Morning Sermon: Exodus 3:10-22; God, The Great “I AM”

New Testament Reading: John 8:48–59

“The Jews answered [Jesus], ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:48–59, ESV).


Old Testament Reading: Exodus 3:10-22

“‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’ Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.’” (Exodus 3:10–22, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


One thing I have noticed is that Christians love to talk about Jesus, but they are sometimes hesitant to talk about God. 

You’re thinking, well that’s a strange thing for a Pastor to say. Isn’t Jesus God? Well, yes. Jesus is God incarnate. In the one person of Jesus Christ, there are united two natures, the human and divine. As our confession says, these “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.” Jesus “is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.” (2LBC 8.2). So we are not wrong to say, Jesus is God. But to guard against confusion we must also say, God is not Jesus

Jesus had flesh and bones. God does not. Jesus had a human soul. God does not. Jesus grew and experienced human emotions. God does not. Jesus is indeed God incarnate. That is true. “The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who, made the world, who upholds and governs all things he has made, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin…” But we must also insist that God is not Jesus. God is not a creature, but the Creator of all things seen and unseen. He is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…” He “is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite…” (2LBC 2.1).

I’ve begun the sermon with this riddle, not because I intend to teach thoroughly on the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ today. No, we do not have the time for that. But because I wish to convince you in a short time that we ought to give more attention to the doctrine of God. We should be very interested to know who he is and what he is like. By the way, I do intend to take you through a study on the doctrine of God in Sunday school beginning in mid to late October. You should come to that class. But we also have a marvelous opportunity to grow in our comprehension of God in our study of the book of Exodus, for here in this book foundations are laid concerning who God is. In fact, if we wish to know who God is and what he is like, we must start in the beginning. In the books of Genesis and Exodus, God, our Creator, and Redeemer is revealed.      

Maybe this is one reason Christians are more comfortable talking about Jesus than they are talking about God: we tend to be more familiar with the New Testament scriptures than the Old. This is a mistake. Yes, the New Testament revelation is very crucial. It is greater than the Old Testament in some important ways. But the New Testament is not meant to be read apart from the Old. To read the New and to neglect the Old would be like going straight to the last few chapters of a great novel. Yes, those might be the best chapters of the book, but they can only be enjoyed as the best chapters if we read the first and more foundational chapters. And I do believe this tendency to read the New Testament and to neglect the Old has contributed in some ways to this tendency that some Christians have to emphasize Christ to the neglect of God himself.

Let me ask you, should we love, worship, and serve Christ? Yes, we should, for he is God, and he is our Savior. And is Christ in some respects at the center of our religion and the story of our redemption? Yes, for he is the Messiah, the Savior, the Mediator between God and man. As it pertains to our redemption, Christ is indeed the center. Him we proclaim. 

Now please consider this: Christ did not die to reconcile us to himself (as the Christ who was both God and man). No, he died and rose again, to reconcile us to the eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that in all things God gets the glory. That is why Christ is called the only mediator between God and man. He is the Mediator, the middleman, the door, and the way. This means he is not the end, the goal, or the destination. God is. Christ came to reconcile us to the Father.

So Christ is the center in this sense: he is the central figure in the drama of our redemption. But please hear me, he is not the end or the goal. The glory of the eternal God — the Triune God — is the goal of our religion. Christ has redeemed us from bondage to sin, Satan, and death so that we might worship and serve, enjoy, and glorify the Triune God forever and ever. As Paul says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36, ESV).

To state the matter differently, I’ll ask you this: do you know God? Not, do you know Christ? But do you know God? Yes, to know God — to stand before him innocent, clean, and righteous and to have a right relationship with him, you must know Christ by faith. But here I am asking you, do you know God? Are you in a right relationship with him, and do you know him, his nature, attributes, names? 

Well, enough of me trying to convince you that we should care deeply about knowing God so that we might delight in him and glorify him forever. Let’s get on to the text. And as we do we will quickly recognize that this is a very important passage as it pertains to the knowledge of God, for here God reveals the meaning of his name to Moses. The previous passage was very important too, for we learned a great deal about God when he revealed himself to Moses in that bush that was burning yet not consumed. This passage is a continuation of that one, for in this entire event God was revealing his character and nature to Moses as he called him to be the deliverer of his people.


God Promised To Be With Moses For The Long Haul

In verse 10 God speaks to Moses, saying, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt”. 

