The meaning of the name “I AM WHO I AM” and its implication in Christmas.
The Context of the phrase.
The context is all about describing the meaning of the Bible passages. The context’s importance is vital in our understanding of the name “I AM WHO I AM.
The Book of Exodus is the second book in the Holy Scriptures called the Bible. The book describes how the children of Israel (Jacob) became slaves in Egypt’s land after the years following Joseph’s death, the Hebrew Prime Minister in Egypt. It also says how God multiplied their numbers. There were only seventy who came to Egypt during the famine time to gather food. They ended up living there. However, God multiplied their numbers. They became numerous so that even the king of Egypt was afraid of their growth in the land. The king of Egypt appointed slave masters over them to oppress with hard work and toil. Their life nothing other than total misery in the land. Chapter two ends with this statement, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” You see, Israelites groaned and cried in their slavery. Their cry for deliverance went up to God. God’ heard’, ‘remembered,’ saw (or looked on them), and ‘concerned’ about their condition.
It is interesting to note that God had already planned a future for them by preparing a deliverer even before they cried by their lips. Isn’t it amazing? His name was Moses. God’s sovereignty and providence protected the infant from the order of the king of Egypt to kill all the boys or throw them into the river Nile. Miraculously God saved the life of Moses. He sovereignly allowed the arch-enemy of Israelites (the Pharoah and his court) to raise him and provide him the best education of the day. You see, God was at work amid the misery of the children of Israel to fulfill The covenant He already made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding the promised land, a nation, and future savior of the whole world by whom the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-5). The promised nation requires a great number of people. Therefore, God multiplied them in Egypt’s land and decided to take action to bring them out of Egypt from slavery into the Promised Land to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses, the newborn boy amid miseries, is divinely protected by the Lord God when his parents decided to place him in a papyrus basket in the Nile river. That was a step of faith by the parents by giving the child to the providence and protection of the Lord when Pharoah ordered all boys to be thrown in the river of Nile. God stepped in favor of the infant Moses, and the rest of his life is God’s care and providence for him. The provident hand of God can be understood by the timely arrival of Pharoah’s daughter to take a bath in the river along with her attendants and the rescue of Moses from the river. God gave Moses the best education and training available in those days, even in the king of Egypt’s palace. Moses eventually figured out who he was. He knew him as a Hebrew, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is the recipient of God’s covenant promise. One day, when he grew up, he visited his own people and watched them at their hard slavery labor. He watched an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. His anger arose inside, and after looking at both sides and knowing none present, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he saw two Hebrews fighting. He could not understand and asked why he was hitting his fellow one? The Hebrew man asked Moses, who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you try to kill me like you killed the Egyptians. Moses understood that they knew he killed an Egyptian. Even Pharoah heard about the incident and thought to kill Moses. Moses decided to flee away from the palace.
The Hebrew writer sums it up all in Hebrews 11:25-27. It said that when Moses grew up, he understood God’s unique calling in his life. He wanted to be identified with his own people who are under oppression. He refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Instead, he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting or passing pleasure of sin. He regarded the disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the great treasures of Egypt. The reason was that he was looking for a reward from God. So he left Egypt and the palace, not fearing the anger of the king.
For the next forty years, he lived in exile in the land of Midian, in the Arabian peninsula, married to a daughter of the priest of Midian, Zipporah, and did the work of taking care of the sheep of his father in law-a shepherd. There God had trained him to become a future shepherd of His own people when God calls him at the appropriate time in His calendar. You see, Moses had roller coaster experiences in his life. From the Nile River to the palace as the King of Egypt’s adopted grandchild, with the prospect of becoming the future king of Egypt. From palace to exile to do the lowly work of taking care of his father’s sheep in law.
