David wrote in Psalm 9:10: “Those who know your name put their trust in you.” One of the great benefits of studying the names of God is learning his character so that we can learn to trust him more. And one of the most powerful names in Scripture is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13–15).
You will remember that Moses had been raised as a prince in Egypt, even though he knew his true identity as an Israelite. He knew that God had chosen him as Israel’s deliverer and so, when he was forty years old, he took matters into his own hand, killing an Egyptian guard in the hopes that his fellow-Israelites would realise that he would be their deliverer. His plan backfired and he was forced to flee his home and live as a shepherd in Midian for forty years.
One day, at the ripe old age of eighty, he was following his flocks in the wilderness and turned aside to investigate a curious sight. He had spotted a bush that was burning but not being consumed. As he approached, God spoke to him from the bush, instructing him to remove his sandals before telling him that it was time to return to Egypt as Israel’s deliverer. This time, Moses was not as confident as he had been in his youth. Overwhelmed by the responsibility, he raised objection after objection as to why he could not do it. One of the objections had to do with the name of God. Who should he say had sent him? It was to this question that God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.”
The Hebrew phrase is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. Ehyeh is a common Hebrew word that would be used in a variety of ways. It describes a person performing an action: “I am walking the dog.” “I am driving the car.” When it is used as a stand-alone description, however, it takes on an entirely new significance. As GotQuestions.org puts it,
when used as a stand-alone description, I AM is the ultimate statement of self-sufficiency, self-existence, and immediate presence. God’s existence is not contingent upon anyone else. His plans are not contingent upon any circumstances. He promises that he will be what he will be; that is, he will be the eternally constant God. He stands, ever-present and unchangeable, completely sufficient in himself to do what he wills to do and to accomplish what he wills to accomplish.
This particular name of God is full of meaning, and full of reason for us to praise God. Consider at least three important truths we learn about God’s character from this name.
First, we learn from this name that God exists. This is an obvious reality to Christians but it is a fact that is lost on so many in our society today. Far too many in our society reject the existence of God, or if they intellectually acknowledge it, they live as if he doesn’t exist. This is not how it should be. The existence of God should profoundly impact the way that people respond to him. We do well to ponder that he exists.
Second, we learn from this name that God exists apart from anything and everything. He simply is who he is. Nobody and nothing made him who he is. He was not influenced by his environment or instructed by older and wiser gods before him. He is who he is and always has been who he always has been. He is utterly absolute.
Third, this name reminds us that God does not change. He is who he is and always has been who he is. We change as we grow and as we learn. Since God never grows and never learns, he never changes. We can therefore trust that he is to us who he was to Moses and Abraham and Job and David and Daniel. He is today who he was yesterday and will be tomorrow who he is today (James 1:17). As he said through the prophet Malachi, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).
These three truths are crucial to helping us trust God. Those who know his name put their trust in him. Taking time to consider Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh should help us to trust the God of the Bible more deeply and enduringly. But in what ways should it help us to trust him? How should reflection on this name of God change us and help us to trust him more? It should do so in a few ways.
First, it should encourage us to look to and worship God as the source of all that we need. Before the universe existed, before the laws of nature were put into place, before energy existed, God was. He is the uncaused cause behind all things. He created everything that exists. He put into place the laws of nature by which the universe is governed. If he could do that—call into being everything that exists by the mere power of his word—what reason do we have not to trust him to meet our needs? What need can we possibly face that he cannot meet? Why would we possibly not trust such a God as all-sufficient and pray fervently to him to give us what we need?
Furthermore, as the all-sufficient one, we should be encouraged that God is never depleted of who he is. “He does not faint or grow weary” (Isaiah 40:28). We do not have to wait for him to recharge after he has met our present need. He always is who he is and never lacks anything that he has or we need.
Second, this name should remind us that God is who he objectively is. We live in an age in which subjectivity is virtually idolised. We are scorned and mocked for suggesting that there is such a thing as objective truth—other than the objective truth that there is no objective truth. We determine our own truth, including religious truth. The concept of God is free for all. Everybody should be allowed to worship the god of their own creation. You might worship the God of the Bible, but I don’t have to worship him. I can worship whatever god I choose to worship.
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh reminds us God does not change according to our whims. When the readers of 1 John were tempted to believe the Christological lies of the false teachers, John warned them against embracing an idol (1 John 5:21). God’s character is an objective reality. He is who he is, not who we want him to be. We must therefore respond to him as he is, not as we want him to be.
Third, and finally, we must allow Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh—“I AM WHO I AM”—to point us to Christ. When Jesus claimed that Abraham was glad to see his day, the Jewish religious leaders mocked him. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” In a stunning claim to divinity, Jesus replied, “Truly, truly! I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:56–58). Jesus claimed to be the very God whom Moses met at the burning bush. He is the God who exists apart from anything or anyone else and who does not change.
William Ernest Henley famously wrote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Jesus simply says, “I AM.” We cannot claim “I AM” for ourselves, for we are not self-sufficient as Christ is. We learn. We grow. We change. Our hope in an ever-changing world is to cast ourselves in faith on the only one who does not change and who needs nothing. May those who know his name put their trust in him.