Exodus 3:14
And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.
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(14) I AM THAT I AM.—It is generally assumed that this is given to Moses as the full name of God. But perhaps it is rather a deep and mysterious statement of His nature. “I am that which I am.” My nature, i.e., cannot be declared in words, cannot be conceived of by human thought. I exist in such sort that my whole inscrutable nature is implied in my existence. I exist, as nothing else does—necessarily, eternally, really. If I am to give myself a name expressive of my nature, so far as language can be, let me be called “I AM.”

Tell them I AM hath sent me unto you.—I AM, assumed as a name, implies (1) an existence different from all other existence. “I am, and there is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:6); (2) an existence out of time, with which time has nothing to do (John 8:58); (3), an existence that is real, all other being shadowy; (4) an independent and unconditioned existence, from which all other is derived, and on which it is dependent.

Exodus 3:14. God said — Two names God would be known by: 1st, A name that speaks what he is in himself, I AM THAT I AM. The Septuagint renders the words ειμι ο ων, I AM the existing Being, or HE WHO IS; and the Chaldee, I AM HE WHO IS, and WHO WILL BE. That is, I am He that enjoys an essential, independent, immutable, and necessary existence, He that IS, and WAS, and IS TO COME. It explains his name Jehovah, and signifies, 1st, That he is self- existent: he has his being of himself, and has no dependance on any other. And being self-existent, he cannot but be self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible fountain of being and blessedness. 2d, That he is eternal and unchangeable: the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. For the words are with equal propriety rendered, I WILL BE WHAT I AM, or, I AM WHAT I WILL BE, or, I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. Other beings are, and have been, and shall be; but because what they have been might have been otherwise, and what they are might possibly not have been at all, and what they shall be may be very different from what now is therefore their changeable, dependant, and precarious essence, which to-day may be one thing, to- morrow another thing, and the next day possibly nothing at all, scarce deserves the name of being. There is another consideration which makes this name peculiarly applicable to God, namely that he is the fountain of all being and perfection, and that from him all things have derived their existence; so that it is he alone that has life in himself: and no creature, of whatever rank or order, has so much as an existence of its own: For in him we live, and move, and have our being. And though divers of God’s attributes are, through his goodness, participated by his creatures, yet because they possess them in a way so inferior to that transcendent, peculiar, and divine manner in which they belong to God, the Scriptures seem absolutely to exclude created beings from any title to those attributes.

Thus our Saviour says, There is none good but one, that is God. Thus St. Paul terms God the only Potentate, though the earth be shared by several potentates; and the only wise God, though many men and the holy angels are wise. And thus he describes him as one who only hath immortality, although angels and human souls are also immortal. In so incommunicable a manner does the superiority of God’s nature make him possess those very excellences which the diffusiveness of his goodness has induced him to communicate. 3d, That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in his word, as well as in his nature; and not a man that he should lie. Let Israel know this; I AM hath sent me unto you.3:11-15 Formerly Moses thought himself able to deliver Israel, and set himself to the work too hastily. Now, when the fittest person on earth for it, he knows his own weakness. This was the effect of more knowledge of God and of himself. Formerly, self-confidence mingled with strong faith and great zeal, now sinful distrust of God crept in under the garb of humility; so defective are the strongest graces and the best duties of the most eminent saints. But all objections are answered in, Certainly I will be with thee. That is enough. Two names God would now be known by. A name that denotes what he is in himself, I AM THAT I AM. This explains his name Jehovah, and signifies, 1. That he is self-existent: he has his being of himself. 2. That he is eternal and unchangeable, and always the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. 3. That he is incomprehensible; we cannot by searching find him out: this name checks all bold and curious inquiries concerning God. 4. That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in his word as well as in his nature; let Israel know this, I AM hath sent me unto you. I am, and there is none else besides me. All else have their being from God, and are wholly dependent upon him. Also, here is a name that denotes what God is to his people. The Lord God of your fathers sent me unto you. Moses must revive among them the religion of their fathers, which was almost lost; and then they might expect the speedy performance of the promises made unto their fathers.I am that I am - That is, "I am what I am." The words express absolute, and therefore unchanging and eternal Being. The name, which Moses was thus commissioned to use, was at once new and old; old in its connection with previous revelations; new in its full interpretation, and in its bearing upon the covenant of which Moses was the destined mediator. 10-22. Come now therefore, and I will send thee—Considering the patriotic views that had formerly animated the breast of Moses, we might have anticipated that no mission could have been more welcome to his heart than to be employed in the national emancipation of Israel. But he evinced great reluctance to it and stated a variety of objections [Ex 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10] all of which were successfully met and removed—and the happy issue of his labors was minutely described. I am that I am; a most comprehensive and significant name, and most proper for the present occasion, It notes,

1. The reality of his being; whereas idols are nothings, 1 Corinthians 8:4, all their divinity is only in the fancies and opinions of men.