The time of God’s unique call arrived in his life as he was tending the flock of his father-in-law, the priest of Media, and he led the flock to the mountain of God in Horeb. The LORD appeared to him from within a bush. Moses witnessed an unusual sight. The bush was on fire, and it did not burn up. He thought he would go over and see the strange sight. He wanted to know why the bush does not burn up. When the LORD saw he came to look closely, He called from within the bush, “Moses!Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” The LORD said He had seen the misery of His people in Egypt. He said He heard them crying out due to their slave drivers. He said He was concerned about them. He also said He came down to rescue them from the Egyptians’ hand and bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Then the LORD said to Moses I AM sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’
At this time, Moses asked two questions. He said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? God said to him, “I will be with you.” Moses had a second question, and it said, “if they ask me, what is his name?” Then what I shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. You are to say to the Israelites,” “I AM sent me to you.” God gave one more explanation to Moses. He said, “Say to the Israelites, 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, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
Meaning of “I AM WHO IAM”
Now, after understanding the detailed backgrounds, what are the main observations we can come up with? First of all, Moses, being lived in the land of Midian, would have been familiar with the Canaanite gods’ name, like Baal and Asherah. He was also familiar with the many Egyptian human-made gods. But he now heard a totally unexpected name. The meaning of the phrase based on the original Hebrew language could be – “I AM WHO I AM,” “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE” OR I WILL BECOME WHOEVER I BECOME. The book of Revelations 1:8 gives a little bit more glimpse to the phrase “I AM.” It says there, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and was and is to come—the Almighty. I AM means the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha and Omega means the “the First and the Last”, beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13). Revelation 1:8 gives an additional meaning of I AM, and that is “who is and was and is to come.” It gives two meanings about the LORD God- His eternal and ever-present nature. The God who sends Moses to deliver people from their misery is the only God, and there is no other God. He is not one like the man fabricated gods like Egyptian or Canaanite or other gods. He is the only God. God said in Isaiah 45:5, I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me, there is no God.” The true and only God is eternal and ever-present with His people. Ever-present means past, present, and future – all the time. Remember Jesus said, and it is recorded in John 8:48, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The LORD is always present. Past, present, and future are all ever-present for Him. Jesus did not say before Abraham, I was. Make a note the LORD is always, “I AM.” He was ever-present in the past, present, and future. The LORD said to Moses in Exodus 3:12 that “I will be with you” when Moses asked, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the people from Egypt? He knew his inabilities, weaknesses, and failures. However, God said He would be with Moses. He will be with Moses no matter what. “I AM WHO IAM” AND “I WILL BECOME WHOEVER I BECOME.” Both meanings can be applied to the phrase when we learn the original meaning.
This takes us to the tri-focused meanings of I AM WHO I AM means God’s presence with His people in the past, His presence with them now, and His assured presence with them in the future. The phrase I AM WHO I AM also means God’s immutability and his unending faithfulness. Changed circumstances or even His people’s failures do not affect the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is faithful, although things may look bad and hopeless at present in the lives of the Israelites. The phrase also means God is immanent and transcendent at the same time. God is Holy and distinct from us. However, He was also near us as He appeared to Moses in the burning bush that did not get burned due to His presence. The transcendent God said to Moses He came down to rescue them from the Egyptians’ hands and lead them to the promised land. The transcendency and immanency of the LORD are pictured in the pages of the Bible. You see, the children of Israel were burning in the oppression and slavery. However, the LORD –the great I AM WHO I AM, was present in their miseries, and consequentially they are not going to be burned up. The LORD was present with Moses all through his roller-coaster life experiences. The I AM WHO I AM was present with him in the past, now presently, and would be with him in the future.
The transcendent LORD became immanent to all of us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Bible says in John 1 that the eternal Word, who was God, became flesh and made His dwelling among us in Jesus Christ. God promises and says, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” Jesus said the ever-presence, and it is recorded in Matthew 28:20 9(b) that “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The immutability of Jesus is also stated in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
The name of the true God is “I AM WHO I AM.” He also declared this is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. It means the LORD as I AM had been present with his people in the past, present right now, and would be present always in the future. He has been present with their forefathers –Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has been present with them in their miseries. He heard their groaning and cried for help. Now He is going to deliver them from their slavery by his strong and outstretched power. He would indeed present with them in the future. The same truth applies to the chosen deliverer – Moses. God had been present with him from his infancy stage in the river of Nile to the life in the palace and the long exile period. He is now present to use Him as the deliverer for His people. He promised He would be with him despite his weaknesses, inability, and past fallen records. He is the God who will never abandon us.