Think of how terrifying this call would have been to Moses. Pharaoh was very, very powerful and ruthless, and Moses was very weak in comparison. This call would be like God saying to you, come I will send you to — pick the world leader… Putin, or Kim Jong-un, or whomever — and I will work a mighty act of deliverance through you. You know, you really need to put yourself in Moses’ place to understand the struggle. And we should not forget what happened last time that Moses tried to accomplish deliverance for the Hebrews. 40 years had passed since that terrible failure that brought Moses to the wilderness. Moses is very humble now, and he is unsure of himself, which is really a good thing. 

Verse 11: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 3:11, ESV). This is a very different attitude in Moses from the one we encountered back in 2:11ff.  As I have said, Moses was humbled. “Who am I”, Moses asked. And as the narrative unfolds we will find that this question was dismissed entirely by God, making the answer to be, it doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. What matters is who I am, and that I am with you.   

Verse 12: “[God] said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain’” (Exodus 3:12, ESV). 

“But I will be with you”, God said. No such words were spoken prior to Moses’ first attempt at deliverance, which ended in failure. I suppose there is a warning for all of God’s people here to not get ahead of God or to attempt to live by our own strength. No, we are to wait patiently upon the LORD and depend on him for all things. That would be a valid application, I think. But I believe the reason that Moses highlighted the failure of his first attempt, and the success of his second in this way was to show Israel beyond all doubt that from beginning to end this deliverance was the LORD’s work. When Moses tried to deliver Israel on his own initiative and by his own strength, it was a failure. But when God called him and promised to be with him, then there was success. This was the LORD’s work, not the work of Moses. God must get the glory, friends. And he will have the glory when humbly submit ourselves to his word instead of going about things our own way.

At the end of verse 12 God promised to provide a sign for Moses which would prove that God had sent him: “when you [singular] have brought the people out of Egypt, you [plural: Moses and Israel] shall serve God on this mountain’”. The promised “sign” was that God would appear to Moses and Israel as they served God at Sinai after being delivered from Egypt. Just as God appeared to Moses in the small fire in the bush that was burning yet not consumed, so to God would appear to Israel in a much greater flame as they came before him at SinaI. This future sign would do Moses no good in the present, nor in the immediate future as he stood before Pharaoh. No, this was God’s commitment to be with Moses long-term. God would demonstrate to both Moses and Israel that he was with him as they served God on the mountain. And those who are familiar with the rest of the story of the Exodus know that God kept this promise. God would indeed demonstrate to the people that he was with Moses through the signs and wonders that he showed forth at Sinai.  

You know, we should recognize that standing before ruthless and powerful Pharaoh was not the only terrifying aspect of God’s call to Moses. The thought of leading that great multitude of people after deliverance from Egypt must have also been a very overwhelming thought. Forty years earlier Moses could not even convince the two Hebrews who were fighting that they should listen to his voice and follow his lead. Now, Moses was called to lead hundreds of thousands out of Egypt and into the wilderness. I’m sure he was thinking, yes, maybe God will deal with Pharaoh to deliver us from his hand, but what then? Here we find God’s promise to be with Moses for the long haul. “This shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain’” (Exodus 3:12, ESV). 

I cannot help but make this passing observation once more: Israel would be redeemed from Egyptian bondage in order to worship and serve the LORD. And you and I have been set free from all spiritual bondage in order to worship and serve the LORD. Let us not forget that. 


God Revealed His Name To Moses

In verse 13 we come to the heart of this wonderful passage. Moses asked God a very important question. “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13, ESV). So then, Moses quickly moved on from the meaningless question, Who am I?, to the all-important question, Who are you? What is your name?

Names are important. When someone or something is named, the name comes to signify everything about that person or thing. If I say the word, “rock” your mind is immediately filled with the thought of a rock and all of its rocky characteristics. If I say “tree” something similar happens. If I say “Steve” you think of a “Steve” and the person whom that name represents. Names are rather important, aren’t they? We are unable to talk or think clearly about people or things apart from their names. 

When Moses asked for God’s name, he was not asking a superficial question. He was not saying, Oh ya, by the way, what is your name?” No, by asking for God’s name, Moses was requesting insight into who God is. What is your name?, means, who are you? Who is this One that we are to trust and to follow? We need to know if we are to follow you.

Please understand that God does not have a name by nature. He is the Nameless One, for he is incomprehensible. There is no name, nor is there a collection of names, that can adequately encapsulate and communicate all that God is, for God is incomprehensible. He is nameless by nature. But God has called himself by certain names for us. He had come down to our level, as it were. By revealing himself to us in these names, he condescends to our creaturely limitations and weakness so that we might know him and address him truly and with understanding. Quoting now the great Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck, “Although God in himself has no name, we have a need to refer to him. And for this we have no other means than a name. [Quoting Isidor] ‘For unless you know the name, your knowledge of things vanishes” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 137). So God has names, not eternally or by nature, but as a form of revelation. The names of God communicate truth about God to us, enabling us to know him, to speak about him, and to speak to him.  

