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?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13-14)
Why would the people ask “What is His name?” -– did they not know? We must remember that, for over two centuries, they had lived among idolaters and had, to some degree, assimilated into the Egyptian culture. Even while in bondage many of them still embraced the gods of Egypt. Yet, it is apparent from Scripture that they knew enough of Him to call out to Him in their affliction. In fact, Moses was to say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me” indicating they were aware of Him. I think it is appropriate to conclude that they knew about Him but did not truly know Him.
It is also possible that some of the Hebrews may have doubted that Moses had genuine knowledge of Him. In fact, one Jewish commentator suggests that their question to him would be, “What is His authority and fame that we should listen to you.” In other words, “Give us proof that you have heard from the God of our Fathers.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the Almighty told Moses to tell the people, “I Am That I Am” — one of the names they would have known Him by — had sent him. Thus it could also be true that Moses may have known about Him but hadn’t really known Him.
I think it is very likely that both sides — Moses and the people — were in the same situation; they knew of Him but didn’t really know Him in the way that He wanted them to know Him. Thus He tells Moses that the “I Am” (in Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh) had come down to deliver them. The literal meaning of this Hebrew title is, “I exist because I exist.” The Jewish sage, Rashi, rendered it as, “I will be what I will be.” In other words, there is no way to truly express who and what He is. He announced Himself as the “self-existent, timeless and eternal One.” Proof of that would be forthcoming as He poured out His wonders upon the land of Egypt.
The point of this is to address whether we truly know Him or just know about Him — there is a difference. Perhaps the most tragic verse in all of Scripture is when the LORD will say to those who think they know Him, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). That is why we all need to have such an encounter with the “I Am” that we would never doubt His authority and power. Because He is the Great I Am, we should be provoked to conduct ourselves in such a way that His authority is exemplified in our lives. Lastly, our conduct should be prompted by our genuine love for Him and a devotion to serve Him in a way that causes us to truly know Him as our God, our Father and our Redeemer. Amen.
Blessings and Shalom,