. Until this point, Israel has a god, but until this point, He hasn't named Himself. So there's a bit of a question just who He is. And Moses is asking Him here, right here, to reveal Himself.
God, just what kind of God are You? What should I tell Your people they can expect from You? What function are You about to serve? What role are You about to play?
And God gives this beautifully cryptic answer: "I Am." Go, tell My people I Am. Go tell them I Am God.
If God is a god of fertility, you know when you're going to go to Him. You know the seasons you're going to need Him. If He is a god of the sun, you know something else entirely. If He tells you He is the god of deliverance, well, there's another relationship altogether. If God would just tell you what He is, what He's going to be, what He's going to do, then you really know something about Him. Don't you? What are we to make of this simple "I Am"?
I love it. Because here's what this really means, at least to me. God tells His people "I Am" and what He's saying is, "I Am God." I Am all gods. I Am God over everything. Want to know what I can do? Ask Me. Want to see what I can make happen? Trust Me. Can't figure out exactly how you and I are supposed to relate to one another? Try Me. Come to Me not just for this need or that; come to Me for anything. I Am God. I can do it.
Come to Me not just for anything, but come to Me for everything. I Am God. I can do it.
And here we have God setting Himself up against the other gods of the time period, declaring that He is who He is not because of what He does; He simply is who He is. He's establishing the foundation on which we come to Him in relationship, not in ritual religion. He's teaching His people, early on, that He is a God who refuses to be defined by His actions or inactions in this world but is a God who demands to be known by His character. This was inconceivable in the world in which Israel lived, and yet, here is God creating one more new thing. He's creating a thing called faith.
I've always read this passage and wondered about God's answer here. I've always wondered what makes God say, "I Am." Because to a reader like me, who had never considered the context of the question, I Am is a non-answer. Who is this God who, when asked who He is, simply answers, "I Am God"? It doesn't mean anything.
It means everything.