 So what are the proper names of God, that is, the names that we use to address him? 

The most generic names for God are El, Elohim, and El Shaddai. These Hebrew names are typically translated into the English language as God or God Most High. The names El and Elohim emphasize God’s transcendence. He is highly exalted and above all things. He is the Sovereign One. The name El Shaddai places special emphasis upon his kindness and benevolence. Though God is high and lifted up, he is also near to us and kind.

The proper name for God that is given and defined here in our passage for today is YHWH. The Jews considered this name to be, quoting Bavinck again, “the preeminent name for God, the name that describes God’s essence, God’s proper name, the glorious, four-letter name (the tetra-grammation), and [over time] concluded… that they were forbidden to pronounce it” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 140). And so, being driven by this misunderstanding, they would replace the name YHWH with the word, Adonai, which means Lord. And so in the process of time scribes combined the vowels from the word Adonai with the consonants YHWH, producing the name Jehovah. Some within the Reformed tradition still prefer to say Jehovah. Undoubtedly the influence of the KJV, which uses the term Jehovah, has something to do with that.  But it has been my practice to say YHWH, though my pronunciation of the name has fluctuated over time. How do our English translations typically translate the name YHWH? They often use the word LORD, but in all capitals to distinguish it from the straightforward translation of the word Adonai, which means Lord. 

The point is this. The name that God revealed to Moses out of the bush that was burning yet not consumed was YHWH. This was the name that Moses was to pronounce when the Hebrews asked him, “What is his name?” 

In Exodus chapter  6 verse 3 we will come to a perplexing little comment. There the LORD speaks to Moses, saying, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3, ESV). I say this is perplexing because the name YHWH appears everywhere in Genesis from chapter 2 onward, and it is often on the lips of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So did Moses forget what he had written in Genesis? I think not. Instead, we are to understand Exodus 6:3 in this way. Though the name YHWH was known and used by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true meaning of it was not. God was known to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, God Most High; the one who is benevolent and kind; the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. When they used the name YHWH, this is what they knew. But when God appeared to Moses in that burning bush, and as he uttered the name YHWH, which was indeed the name for God that the fathers used, he gave Moses more insight into the significance of the name. God filled the name YHWH with greater meaning. In other words, Moses was given more light than Abraham concerning the knowledge of God’s name.

So what was new about the revelation given to Moses? What was unique about it so that God could say to him, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3, ESV). Here in Exodus 3 not only is the name YHWH pronounced; it is also explained. That was the thing that did not happen before. Here from the bush that was burning yet not consumed, God filled the name YHWH with new and greater meaning for his covenant people.

By the way, something very similar happened in the days of Christ and with the inauguration of the New Covenant. A new name for God was brought to the forefront and filled with greater significance in those days. It was not a brand new name for God — one that had never been used before — but this name was placed front and center and imbued with greater significance by Christ for the New Covenant people of God. And what is that name? It is the name “Father”. Did the Old Covenant people of God ever refer to  God Father? Yes, they did! See Deuteronomy 32:6 and Isaiah 63:16, for example. But that name for God was not central to the Old Covenant people of God. Why? Because not all who were members of the Old Covenant had God as heavenly Father. Many disbelieved and rebelled against him. But things are so very different under the New Covenant. The New Covenant is not like the Old in this respect: under the New Covenant, all know the Lord. All have the law written on their hearts. All have the Spirit of God. All are sons and daughters. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6, ESV). And so Jesus taught his New Covenant people to pray like this: “Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name…” And even more profoundly, Christ taught his church to baptize new disciple “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

As I have said, under the New Covenant the name Father is brought to the forefront and filled with greater significance, and appropriately so, for all who are truly members of this New Covenant through faith in Christ, have God as Father. He is not only  El, Elohim, El Shaddai, or YHWH, he is Father, for through the New Covenant instituted in Christ’s blood, we have been reconciled to him and adopted as his beloved children through faith in the Messiah. 

And more than this, it was through the arrival of the Messiah, who is the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, that the full light of the revelation of the Triune God was revealed to us. Someone asked me not long ago, was the Trinity revealed in Old Testament times? Answer: Yes, dimly and mysteriously. “Let us make man in our image”, God said. When God created, he created through his Word, and by his Spirit. And the plural name “Elohim” did also reveal plurality in the Godhead. But with the coming of Christ and the accomplishment of our redemption came greater and clearer revelation too. And a new name for God was brought to the fore and placed upon the people of God. Hear it again: Those who have faith in the Messiah are to be baptized “in the name” — “name” is singular here — “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. 