2. The necessariness, eternity, and unchangeableness of his being; whereas all other beings once were not, and, if he please, they shall be no more; and all their being was derived from him, and wholly depends upon him; and he only is by and from’ himself.

3. The constancy and certainty of his nature, and will, and word. The sense is, I am the same that ever I was; the same who made the promises to Abraham, &c., and am now come to perform them; who, as I can do what I please, so I will do what I have said. Heb. I shall be what I shall be. He useth the future tense; either,

1. Because that tense in the use of the Hebrew tongue comprehends all times, past, present, and to come, to signify that all times are alike to God, and all are present to him; and therefore what is here, I shall be, is rendered, I am, by Christ, John 8:58. See Psalm 90:4 2 Peter 3:8. Or,

2. To intimate, though darkly, according to that state and age of the church, the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. I shall be what I shall be, i.e. God-man; and I who now come in an invisible, though glorious, manner to deliver you from this temporal bondage, shall in due time come visibly, and by incarnation, to save you and all my people from a far worse slavery and misery, even from your sins, and from wrath to come. Of this name of God, see Revelation 1:4,8 16:5. And God said unto Moses, I am that I am,.... This signifies the real being of God, his self-existence, and that he is the Being of beings; as also it denotes his eternity and immutability, and his constancy and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, for it includes all time, past, present, and to come; and the sense is, not only I am what I am at present, but I am what I have been, and I am what I shall be, and shall be what I am. The Platonists and Pythagoreans seem to have borrowed their from hence, which expresses with them the eternal and invariable Being; and so the Septuagint version here is : it is said (z), that the temple of Minerva at Sais, a city of Egypt, had this inscription on it,"I am all that exists, is, and shall be.''And on the temple of Apollo at Delphos was written the contraction of "I am" (a). Our Lord seems to refer to this name, John 8:58, and indeed is the person that now appeared; and the words may be rendered, "I shall be what I shall be" (b) the incarnate God, God manifest in the flesh:

thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you; or as the Targum of Jonathan has it,"I am he that is, and that shall be.''This is the name Ehjeh, or Jehovah, Moses is empowered to make use of, and to declare, as the name of the Great God by whom he was sent; and which might serve both to encourage him, and strengthen the faith of the Israelites, that they should be delivered by him.

(z) Phutarch. de Iside & Osir. (a) Plato in Timaeo. (b) "ero qui ero", Pagninus, Montanus, Fagius, Vatablus.

And God said unto Moses, I {n} AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

(n) The God who has always been, am, and shall be: the God almighty, by whom all things have their being, and the God of mercy, mindful of my promise.

14. I will be that I will be (3rd marg.)] The words are evidently intended as an interpretation of the name Yahweh, the name,—which in form is the third pers. imperf. of a verb (just like Isaac, Jacob, Jephthah), meaning He is wont to be or He will be,—being interpreted, as Jehovah is Himself the speaker, in the first person. The rendering given appears to the present writer, as it appeared to W. R. Smith, and A. B. Davidson, to give the true meaning of the Heb. ’Ehyeh ’ăsher ’ehyeh: Jehovah promises that He will be, to Moses and His people, what He will be,—something which is undefined, but which, as His full nature is more and more completely unfolded by the lessons of history and the teaching of the prophets, will prove to be more than words can express. The explanation is thus of a character to reassure Moses. See further the separate note, p. 40.

