Exodus 3 finds Israel in a hopeless situation. At the end of Genesis, even the first few verses of Exodus, Israel is experiencing great blessings. Yes, they live in Egypt, which is not the Promised Land, but they live in the most fertile region, which is great for their crops and herds, and Joseph is second in command of Egypt. Even after Joseph dies, the people continue to multiply and prosper becoming exceedingly strong. It is a time of great blessing. However, in Exodus 1:8 everything changes, as a new pharaoh rises to power who doesn’t know Joseph and begins to fear the people of Israel. In that moment, Israel moves from a position of prominence to a position of slavery, by the time we reach Exodus 3, Israel has been in slavery for well over a hundred years and they are feeling hopeless. Israel has cried out to God for deliverance, but nothing seems to happen.
Everything changes however in Exodus 3. In Exodus 3, God hears the cries of the people and God acts.
“Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:7-8)
Everything changes at this moment. Israel had been enslaved, but they will be no longer. Israel thought they were forgotten, but God is moving and active. Israel felt hopeless, but God is granting hope. God hears and God responds, by calling Moses to lead the people from slavery to freedom, and empowering Moses with the tools to accomplish the task.
One tool that God gives Moses is God’s name. God had never revealed a personal name to the people before, and in some ways God still clouds the name in secrecy, but God does reveal a name through which the people can address God. Tell the people, I am who I am. Tell them my name is I Am.
It’s a strange name that leaves many questions unanswered. What exactly does it mean? What is God claiming through this name? In some ways, the name declares not who God is, but what God will do. I Am the God of your ancestors; the one who made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I Am also the God who hears your cries of misery, and is acting in a way to relive the pain. I Am the God who will bring you safely out of slavery, who will redeem you, who will set you free, and who will be both Lord and Friend. I Am and I Will Be the God that you need in every situation.
While the name is confusing, it is also comforting. Through the name God is again making promises to Israel. Whatever you need from God, I will be. When you need food, I will provide. When you need protection, I will provide. When you need freedom, I will provide. I will be God for you. I Am all things. God hears the people in their misery and God acts to change the situation.
Fifteen hundred years later, Israel again finds itself needing redemption. Rome is in charge. While exile has ended, Israel still finds itself under foreign rule. The prophecies of redemption are quoted, and the people long for the Messiah, but nothing seems to change. It is as if, God has abandoned the people.
Out of this place of hopelessness Jesus appears, and eight separate times in the Gospel of John Jesus describes himself with the words I Am. (I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the door, before Abraham was, I am.) Eight times, Jesus uses the same name for himself that God used at the burning bush. Eight times Jesus says, it’s time for a new act in the story. Exodus 3 proved to be a turning point for Israel. Redemption from slavery began in that moment, the moment God declared I Am. Now Jesus is on the scene declaring it’s time for another redemption. God has heard the cries of the people. God has seen the oppression. God knows humanity needs saved. So Jesus appears as the I Am to bring about redemption. Jesus appears to say, I will be what you need me to be. I will be God for you. I will redeem you. I will set you free. I will show you how to live. I will establish the Kingdom in this place. I will be God for you.
Two thousand years later, God hasn’t changed. When we find ourselves without hope. When we’ve reached a dead-end. When we have no where else to turn. God still hears. God still sees. God will act to bring about redemption. God will be God for us, whatever we need in the moment, so that we may live as image bearers of God.