Exodus 3:14 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Exo 3:14 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.'”

Wayne Grudem writes:

God’s independence is also seen in his self-designation in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”’ It is also possible to translate this statement “I will be what I will be,” but in both cases the implication is that God’s existence and character are determined by himself alone and are not dependent on anyone or anything else. This means that God’s being has always been and will always be exactly what it is. God is not dependent upon any part of creation for his existence or his nature. Without creation, God would still be infinitely loving, infinitely just, eternal, omniscient, trinitarian, and so forth.

James Dolezal writes in reference to John Owen and Thomas Aquinas, respectively:

With reference to Exodus 3:14–15, Owen also explains God’s unity via the DDS: “[W]here there is an absolute oneness and sameness in the whole, there is no composition by an union of extremes . . . He, then, who is what he is, and whose all that is in him is, himself, hath neither parts, accidents, principles, nor anything else, whereof his essence should be compounded.” (p. 8-9)

And

God’s identification of himself in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM” makes it impossible that there should be some more basic identity in him than his own act of existence. (p. 56)

Dolezal, James E.. God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (p. 56). Pickwick Publications, An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

But both Grudem and Dolezal are reading too much into the verse. Rabbi Sacks writes:

The fifth and most profound difference lies in the way the two traditions understood the key phrase in which God identifies himself to Moses at the burning bush. ‘Who are you?’ asks Moses. God replies, cryptically, Ehyeh asher ehyeh. This was translated into Greek as ego eimi ho on, and into Latin as ego sum qui sum, meaning ‘I am who I am’, or ‘I am he who is’. The early and medieval Christian theologians all understood the phrase to be speaking about ontology, the metaphysical nature of God’s existence. It meant that he was ‘Being-itself, timeless, immutable, incorporeal, understood as the subsisting act of all existing’. Augustine defines God as that which does not change and cannot change. Aquinas, continuing the same tradition, reads the Exodus formula as saying that God is ‘true being, that is being that is eternal, immutable, simple, self-sufficient, and the cause and principal of every creature’.

But this is the God of Aristotle and the philosophers, not the God of Abraham and the prophets. Ehyeh asher ehyeh means none of these things. It means ‘I will be what, where, or how I will be’. The essential element of the phrase is the dimension omitted by all the early Christian translations, namely the future tense. God is defining himself as the Lord of history who is about to intervene in an unprecedented way to liberate a group of slaves from the mightiest empire of the ancient world and lead them on a journey towards liberty.

Sacks, Jonathan. The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning (pp. 64-65). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In context, Yahweh is linking Himself relationally to His people. He is the God who can accomplish. He is the God that does not have to justify His name to Moses.

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