Who am I – I AM

by Jacob Roberts 

I am who I am. Exodus 3:14

Arguably one of the most discussed and known passages of the Old Testament, God’s answer to Moses’s inquiry about His name must have been perplexing in the moment. Yet the name implies more than a person could ever hope to discuss in a book length study, let alone a devotional. It is my hope, however, that we can begin to scratch the surface of I AM.

The Hebrew word used in the Exodus 3:14 passage (הָיָה) is used a total of 2,808 times in the Old Testament. Now, not all of those instances are references to the name of God. The word is often used to refer to something that is (i.e. be, being, is, are, etc.), something that was, or something that becomes. In Exodus 3, the phrase is used back to back in four instances: verse 14a, 14b, 15, and 16. God reveals this “memorial-name to all generations” after Moses inquiries about his mission to free Israel: “Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”

Yet Moses’ question comes out of an important context. Just two verses before he asks God’s name, Moses questions his own identity: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 3:11). Did you catch the parallel? In the English translation, Moses’ question reads, “who am I” and God responds, “I am.” The name of God, thus, has large implications as we seek to understand our identity. Namely, to fully understand who we are, we must first understand who God is.

But who is God and how do we understand who he is? While this is a complex question, I believe we can find many of our answers by looking at the response God gives to Moses: I AM. God’s name reveals very important truths that we must keep in mind as we attempt to understand our own identity.[1]

First, I AM assigns to God an absolute level of objectivity. In other words, God does not change with feelings or circumstance, but is instead the standard by which everything else must be judged. This idea of objectivity can be difficult for us to understand because our feelings are in continual flux. Yet God exists outside our own subjective feelings and desires. This also implies that we cannot make God into who we wish Him to be. Rather, he is who he is, whether we like that or not.

The second implication of I AM builds from the first. Because God is completely objective, we must be conformed to Him, not Him to us. In his discussion of I AM, John Piper notes that “if players should learn their moves from the coach and not the coach from the players; if soldiers should learn their strategy from the general and not the general from the soldiers; then surely it is plain that creatures should conform all their lives to the will of their Creator.” Yet so few of us live out this basic truth. We instead argue with God, informing Him of all the ways He has messed up our life and instructing Him on how to fix it.

If we truly seek to understand our identity, if we really want to know who we are, if we actually want to know what God created us for, then we must embrace the reality of I AM. We must understand that I AM is the standard by which everything else is measured and that we must conform to Him, not He to us.

Think about your own relationship with God. How have you attempted to conform God to your own will and desirers rather than you conforming to Him? How have you tried to make God into who you want Him to be rather than worshiping Him for who He is?

Over the next seven weeks, we will take these ideas and apply them to the life of Christ. Specifically, we will explore the seven I AM statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. It is my prayer that in doing so we will better understand both Jesus’ identity as well as our own.

[1] I base this next section loosely on a teaching delivered by John Piper in 1984 in which he discusses seven implications of the I AM name of God. For that teaching in its entirety, see https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/i-am-who-i-am