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You may not think that you face the same sort of question that Moses did. After all, we don’t live in a polytheistic society. But the “many gods” now masquerade as “belief systems” and “theological inclinations.” Liberal, conservative, secular, modern, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic—it’s everywhere! Each of us, consciously or unconsciously, makes choices about which god to worship.
God chose to make His character known to Moses by associating Himself with certain people Moses knew about: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Those stories, passed down through the generations of the Hebrews, told about a certain God who provided, protected, and blessed—the accounts we read in the book of Genesis. As God has chosen to make Himself known by association, there are people in your life, sent by God, who provide important information about what God is like. Pay attention to them.
To Moses at the burning bush, God also reveals what He is like when He says, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people . . . So I have come down to rescue them” (Exod. 3:7–8). Like holiness, salvation is a theme that runs through the Bible. The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt shows us something significant about the character of God: He is a saving God. This stands in stark contrast to the gods of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, or Babylonians who were not especially interested in saving anybody. Saving Israel from slavery in Egypt by Moses, saving us from spiritual slavery to sin and Satan, God is not willing for His creation to become co-opted and corrupted and to be in a place of enduring pain and misery. Mary celebrates the saving character of God when the angel announces the coming birth of her son. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47 NRSV).
I love the way the psalmist celebrates the character of God.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made . . . The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. (Ps. 145:8–9, 13–14)
God is holy. God is the God of Moses’ ancestors. God is a saving God. These are important pieces of information for Moses. But there is more: Moses wants to know God’s name (v. 13). It’s the ultimate question, because we can’t claim to know anybody if we don’t know that person’s name. Think about brand names; they convey the importance of a name. Car, shoe, guitar are generic names. We know a great deal more when we know the brand name: BMW, Nike, Martin.
The name God provides is not generic; it is His brand. He is not just any god, He is “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14). Commentators struggle to mine its meaning. “I Am the One Who Is” or “I Am the One Whom You Shall Know” are two of the proposed options. “I Am” is how God wants to be addressed.
C.S. Lewis’s portrayal of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia portrays the wonder and thrill of hearing God name Himself.
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it...
. . . But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything.5
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