Secondly, not only is the LORD ever present with his people, but also He is immanent in their needs and problems, although He is different and transcendent from all of us. The one who appeared to Moses in many simple bushes can approach us and commission us for his work in the most simple and unexpected ways.
Thirdly, the God who revealed Himself in the pages of the Bible is the only true God. No other exists. He is the eternal God –the beginning and the end or consummation of all. If you want to know the truth about the beginnings and the end of all, the God of the Bible is the source of it all. All words recorded in the pages of the Bible are breathed out of Him. He is the source of all truth. Get connected to Him to know the truth about all.
Finally, I want to bring to your attention one important observation that we must never miss out on the name “I AM WHO I AM.” Isaiah the prophet said centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ this in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What is the word ‘Immanuel’ mean? It means simply God is with us. God said to Moses in Exodus 3:12,” I will be with you.” Immanuel means “God with us.” Matthew later said the above LORDs message in Isaiah 7:14 is fulfilled at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. He says about the virgin birth of Christ, and God’s presence with us that were promised in the old testament scriptures was fulfilled in Jesus. Matthew recorded in chapter 1:23 and listen carefully, “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet” “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel
which means ‘God is with us.”
Jesus is ‘God is with us.’ This is what we are about to celebrate a few days from today on Christmas day. God is with us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Word, eternal God who became flesh to save us from our sins and mistakes. (John, 1). He said, “before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). He is the great I AM who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and promised His presence with him. He is the one who expressed himself by the name of I AM WHO I AM. He is the transcendent God who became immanent to us. He is the eternal God. He is the beginning and end. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the faithful God who never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is the ever-present almighty God who can help us in our needs. He is our savior. He is our hope. He is the covenant-keeping God. He is the only one who never abandons us. He is the “I AM WHO I AM”. He is the “I will be whomever I will become” for His people’s sake.
The assurance the Lord gave to Moses is the same assurance He gives to you today. I AM WHO I AM. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. Both meanings are applicable to the original words recorded in Exodus. The one who knew you before your birth, when you were in darkness in your mother’s womb, the one who knitted you together, fashioned you there, the one who led you so far, would be with you always in the future. He will not leave nor abandon you. There may be times in your life that you think God does not care or know your struggles. However, as He is truly transcendent, He also is truly immanent in your issues, miseries, and all circumstances, as He was with the children of Israel and Moses.
The message of Christmas
is the transcendent God became immanent (Immanuel-God with us) in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the message Christmas brings to our minds. You do not need to look for God anywhere else. You do not create God by human fabrications. You do not worship the creations like Sun, moon, or any created things. They are all created by the great I AM- the LORD God. You call upon the name of the great I AM who revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This 2020 Christmas knocks at your heart’s door with an invitation to come and embrace Jesus as your savior and Lord. He promises His presence, salvation, deliverance, forgiveness, and eternal life for you in heaven with Him because He carried your sins on his divine and sinless body, went to the cross, died in your place for your sins, buried and rose again victoriously to save and give you a future and hope. The ultimate deliverance and salvation from the slavery and bondage of sins and the consequent judgments are found in the Gospel or the good news that Jesus paid it all and come home by accepting Him as your savior and Lord. May the 2020 Christmas brings to light the eternal truth of the way of salvation and eternal life in your hearts.
“Father in heaven, I come to you the I AM WHO I AM, the LORD in heaven. I understand the significance of Christmas and what you have done for me. I need Jesus because He became flesh, took my sins on his body, went to the cross, died, and rose again to save me and grant me forgiveness and eternal life with you in heaven. I believe Jesus as my savior and Lord. Please forgive my sins and save me today. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.”