February 27, 2024

I Am Who I Am

Sinclair Ferguson
I Am Who I Am

When Moses asked God for His name, he received a mysterious answer: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). Today, Sinclair Ferguson considers what the Lord means for His people to know about Him through this astonishing name.


Yesterday we were asking the question, What is God like? Who is He? We were reminding ourselves that this is exactly the question Moses asked God at the burning bush in Exodus 3. That was a monumental moment. You’ll remember God’s answer. God said to Moses: “I am who I am . . . Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you . . . Say: ‘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” (Ex. 3:14–15).

God is the great I Am. You probably know this is the name that the Jewish people came to treat with such reverence they wouldn’t even pronounce it. If you hear the Hebrew Bible being read by Jewish people, when they come to this name, they don’t pronounce it. They say Hashem instead of the name.

I admire that respect for the name of God, but we need to remember that He specifically said, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex. 3:15). He meant His people to know Him as I Am and to call Him I Am—not to hide His name, but to know it, to say it, and to proclaim it throughout all generations and even to the ends of the earth.

And yet there are some quite mysterious things about this revelation of who God really is, aren’t there? I mean, if you were to ask me who are you and I replied, “I am who I am,” it would be true enough. After all, I am who I am. But it’s probably not the kind of answer you want. It might even seem to amount to saying, “I’m not telling you. I’m going to hide my identity from you.” In fact, some Bible readers have thought that’s what God was saying to Moses. But that can’t be the case because, clearly, God is revealing Himself to Moses, not hiding Himself from him.

What does this name mean? I think it means several things. Here’s one of them that’s worth reflecting on throughout the rest of the day: “I Am” means exactly that. Think about it this way: you and I became. Our existence had a beginning, and we are changing every day. We are becoming. And one day, unless the Lord Jesus returns, we’ll die, and people will talk about us in the past tense. We became, we were becoming, and we were.

But God is simply I Am. He is the great I Am. He didn’t become, He’s not becoming, and He has no ending. God simply is. He is all He is, and He always is all He is. However simple the words “I Am” seem to be, they’re really beyond us to grasp. Truly, His greatness none can fathom. It’s just too much for our little minds to be able to comprehend. That’s why we speak about the incomprehensibility of God. We truly know Him, but we can’t wrap our minds around the I Am.

If I try to think simply of that name, my mind begins to reel and stagger. Doesn’t yours? I’m able to grasp only things that have come into being and change and then die. The harder I try to understand One who is without beginning or ending, who is not being caused by something else, the more I’m likely to get a headache. How can there be anything that doesn’t have a beginning, that doesn’t have a prior cause? Someone who simply is. When I think of that, I realize it’s beyond me.

But here’s something important, something that saves us from getting a headache that might make our brains explode: I Am wanted Moses and his people to know who He really is. He wanted them to know Him. What He also makes clear is that He wanted them to know He saw their need and He cared about them and He was going to save them.

Some Old Testament scholars have suggested that when God said to Moses, “I am who I am,” one of the things Moses was meant to understand was, “I Am exactly who I will be in what I’m about to do.” To know God better, Moses needed to know both what He said and what He would do. The same is true for us, only by God’s grace, you and I know so much more than even Moses did. But more of that tomorrow.