“Then Moses said to God, Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13, NKJV).[i]
This is a sensible question given the impossible task of comprehending an unsearchable God. And yet the God of Israel is not an abstraction. We are obligated to pray to Him, and we are encouraged to sense His divine intervention in our lives. Jesus walked on the earth over two-thousand years ago, God incarnate. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The great paradox; fully God and fully man, and yet God is not a man, nor can we understand Him as having any human attributes. No, for man is made in His image, and we are the ones with human attributes that are created by God.
“And [so] God said [vayomer] to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM [Eheye Asher Eheye].’ And He said [vayomer], Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM [Eheye] has sent me to you.’ Moreover God said [vayomer] to Moses, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD 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, and this is My memorial to all generations’” (Exodus 3:14-15).
God’s response is highly enigmatic; therefore, we will use Rabbinic Midrash Exodus Rabba 3:6 to help us interpret this dialogue between God and Moses, and its application for the naming of God.[ii] Moses has asked a question, but God does not appear to be answering in a way that we can comprehend. How are we to know and understand God’s name?
The first thing to pay attention to in this scripture is the repetition of the words, “God said to Moses (vayomer Elohim el Moshe).” It is commonly understood that when vayomer (translated “said to”), is repeated concerning an already mentioned speaker, and without intervening narrative or speech, then the text needs to be expounded. Since the word vayomer is used three times in succession without any intervening speech or action on the part of Moses, or on the part of God for that matter, we need to gain an understanding of this repetition. The rabbinical assumption is there is a missing narrative in the scripture, but I believe there is a deeper explanation.
Let us return to our exploration of God’s name, “I AM WHO I AM [Eheye Asher Eheye].” Rabbi Abba bar Memmel writes that God’s response to Moses is not an answer but a correction. God tells Moses, “I am not called by a name, but rather, I am called according to my deeds.” God has many names, but none by themselves can fully characterize His essence or His nature. There are no less than seventy-two biblical references to the names of God, and most of these refer to His attributes, e.g., Yehovah Yireh, the God Who Sees, etc.
Rabbi Yitzhak says that God’s response is not a correction, but rather a statement: “Say to them, ‘I am the One Who was, and I am the One Who is now, and I am the One Who will be in the future.’” Jesus Himself told us: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8).
Rabbi Yaakov, the son of R. Avina, says that God’s answer means, “I will be with them now just as I will be with them later.” He further refines his answer by articulating: “Say to them, ‘In this enslavement, I will be with them, and they will go into enslavement [in the future], and I will be with them.’” This is a response to God’s assurance and comfort for His people. Jesus told His disciples, “… observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:20).
Rabbi Yitzhak refines this opinion with another explanation in the name of R. Ami. He says Eheye is derived from the Hebrew root letters hey-vuv-hey with the meaning of “in trouble or evil I will be with them,” and translates “I was broken.” And so, the Lord is saying to Moses: “Tell the children of Israel that I will be with them in their brokenness and trouble.”
There is a complication in Rabbi Yitzhak’s answer in that it does not work grammatically. Eheye is a first-person future conjugation of either the Hebrew root hey-yud-hey or hey-vuv-hey, and translated accurately has to mean “I will be broken.” The rabbis attribute this brokenness to the Jewish people, and to an extent this is true. But scripture is clear, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). On the night of the Passover when Jesus made the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, He told His disciples: “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1Corinthians 11:24). Jesus, the Son of God, was broken for our iniquity.
The deeper explanation of God’s response to Moses aligns perfectly with the triune Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three times God says to Moses, Vayomer. It is not just three responses but is each of the three parts of the Godhead responding to Moses. Tell the children of Israel, I am their heavenly Father, and by these attributes, my character is known. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “[For] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
Tell the children of Israel, I am the Holy Spirit, their comforter, and in their trouble and evil, I will be with them. “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “[And] the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
And, tell the children of Israel, I am the Son of God and “I will be broken” for their iniquity. “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1Corinthians 5:7).
Wow! Spend a few moments meditating on the significance of this revelation. But there is more to understand. The Lord said to Moses: “I will be with them in their brokenness and trouble.” This is a difficult statement, for Moses is being asked to tell the children of Israel that they are now being freed from slavery and oppression in Egypt only to experience more trials and tribulation in the future. How often have we thought, “The Lord has saved me, I have my eternal salvation, and now I can live a life of comfort in the Lord?”
But Jesus told us, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And the Apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Suffering is not natural for us, nor is it something we desire, and yet scripture is clear, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
Christ was broken for us, and now, we who are in Christ will be broken for Him. It is not an option, but a necessity for this is our complete transformation into His image. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1Titus 1:12). We are to be like Christ in every way, little Christs, who when the world sees our selfless love, even in the face of death and persecution, they will know that we are His disciples. Will you be counted worthy to suffer for Him? “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). “[For] we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Let us fully surrender to His will and become transformed into His image so that we might become just like Him; broken servants who would suffer and give our lives to save a lost and dying world.