This is the first of a three-part series on God’s name, “I AM.” Be sure to read Part Two (“‘I AM’ gives us the ground rule for knowing God”), and Part Three (“‘I AM’ transforms our identities”).
The encounter between Moses and the burning bush (in Exodus 3) is one of the most famous scenes of the Bible. And rightly so: Exodus 3:14 is the very first time in Scripture that God reveals his name. Not just his attributes, but his name: “I am.” It’s a name as unusual and surprising to us as it was to Moses. But it’s the only name that shows us how we can truly encounter God.
When Moses asks God for a name, he wanted to put God in a category he could understand, to define God based on what he already knew. But God flips that idea on its head. He says, in essence, “Moses, you can’t define me based on what you already know. I am. I don’t have a beginning. I am. I don’t have an ending. I am. I didn’t come from anywhere. I am. You don’t define me based on reality; you define reality based on me.”
For most of us, we don’t encounter God through a lifetime of philosophical reasoning. Our encounter with God is much more personal and experiential. We come to some moment when we are simply confronted with the fact that God is. Like Moses standing before the burning bush, we come face to face with something that we simply can’t explain away. We are going through life unsuspecting, when suddenly—boom—God interrupts.
Burning bushes still happen today. They are the mysterious events that make people stop, turn aside, and listen for God’s voice.