ELYEH ASHER ELYEH
In Exodus 3, God tells Moses that he is God’s chosen instrument by which He (God) will free the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. Moses’ five excuses or objections are arranged very stylistically – no doubt for instruction and for the delight of the hearers.
Moses’ first objection is “Who am I?” His second objection is “Then who are you?” God answers, “I am who I am.” This response is infamously hard to translate into English language and modern western thought. It covers the range from “I am who I am,” to “I exist because I exist,” to “I will be who I will be.”
At first blush, this sounds like a sarcastic, evasive response. It’s none of your business, pal. I am who I am, not build a bridge and get over it. But there is much more to God’s answer than this. As evasive and mysterious as it sounds (and is – after all, how can all the reality of God be captured in a simple answer?), God is also generously giving his personal name, and all the vulnerability that comes with it: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh asher ehyeh. The Hebrew word ehyeh refers to being & existence itself, and is the source of the holy name considered by many too sacred to utter: Yahweh (transliterated in most Bibles, deferentially, as The LORD).
In mystery and revelation, God gives Moses his name. Isn’t that just like God? God is utterly transcendent – the One whose ways and thoughts are far above our own (Isa. 55) and is obscured in a cloud of unknowing, and the One who is dazzlingly revealed in the person of Jesus.
This is not the God who is who we think he is, prefer that he would be. This God is the unmoved Mover, the foundation of being itself, and thus he can be counted on to be true to himself.
Remember that this name is given in response to Moses’ deep misgivings about himself and his ability to do what God is calling him to do. Moses is unsure of himself, so God tells Moses about himself. We often search far and wide to find out who we are, especially in journeys of self-discovery in which we look deep within ourselves. But God’s response here in Exodus 3:14 takes a different approach: We discover who we are by learning who God is (and that this is the God who knows us, loves us, and calls us). Or, as John Calvin put it, we can only truly know ourselves when we come to know God.