If I, as an ordinary person say “I am” it is always followed by something. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am a friend. I am a daughter. I am a student. I am a teacher. I am of average height. I am of average build.
What does it mean when you ask God “Who are you?” and He answers, “I AM WHO I AM.”?
God can say “I AM” without saying anything more, because God is!
Everything and everyone in this world becomes, from birth to death, always changing. But God never changes or becomes anything different from what He is now. What He is, that He was, and ever will be. Exodus 3:14 is the most firm declaration of God’s eternal self existence that is found in the Tanach (Tanakh) or Old Testament.
Exodus 3:14 Tanach (Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, Judaica Press) “God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.'”
Exodus 3:14 Old Testament (ESV: English Standard Version)“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.'”
“I AM WHO I AM” contains each tense of the verb “to be.” We can translate it “I was, I am, I shall always continue to be.” He is the eternal “I AM.”
Moses had asked God for a name that he can pass onto his fellow Israelites in Egypt in order to validate his mission, but God replied not with a name or label but with a theology.
Some beautiful points can be drawn from this:
God exists. God is there. God is here. This may seem basic but many people live as if it were not true, or if they believe it might be true or is, it does not make any difference in life, theirs or in general.
There is no reality behind God. He is the reality. He is the Creator. He is the master designer. Nothing birthed Him or created Him. He always existed. For those who believe that a cosmic big bang started things here on earth, well, how do you start something out of nothing? Where did the energy come from in order to create this big bang originate from? And a random big bang would cause chaos meanwhile everything is and was in perfect order for everything to be formed and to stay formed. Everything points to a master Creator, one who is the energy, the power.
God does not change. We change our minds depending on circumstances or our emotions. God foresees all circumstances and has no weaknesses. Nothing is a surprise to Him and He is consistent, always, with His character. Speaking of character, God is who He is, and we learn about Him in the Bible. Your view or my view of our what we would like God to be or what we believe God to be does not make it so.
When God says I AM WHO I AM, He ends the fallacy that our ideas of God or who we would like Him to be are valid. We are called to strive to know Him for who He is, not our own fantasy version of Him. Inherent in this is that we are also called to conform to Him, not the other way around. It is actually quite exhilarating. While we (and I) often battle to hold onto control and do things our way, there is such incredible freedom found in giving up the choke hold, giving up the battling, and submitting to the One who actually created us. Yes, freedom!
Please feel free to ask any questions or to discuss any aspect of this! Thank you!
Genesis 50:20 Tanach (Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, Judaica Press) “Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive.”
Genesis 50:20 Old Testament (ESV: English Standard Version)“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
What Joseph said to his brothers in this verse is incredible! Let us first notice what Joseph did not say. Joseph did not say “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God used it for good.” He also did not say “As for you, you meant evil against me, but I overcame it for good.”
Instead, Joseph saw God working through his brothers’ sin and evil, cruel intentions. God worked through the evil, sinful, cruelty of his brothers to bring about Joseph’s triumph in Egypt and the saving of many lives through the famine.
Joseph saw God at work in everything! God’s hand moved and guided every aspect of Joseph’s life, and Joseph trusted this, even when in the natural, to his regular earthly human eyes, ears, and mind, things seemed terrible, horrific, alarming.
You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good describes attributes of God, His providence and His sovereignty. Regardless of the intention of people be it good or bad, God will bring about His own ultimate end. Always. What God means to happen, will ultimately happen. Always. God is always in control.
There is a powerful distinction between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is unchangeable. It is with His permissive will, or the various things that He allows into our lives which He uses to accomplish His divine purpose for our lives, and the big picture far beyond us.
It is our reaction to things allowed by God’s permissive will that enables us to begin seeing His perfect will, at least in the small picture, for us. It is in these moments as we pray and walk, we are matured, developed, deepened. It is good. It is beautiful. Yes, it is also challenging and can be painful. Then again, if we want to become physically fit, it is challenging and can be painful. We have work out our muscles. No different in the spiritual realm!
As Genesis 50 unfolds we see how Joseph treated his brothers with mercy, loving kindness, undeserved favor (grace.) But wait a second, read back to Genesis 37. How does mercy, loving kindness and grace become cultivated in the heart of one so cruelly treated?
The answer is found in Joseph’s theology (what one believes about God.)
Joseph had a clear understanding that what his brothers did to him was completely and thoroughly evil. However, Joseph also had the clear understanding that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good. He may or may not have been able to see that good at the time the cruelty was occurring, but he knew God (not just knew of God, but truly knew who God is; character attributes.)
Joseph had a clear understanding that God was at work and God is in control. God can always be trusted for the outcome, again, no matter what we see or experience here on earth. The theology of the sovereign (ultimate, supreme, unrestricted, unlimited) purpose and providence of God (protective care, timely preparation) is what generated the attitude of Joseph’s heart and allowed him to respond to his brothers as he did.
God used Joseph’s suffering and his subsequent circumstances to accomplish His own sovereign purposes in a huge way. God had a plan for the world. To fulfill that, God had a plan for the nation Israel. However, to fulfill that, God had a plan for Joseph. All was tied together. God used Joseph, to preserve a people, so there would be a nation called Israel, the nation from whom the prophets would come. The nation who would be given the Scriptures, the nation from whom the Messiah would come, the nation through whom the world would be blessed. (Links to Tanakh Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 22:1-18; Genesis 46:3; and here is the entire block of these scriptures in the Old Testament.)