What does Exodus 3:14 mean?
ESV: 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.’"
NIV: God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ "
NASB: And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM'; and He said, 'This is what you shall say to the sons of Israel: ‘ I AM has sent me to you.’?'
CSB: God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you."
NLT: God replied to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.'
KJV: And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
NKJV: And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Verse Commentary:
Exodus 3:14 is one of the key verses in the entire Bible. Here, God is speaking to Moses out of a miraculous occurrence: a bush which is on fire, but not burnt up. God has declared His intent to free Israel from their slavery under Egypt. God has also ordered Moses to return to Egypt, so that he can lead this transition from oppression to freedom. Moses responded with doubt and questions. One of these questions is fairly simple: what do I say when people ask "what god sent you?" The answer given here is crucial for understanding the identity and nature of God. This response becomes foundational in both Jewish and Christian theology.

God identifies Himself using a phrase which is actually a description, or a statement: "I AM WHO I AM" or simply "I AM." The first phrase, in Hebrew, is e'heyeh aser' e'heyeh. This is most simply translated as "I am who I am." Other translations of this important phrase include, "I am what I am," or, "I will be what I will be," and it could be taken to mean "that which will be, I am, that which will be" or similar ideas. Even in Hebrew, this is a statement which is not merely expressed as a name, or a word, or a description. This is a poetic expression of God's very nature.

The statement carries a sense of necessity, simplicity, and absolute-ness. In using this particular phrasing, God identifies Himself as the self-existent One—the eternal, unique, uncreated God. God just is. He is the ultimate truth, the only necessary being, the beginning and end, the first cause. The question of who speaks from the burning bush is given an answer which is both simple and profound: "I AM." This is how Moses would have interpreted the response, given the Hebrew words used.

At this point in history, this name for God is new to mankind. The following verse indicates that this is to be a name used and understood for the rest of history (Exodus 3:15). Jesus will later use the name "I AM" in reference to Himself (John 8:58); His audience immediately recognizes this as a claim to divinity (John 8:59).

In the next verse, God will also identify Himself using the term YHWH, a Hebrew word which was considered so holy that it was not spoken aloud. This appears in most English translations of the Bible using small capitals: "The LORD." It is also transliterated as Yahweh, or Jehovah. Since the word e'heyeh is related to the word YHWH, this is probably a deliberate play on words. Using the word YHWH invokes the concept of "I AM."

In addition to being told how to identify God, Moses is ordered to tell the Israelites that this same God is responsible for his mission. This is not a scenario where Moses takes matters into his own hands as he did with the taskmaster he killed in Egypt (Exodus 2:11–15). This mission is God-ordained. God emphasizes His "sending" of Moses several times in this passage (Exodus 3:10, 12, 15). This great task requires God's call, God's power, and God's provision to accomplish. Moses rightly doubted his own abilities. Only with the Lord "with him" could he free the Israelites from slavery. The word e'heyeh—here used to mean "I AM" in reference to God, was also used in verse 12 when God said He "would be" with Moses.
Verse Context:
Exodus 3:9–15 reveals God's commission of Moses as His spokesman, in order to lead Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. God provides reassurance in response to Moses' doubts. God also identifies Himself using terminology which will be crucial in both Jewish and Christian understanding of His nature. As a name, God uses the phrase ''I AM,'' indicating His eternal, uncreated, necessary, absolute existence. This connects to the Hebrew term YHWH, most often seen as LORD, Yahweh, or Jehovah. This same phrasing will be used by Jesus in the New Testament.
Chapter Summary:
Moses is tending sheep for his father-in-law when he sees a miraculous sight: a bush which is on fire, but not burnt up. From this fire, God speaks to Moses, appointing him as the leader of the nation of Israel, whom God intends to free from Egyptian slavery. God identifies Himself in this passage using the famous terminology ''I AM.'' Despite Moses' fears and doubts, God gives him a message to take to the elders of Israel, and eventually to Pharaoh himself.
Chapter Context:
Prior chapters in Exodus explained how the descendants of Abraham became a nation which was populous, but enslaved, in the land of Egypt. Exodus 3 describes the moment when God calls Moses to lead Israel out of slavery. This is accomplished through the miracle of the burning bush. The beginning of this dialogue between God and Moses includes messages for both Israel and Pharaoh, and will continue into chapter 4.
Book Summary:
The book of Exodus establishes God's covenant relationship with the full-fledged nation of Israel. The descendants of Abraham prosper after settling in Egypt, only to be enslaved by a fearful, hateful Egyptian Pharaoh. God appoints Moses to lead the people out of this bondage. Moses serves as God's spokesman, as the Lord brings plagues and judgments on Egypt, leading to the release of Israel.
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