15 November 2007

Exodus 3:13-20

"But Moses said to God, 'If I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you", and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?' God said to Moses, 'I am who I am'". (v.13-14)


This is an important Old Testament passage where God reveals himself to Moses. It is the famous story of the burning bush.

Leaving aside the strange idea of God as a talking shrub (although this would not have seemed so odd in the ancient world, where gods often behaved like this,) we find the first revelation of the name of God, as he calls Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. (He also commands his people to occupy the fertile lands of some unsuspecting pastoral tribes to the north, which still causes major problems today.)

In the ancient world, to name a god was to have significant power to bless or to curse. The name of this God is "I am who I am" (or 'I am what I am', or 'I will be what I will be' - or just 'I am') which is related to the Hebrew name Yahweh - not Jehovah, which is a later Christian mis-reading from the Latin translation.

This God simply 'is', and was (for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and will be, both here and now, and everywhere and always - an astonishing claim at a time when gods were tribal and local. And now this God has adopted the Hebrews as his chosen people. He will set them free and punish their oppressors - blessing for Israel and cursing for Egypt (and for the tribes who were to be displaced from their ancestral lands, of course).

The idea of a God who reveals himself on earth to comfort the oppressed and to declare them to be his people is a very attractive one in many ways. But it carries with it the darker side of cursing and judgment. It's good news for those who are redeemed, but perhaps we should spare a thought for the rest!

To Ponder

Do you think that Yahweh reveals himself as a particularly 'nice' God?

How helpful is this story to our understanding of God today?

Should blessing for God's people mean cursing for everyone else?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.