I’ve said in the past that redemptive act and revelation fit nicely together, and they do. We see this pattern throughout Scripture. God acts and God speaks. In those days when God redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage, Moses received greater light than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did concerning the meaning and significance of God’s proper name, YHWH. And when Christ accomplished our redemption by his life, death, and resurrection, he did also clearly reveal what was in the past dimly and mysteriously revealed in the plural name for God, Elohim. By commanding that his disciples have the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, placed upon them in the waters of baptism, he clearly revealed what was once revealed dimly: “In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word (or Son), and Holy Spirit…” (2LBC 2.3).   

Let’s get back to our text and ask what is the significance of this name for God which was revealed to Moses? Well, from the burning bush onward we know that the name YHWH signifies that God is self-existent, eternal, and unchanging. 

Verse 13: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘[YHWH], the 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’” (Exodus 3:13–16, ESV).

YHWH is the name that God gave to Moses to speak to the people of Israel. “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘[YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.”

And what is the significance of this name? God revealed to Moses that this name was to signify his self-existence, eternal, and unchanging nature. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’’ God is the great “I AM”, and the name YHWH signifies this. 

When God says, “I AM” he means that he is eternal. Never was he not. And never will he not be. He is. He simply exists. Never does he become. He always has been and he ever will be. The phrase, “I AM Who I AM” may also be translated, “I AM What I AM”, or “I will be what I will be.” When we bring all of this together we must confess that God is here filling the name YHWH (which sounds like the Hebrew word translated, “I AM”) with a significance that it did not have before. When God’s people utter that name they are to think of the God who is eternal.

And they are to think of his self-existence too. No one created God. He is the Creator of all things seen and unseen. He always was. He depends upon no one and nothing outside himself. He is the fire that needs no fuel to burn. He gives life to all, but he himself receives life from no one. As Paul says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33–36, ESV).

And when we hear the name YHWH we are also to think that God is unchanging. You say, well where does the text say that? Think with me. If God is. If he always has been, and ever will be, then he cannot change. If God were to change in the slightest, then the God who is would not be the God who was, and the God who was would not be the God who will be

Have you ever heard it said, I’m not the man or woman that I used to be? That statement is truer than we realize, for you and I are constantly changing. Our bodies are always either growing and decaying. We are always learning. Our emotions are constantly fluctuating. Even if we could say “I am” in one moment, in the next moment, that would no longer be true, for in each and every moment we are not what we used to be. But God is. And he always is God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In him “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).


God Promised To Be With Israel, To Richly Provide For Them, And To Bring Them Safely Into The Land Of Canaan

I have to move this sermon towards a conclusion and I will do so by asking the question, what impact should the name YHWH have upon the people of God now that God has revealed its significance? In other words, what comfort is brought to the people of God as they think of him as the great I AM — the one who is self-existent, eternal, and unchanging?

It should be clear that this name is to reassure the people of God concerning his faithfulness and trustworthiness. It is because God is self-existent, eternal, and unchanging that we are able to depend upon him. In this sense, he is like a rock. He is a solid foundation upon which we can stand. He will not shift under our feet like everything else in this created world does. Everything Created moves. YHWH does not.. Never will he fail to keep his promises.  

In the remainder of this passage, the LORD gives instructions to Moses concerning what he is to say to Israel concerning. In brief, he is to announce to them that the LORD will now act to keep the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob regarding the possession of Canaan. Moses is to reassure them that the LORD would be with them. He would lead them out of Egypt, not poor, but rich, and he would bring the children of Abraham into Canaan just as he had promised so long ago. 

The revelation of the significance of the name YHWH at this time in the history of redemption was fitting. A huge multitude was called to follow their God out from under the heavy hand of the Egyptians, into the wilderness, and towards a land of promise. Knowing that they were following, not Moses, who WAS NOT, but God who IS, would be crucial to their success, for above all they would need to trust him. They would need to know that he is able and faithful to keep his word.  



And the same is true for you and me. You and I are also to be comforted by the fact that we worship, serve, and trust in God whose name is El, Elohim, El Shaddai, and YHWH. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Sustainer and Redeemer of mankind, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, for he is the great I AM. And more than this, he is our Father in heaven, for we have been redeemed and adopted as his beloved children through the shed blood of his Christ. And he has promised to be with us always even to the end of the age to bring us safely into our eternal inheritance, in Christ’s name.    

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