Additional Note on Exodus 3:14

The following are the reasons which lead the present writer to agree with W. R. Smith1[109] and A. B. Davidson2[110] in adopting the rend. I will be that I will be for ’Ehyeh ’ăsher ’ehyeh. In the first place the verb hâyâh expresses not to be essentially, but to be phaenomenally; it corresponds to γίγνομαι not εἶναι; it denotes, in Delitzsch’s words, not the idea of inactive, abstract existence, but the active manifestation of existence. Secondly the imperfect tense used expresses not a fixed, present state (‘I am’), but action, either reiterated (habitual) or future, i.e. either I am wont to be or I will be. Whichever rend. be adopted, it is implied (1) that Jehovah’s nature can be defined only in terms of itself (‘I am wont to be that I am wont to be,’ or ‘I will be that I will be’), and (2) that, while He is, as opposed to non-existent heathen deities, He exists, not simply in an abstract sense (‘I am that I Amos 3[111]’; LXX. ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), but actively: He either is wont to be what He is wont to be, i.e. is ever in history manifesting Himself anew to mankind, and especially to Israel4[112]; or He will be what He will be, i.e. He will,—not, of course, once only, but habitually,—approve Himself to His people as ‘what He will be’; as what is not further defined, or defined only in terms of Himself, but, it is understood, as what He has promised, and they look for, as their helper, strengthener, deliverer, &c.5[113] The two renderings do not yield a substantially different sense: for what is wont to be does not appreciably differ from what at any moment will be. I will be is however the preferable rendering. As both W. R. Smith and Davidson point out, the important thing to bear in mind is that ’ehyeh expresses not the abstract, metaphysical idea of being, but the being of Yahweh as revealed and known to Israel. ‘The expression I will be is a historical formula; it refers, not to what God will be in Himself: it is no predication regarding His essential nature, but one regarding what He will approve Himself to others, regarding what He will shew Himself to be to those in convenant with Him,’ as by His providential guidance of His people, and the teaching of His prophets, His character and attributes were more and more fully unfolded to them1[114].

[109] In an interesting article in the Brit. and Foreign Evang. Rev. 1876, p. 163.

[110] The Theology of the OT. (1904), pp. 46, 54–58; more briefly in DB. ii. 199b.

[111] A translation, as Davidson remarks (p. 55), ‘doubly false: the tense is wrong, being present [i.e. a real ‘present,’ not the ‘present,’ as often in English, expressive of habit], and the idea is wrong, because am is used in the sense of essential being.’

[112] So Delitzsch, Genesis, ed. 4 (1872), p. 26; in the New Commentary of 1887 (translated) towards the end of the note on Exodus 2:4 : Oehler, OT. Theol. § 39. Comp. the present writer in Studia Biblica, i (1885), pp. 15–18.

[113] So W. R. Smith and A. B. Davidson, ll.cc.

The rend. will be is not new: it is at least as old as the Jewish Commentator Rashi (a.d. 1040–1105), who paraphrases, ‘I will be with them in this affliction what I will be with them in the subjection of their future captivities.’ And Ewald, in his last work, Die Lehre der Bibel von Gott, 1873, ii. p. 337 f., explains, ‘I will be it,’ viz. the performer of My promises; in v. 12 God says ‘I will be with thee’; v. 14 explains how: ‘I will be it! I (viz.) who will be it,’ will be viz. what I have promised and said. This, however, as W. R. Smith remarks, is a clumsy version: v. 14 is rendered far more naturally as is done above: I will be what I will be.

I am] better, as before, I will be.

Verse 14. - I AM THAT I AM. No better translation can be given of the Hebrew words. "I will be that I will be (Geddes) is more literal, but less idiomatic, since the Hebrew was the simplest possible form of the verb substantive. "I am because I am" (Boothroyd) is wrong, since the word asher is certainly the relative. The Septuagint, Αγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, explains rather than translates, but is otherwise unobjectionable. The Vulgate, sum qui sum, has absolute exactness. The idea expressed by the name is, as already explained, that of real, perfect, unconditioned, independent existence. I AM hath sent me to you. "I am" is an abbreviated form of "I am that I am," and is intended to express the same idea. Jehovah had seen the affliction of His people, had heard their cry under their taskmasters, and had come down (ירד, vid., Genesis 11:5) to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up to a good and broad land, to the place of the Canaanites; and He was about to send Moses to Pharaoh to bring them forth. The land to which the Israelites were to be taken up is called a "good" land, on account of its great fertility (Deuteronomy 8:7.), and a "broad" land, in contrast with the confinement and oppression of the Israelites in Egypt. The epithet "good" is then explained by the expression, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (זבת, a participle of זוּב in the construct state; vid., Ges. 135); a proverbial description of the extraordinary fertility and loveliness of the land of Canaan (cf. Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 16:14, etc.). Milk and honey are the simplest and choicest productions of a land abounding in grass and flowers, and were found in Palestine in great abundance even when it was in a desolate condition (Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:22; see my Comm. on Joshua 5:6). The epithet broad is explained by an enumeration of the six tribes inhabiting the country at that time (cf. Genesis 10:15. and Genesis 15:20, Genesis 15:21).
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