Moses as a Hebrew was very familiar with his people's history, and the fact that God had chosen them to be His means of bringing redemption to the whole human race. In defense of his people, he had killed an Egyptian and was a fugitive in Midian. There, as a shepherd, he had led the flock onto the backside of the desert, and God had spoken to him from the midst of the burning bush. Now Moses knew God as the living God Who had revealed Himself to the patriarchs, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, when God spoke to him, identified Himself, and commissioned Moses, Moses responded by asking God, "Who are You, What is Your name, Whom shall I say has sent me to Israel's fathers?" Now Moses did not doubt that it was God Who spoke to him. The meaning of his question rests on the definition of name. Names in the Bible are descriptions of the person bearing them. We do not know Abraham's original name in Ur, but we do know that God first renamed him Abram, father of a multitude, and later expanded it to Abraham. Only Abraham's wealth and power, and his command of 318 fighting men (Gen. 14:14), enabled him to use that name when he was a childless man.
Moses asked God to define Himself. Now names describe to us limits, boundaries, and localizing factors. How can an infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient God be named? He can, within limits, be described, but to name or define Him is impossible.
God's answer thus had in mind fully Moses' problem, and that of Israel. They were God's chosen people, and yet for generations they seem to have been forgotten by God. Now, suddenly, He remembers them. Who can understand such a God?
Moses' problem is ours also. What does one say to those unjustly persecuted and killed? Or what can we say to a very promising, godly, and remarkable young man, full of great potentiality for Christ's work, who is dying before his work is begun? How can we comfort the afflicted? Our heart often cries out, "Lord, what is Thy Name?" How can we understand or comprehend these things? We know this fallen world is in bondage to sin and death, but why these shattering events? Moses had no doubt seen many Hebrews beaten even unto death by their Egyptian taskmasters, with no justice done to their killers. Why was he a fugitive for this one murder?
God's reply to Moses was that an answer such as Moses wanted was impossible. "I AM THAT I AM," — I am He Who is, the eternal, self-existent God, beyond all definition. You and I can be described and identified; we have a beginning and an end in our lives here, we have our features, aptitudes, characteristics, and more whereby we can be described. By describing ourselves, a stranger can meet us at an airport and identify us. But God tells Moses that He is beyond definition.
God then tells Moses to gather together the elders of Israel to say to them, "The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob," (v. 16) has sent me to you and commissioned me to lead you out of Egypt. God refused to give a rationalistic definition of Himself. He could not be comprehended by reason, experience, or anything else. He is to be known by His self-revelation.
This is basic to all the Bible. God is known by His revelation, not exhaustively, but still truly known. He is totally self-consistent in all His being so that what we do know of Him is without contradiction. There are dark corners and unused potentialities in our being, but none in God. He changes not but is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). In this sense, we can know God better than ourselves. There are no surprises in all His Being, mysteries, yes, but no surprise. He is the changeless One.
How then do we know God? By His Word, His Revelation.
Rationalists, in their arrogance, seek to define God for us, but they fail. We know God through His infallible Word, His self-revelation.
We have inherited the bias of our world from Greco-Roman culture with its insistence on the centrality of man and his thinking. Aristotle, in his Politics, defines man as a political animal, whereas according to the Bible, man is a religious creature. The difference between these two definitions is vast. Either a man is a creation, a creature of God, or he is the creature of the state. If the state is man's maker, then the state molds man and gives man statist law to live by. If God is man's Maker, then God alone has the prerogative of molding and directing him, and only God's law-word can legitimately govern man. What the Bible tells us is that God is our Maker and also our Lawgiver and Definer.
God's revelation, His enscripturated Word, thus, defines us and our world. Reality is what God says it is, and we are to develop our knowledge of ourselves and of His creation under Him and in faithfulness to His Word. David says of God in Psalm 36:9, "For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light." Our basic presupposition must be that God in His Word establishes the premises of our knowledge. Initiative and origination are thus in God, not in man, nor the state, nor anything else.
The Defining Word
The Bible is God's defining Word. It does not give us the data of biology, but we are to take its perspective of biology; nor does it tell us of the factuality of the universe, but of its origin in God's fiat creation. It tells us also what man is, his nature and his destiny, and it tells us plainly how we are to live. We are creatures of God, not of nature nor of the state. Without God's Word, we can only found our lives on false premises, on our hopes of evolving rather than regeneration. Because man is a fallen creature, in rebellion against God and His law-word, his history is one of perpetual crisis. Man-made cures are necessarily wrong by their nature. The focus of the twentieth century has well been summed up as "perpetual war for perpetual peace." We are told in Isaiah 57:20, 21: "But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." If we believe this, then we have a different philosophy of history and politics than do the humanists in and out of the church. Apart from God and His infallible Word, our thinking will rest on faulty and evil premises. History then lurches from crisis to crisis, from one evil answer to another. The defining God alone provides the defining word. Definitions provide us with valid limits. A geneticist, after changing his views from evolution to six-day creation, won eleven prizes in genetics because his field of experimentation was now within limits rather than limitless. Dr. Walter Lammerts thus held an advantage over others in his experiments.
The sociologist Emile Durkheim, an evolutionist, saw the criminal as an evolutionary pioneer, as possibly representing the next step in man's development, rather than as a transgressor of God's law. Durkheim's view was logical, given his premises. An incarcerated criminal, a university student of marked abilities, once made the same statement to me. He saw himself not as a criminal but as a liberated mind.
God as the Creator and the Definer is also necessarily the Lawgiver. He who made men and all creation is also the Lawgiver: "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (Jn. 1:5). The Creator provides the only defining and saving word for His Creation.
It thus warps the gospel to reduce it to the salvation of our souls alone. It is the salvation of history, science, and all things else because it is the defining word. In the church today, man wants God to save his soul and then allow man to save everything else on his own terms. This is not only a fallacy, but also evil. It is God's world and it must be ruled by God's law-word, His defining Word. Anything short of this is false and dangerous.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name: what shall I say unto them? 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. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations (Ex. 3:13-15).