El Shaddai, the God of Israel and all its nationhood, now reveals Himself to Moses. He assuages Moses that He will always be with them and empowers them to complete what He asks of them.
He then revealed His true name to Moses and gave Him instructions about its proper usage as a commandment to all people.
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What does it mean?
As soon as Moses encountered the burning bush in the wilderness, he realized God was calling him to free his people from slavery. At first hesitant, but God assured him he wouldn’t be alone – from it He gave Moses instructions about who his audience would be: elders from Israel as well as Pharaoh himself – plus provided guidance about Moses’ role and identity of God himself.
Before this momentous event occurred, Israelites commonly referred to their God by His title El, not his personal name; and also as El Shaddai or God Almighty – these names conveying His dominion over creation, self-sustaining nature, and eternal nature.
God revealed His name to Moses in the wilderness of Horeb: it was YHWH. Unlike His other titles and descriptions, His name demonstrated His powerful affection for Israel while at the same time conveying anger at those who worship other gods. Additionally, this name identified Him as one who delivered them out of slavery while reminding them that He will not abandon them.
Most commentators, ancient and modern alike, assume that God’s initial response ehyeh asher ehyeh may have been intended as a foreshadowing introduction explaining the meaning of YHWH that He would soon reveal to Moses. Unfortunately, however, this interpretation of scripture cannot be supported: when YHWH first appears again is in verse 14, when Moses is instructed to use this name when introducing himself before Israelite elders and Pharaoh.
Moses consistently used this name of God when speaking to Him (Exodus 3:15; Exodus 3:16); this indicates that it must have been his identity.
God revealed Himself through Moses by proclaiming YHWH to be His one and only name: Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (YHWH) This revealed His relationship to his people: he dealt with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob just like he dealt with Moses – reminding Moses that their covenant still held great value and meaning.
What does it mean to you?
Israelites needed to know that God heard their prayers and had a plan in mind for their rescue from Egypt; knowing His name helped them remember this and trust in His divine plan for their future.
As we read through this passage, we see Moses struggling with his role as Israel’s spokesperson and feeling inadequate to fulfill it. Moses asks God for a sign that He really sent him, which He does by unveiling His name – this revelation set Him apart from all the foreign gods known by Israelites prior to this revelation.
Previous to Moses’ revelation, they had addressed their God as Elohim or El Shaddai (which can be translated to mean “God Almighty”). These names represented His dominion over all creation, while not creating an intimate connection like using first names can. Instead, God responded to Moses by using “I AM”, an allusion to both His eternal existence and all-powerfulness.
Jewish scribes deemed this name so sacred that later they added a further protection of it by adding haShem at the end of a passage citing it; some Jewish prayer leaders refrain from speaking it in prayers as some prefer Lord or God instead, to pay tribute to its sacredness and protect its purity.
God began by unveiling His name to Israel before explaining what He planned to do for them: they would be freed from Egypt, live in Canaan and worship Him on Mount Sinai. God’s revelation of Himself as the creator set Him apart from all other gods – including idols that forced Egyptians to worship alongside their gods.
Moses doubted his abilities to rally his people behind him and convince Pharaoh to release them, but God assured him that He had already appointed him to lead them out of slavery into the land He had promised them as their home. This promise served as powerful motivation to push through difficult challenges head on.
What does it mean to me?
God sent Moses on an important mission – freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery – when He appeared as a burning bush and spoke directly to Moses. While such an undertaking might have seemed overwhelming to Moses at first, His mission would ultimately prove successful and God assured Moses of His support and plan while also proclaiming Himself “I AM.”
Most ancient and modern commentators presume that God’s initial response, “ehyeh asher ehyeh,” (v. 14) serves as an introduction to His name YHWH which He will reveal shortly. While this interpretation can be valid, the text never actually states this fact – rather, when Moses inquired after His name He responded immediately with it as His answer.
Moses inquired of God about how He wanted him to play a part in His plan for saving Israel, creating a new nation from among their old ones, and instructing Moses to bring this message of salvation directly to Pharaoh.
At that moment, YHWH gave Moses an instruction: “Take off your sandals; this ground is holy ground.” This act showed respect and acknowledged that one should not treat this mountaintop casually like any other place on Earth.
After discussing God’s omnipotence and His multitude of options to rescue his people, He informed Moses that He would provide salvation through impassioned love for them alone. If they worshipped other gods instead, however, their destruction was assured.
As part of His nature and character, YHWH told Moses that He “was” and would remain forever. These aspects of YHWH’s being are foundational to our understanding of the Gospel message; as we read the gospels more fully we learn more about YHWH as He revealed Himself through Jesus, as well as having the chance to develop a personal relationship with Him through faith in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to the people?
At a time when holy is rarely heard in Scripture, this passage uses it to establish God’s presence: he is the holy God of Israel who takes great care to care for his people and not far away; just like a flame is present within a bush. Unlike Egypt’s abstract gods who define themselves by incommunicable attributes seated beyond time and space, God here calls Abraham to build an expensive relationship with him before meeting up with him later to deliver his people from slavery (Gen 22).
Moses must be humbled by this encounter and the commission to lead Israel out of Egypt, but also reminded that it wasn’t him who accomplished this miracle; God alone performed it! Moses needed to trust that a sign would appear that would confirm who it was who called him to lead them out.
God answered Moses by instructing him to remove his sandals as the ground is holy – this marks the first time anywhere in Scripture that an explicit location was identified as sacred by its presence of divine holiness. Furthermore, He revealed His name by calling Himself Yahweh or Lord God; this term indicates His role as Israel’s sovereign god who will continue being such for eternity.
This was vital because it showed Moses that God is in control and would carry out His plan successfully.
However, it is hard to gauge what drove this scribe who introduced an etymological introduction of God’s name into verse 19. After all, it seems at odds with the command in verse 19 telling people the Lord sent him (YHWH not Ehyeh). Most likely this scribe simply sought an alternative solution for explaining its complexity.