What is the meaning of I AM WHO I AM?

Question
What is the meaning of I AM WHO I AM in Exodus 3:14?
Answer
In Exodus 3:1-6 God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him to go to Egypt and lead the children of Israel out of their bondage of slavery (Exod. 3:7-12). Then we read the following In Exodus 3:13-14:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?” 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.'"

In Hebrew the name for God is ehyeh asher ehyeh, or "I AM WHO I AM.” The meaning of God's name is not fully comprehensible by finite beings, but at a bare minimum this is a statement of God's self-sufficiency. In other words, God is sovereign and his plans are not contingent on any other person, their plans, or any other circumstance. He is not only the God of primary causes, but the Lord of secondary causes as well (WCF 5.2-3). He was never dependent on Pharaoh's cooperation. Pharaoh's response with his own "i am" in Exodus 5:1-2 is utterly laughable to the "I AM WHO I AM" (cf. Psa. 2:1; 37:13; 59:8). God is who he is: he is eternally God, sovereign, unchangeable in his being, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and completely sufficient in and of himself. He can and will do all he pleases in the earth (Isa. 46:10).

This should speak in a very big way to all Christians because God is in absolute control (Rom. 8:28). He has worked, is working, and will continue to work to bring about his will in our lives (Isa. 41:10; Phil. 2:13). It is always for our good and by faith we can rest in this: "Be still, and know that I AM GOD; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Psa. 46:10).

This should also speak to non-Christians. Their claim of self-sufficiency, or their "i ams," will ultimately lead to eternal self-destruction because those who don't know the Lord will encounter God’s full displeasure and judgment as a flood of God's wrath (cf. Gen. 6:7, 13; 7:4; Deut. 29:20). However, "The [I AM] sits enthroned over the flood; the [I AM] sits enthroned as king forever" (Psa. 29:10; cf. Psa. 9:7; 10:16; Jer. 10:10).

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What's the meaning of I AM?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).