Off the Pulpit

What’s In a Name?

When God approaches Moses at the burning bush, Moses is very reluctant to go to the people. He asks God “When I come to the Israelites and say, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’ and they ask me ‘what is God’s name’ what shall I say?” God answers with the famously enigmatic, “Ehyeh-Asher- Eyeh”: I am that I am.

Many interpretations have been offered concerning God’s name. What is not so often noticed is that, having asked for God’s name — Moses never repeats it to the Israelites.

Why does Moses ask? He has been surrounded by inconstancy in his life. He is born under the sign of death. He grows up in Pharaoh’s palace but has to flee. He has no true home. What Moses needs to know is that God will not abandon him. He is not asking for the sake of the Israelites as much as for his own sake. God reassures him — I am that I am. What I am today I will be tomorrow, and next year, into eternity.

Moses pleads for constancy. At the outset of his mission, God promises faithfulness to God’s singular servant.