What God was asking of Moses at the burning bush was nothing short of a suicide mission. Go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and tell him to “Let my people go.” This task would have been difficult enough if Pharaoh was a plantation owner and the Hebrews were a dozen or so slaves, but to ask Pharaoh, the King of all Egypt, to give up more than a million slaves, on whose backs the entire economy of Egypt rested? You’d have an easier time convincing a sitting American President to deport all the undocumented laborers who ensure our cheap houses and $0.99 heads of lettuce. As one might guess, Moses is unsure of the possibility of success. His fear isn’t just of Pharaoh, but of the more than one million Hebrews who only knew the life of slavery. When they asked, “Under whose authority do you do this?” What was Moses to answer?
The name God gave Moses to drop is a peculiar one. In time, the name of God would become so sacred, that the four letter word I’ve posted above is not to be said aloud in the Jewish tradition. When a reader comes to this word, which is transliterated at YHWH, they say, “Elohim” instead. More peculiar than that, the name God gives is a verb. Not even Kanye and Kim named their children a verb. And it isn’t just any type of verb, but an imperfect verb, indicating an incomplete or ongoing action. God wasn’t, God is.
In the course of human history, the imperfect verbiness of God will prove quite helpful. When Moses and Pharaoh are going back and forth through the course of ten plagues, it is nice for Moses to know that “I am” is with him. When the people of Israel have their backs on the Red Sea while the Egyptian army barrels down on them, there is some comfort in “I am” standing there too. Forty years in the wilderness, the walls of Jericho, the Judges, Kings, exiles, and even Roman occupation are made a little more bearable because “I am” continues to be. Even as Jesus hangs on the cross, seemingly abandoned by everyone he has ever loved, feeling forsaken by the Father himself, “I am” is still there.
This is good news for those of us who continue to walk in the Way of discipleship. Nobody ever said life was going to be easy. There will be financial pressures, health issues, family quarrels, natural disasters, and any number of other stresses in life when things might feel lost, when God might seem far away, when hope might be dwindling. In those moments, whether you believe it or not, “I am” is there, holding you as a hen protects her brood under her wings, for God is an imperfect verb, constantly active, and never ending. That’s the power of “I am.”