Open Exodus 3:11-15.
All power rests in the hands of the heavenly sovereign. Yet he exercises his power in partnership with his people: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the descendants of Israel out of Egypt” (3:10).
Moses is to be the agent of the divine king, in confrontation with Pharaoh? Surely not! This is absurd. This wilderness shepherd is being asked to confront the most powerful ruler, demanding him to release his labour-force, challenging his right to rule the Hebrew people?
A long time ago, Moses did try to stand against the might of Pharaoh. He fled for his life. He has lived as a fugitive ever since. If Moses had any real clout, the demand that Pharaoh release these people would start a war. Since Moses has no clout at all, he will be swatted like a fly. This is madness.
All those memories and fears rush through Moses as he questions his sovereign’s plan: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring Israel’s descendants out of Egypt?”
Wrong question. What matters is not who Moses is but who he represents: “You’re not going alone: I will be with you” (3:12).
This is the promise the divine ruler has given to his people:
- He was with Ishmael (Genesis 21:20).
- He was with Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 28).
- He was with Jacob (Genesis 31:3; 31:42; 35:3).
- He was with Joseph, even in prison (Genesis 39:2, 21).
- Jacob declared, “God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 48:21).”
Moses is not facing Pharaoh alone. The presence and authority of the divine ruler backs him.
If Moses is to present himself as the agent of the divine sovereign who oversees all nations and all history, he must be able to explain who he’s representing. “If people ask me, what is your name?” he asks (3:13). Egypt acknowledges many gods, with the pharaohs viewed either as gods or as representatives of the gods. In this polytheistic setting, which divine ruler does Moses represent?
But the question is not so simple to answer. Definitions work by ruling some things in and other things out. To describe something as green is to say that it is not blue or red. To the Egyptians, Ra the sun-god ruled the heavens. If one says that Abraham’s God was not Ra, a polytheistic audience would understand this to mean that his domain was limited, i.e. he was not the one who rules the heavens and provides the warmth to grow the crops. The one true sovereign cannot be defined by saying, “I am this and not that” for there is nothing outside of his domain. The only adequate definition is, “I am!” Anything further is too limiting. He is the Being, the being-one. He is the ground of being, for everything that exists belongs in his reign. “I am” covers it all. There is nothing more to add: “What I am, I am.” To explain this to the people in Egypt, Moses must say, “The I am — the all-inclusive being who rules all things in heaven and on earth — he has sent me to you.”
And yet the sovereign’s own people need a name by which they can refer to their ruler. He reveals his name as YHWH. These four letters in Hebrew became so revered that they were not pronounced lest they dishonour the name. Etymologically the name is probably related to the verb to be (hā·yāh), reinforcing the notion that he is the ground of all being. Within the narrative framework of his revelation, he is the ruler who committed himself to the Abrahamic family — “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:15).
Crucial to this encounter is YHWH’s unfailing commitment to his people. He will be remembered as their sovereign through all generations.
I am always is.
The faithful one partners with his people.