Exodus 3:1-16 – The Burning Bush and “I am who I am”




“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.’ Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” Now they may say to me, “What is His name?” What shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’ God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

The theophany of the burning bush, God’s revelation to Moses, the presentation of the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH, and most especially God’s self-designation as the “I AM,” all present something extremely important for later evaluations of the identity of Yeshua the Messiah. Moses, who would be commissioned as the leader of Israel, is witnessed pasturing the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 3:1), and experiences a significant supernatural encounter. It is recorded, v’yeira malakh YHWH eilayv b’labat-eish m’tokh ha’seneh, “And YHWH’s messenger was seen by him in the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2a, Fox). Noticing the marvel of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2b-3), the figure of the malakh YHWH, “the messenger/angel of the LORD,” is stated to have been the entity present. John I. Durham fairly informs us, “As often in the OT (Gen 18, Judg 6), there is in this passage a fluid interchange between symbol, representative, and God himself.”[1]

While the narrative could continue, stating that the malakh YHWH or “messenger/angel of the LORD” spoke to Moses from the burning bush, it is instead recorded that God proper is the One who spoke to Moses: v’yar YHWH ki sar lir’ot v’yiqra eilayv Elohim m’tokh ha’seneh v’yomer, Moshe Moshe, “When YHWH saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, he said: Moshe! Moshe!” (Exodus 3:4, Fox). God proper tells Moses to remove his sandals, as he is standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). And with the malakh YHWH or “messenger/angel of the LORD” originally having been noted to be the entity present (Exodus 3:2), this being procedes to speak in the first person, anokhi Elohei avikha, Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzchak, v’Elohei Ya’akov, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6a). It is then asserted of Moses, ki yarei m’habit el-ha’Elohim, “for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6b, NJPS). God proper is recorded as being the figure which speaks to him of the present condition of the Israelites: v’yomer YHWH ra’oh ra’iti et-‘ani ami asher b’Mitzrayim, “Now YHWH said: I have seen, yes, seen the affliction of my people that is in Egypt” (Exodus 3:7a, Fox). Discussion about the slavery of Israel in Egypt, God’s intention to deliver the people, and God’s assignments for Moses, continues with dialogue in the first person (Exodus 3:7b-12; cf. Acts 7:30-31).

In recognition of the mission that he is to perform for the God of his ancestors, Moses inquires about what name is to designate this God, as he will surely be asked about it from his fellow Israelites (Exodus 3:13). As it is recorded in the Hebrew text, v’yomer Elohim el-Moshe ehyeh asher ehyeh, a standard English translation being, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’” (Exodus 3:14a). It is further stated, v’yomer koh tomar l’vnei Yisrael ehyeh shelachni alei’khem, “and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:14b). There has certainly been some important discussion surrounding the meaning of ehyeh asher ehyeh. Varied English translations of ehyeh asher ehyeh in Exodus 3:14,[2] beyond the relatively standard “I AM WHO I AM,” do need to be noted:

  • “I Shall Be As I Shall Be” (ATS).
  • “I-will-be-what-I-will-be” (Moffat).
  • “I will be that which I will be” (Keter Crown Bible)
  • “I am the One Who Always Is” (WBC).[3]
  • ’Ehyeh-‘Asher-‘Ehyeh, I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be” (Alter).
  • “EHEYE ASHER EHEYE (I will ever be what I now am)” (Jerusalem Bible-Koren).
  • “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH/I will be-there howsoever I will be-there” (Fox).

It is widely agreed among Hebraists that the revelation of the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH further, is connected to ehyeh asher ehyeh: “Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel: YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzhak, and the God of Yaakov, sends me to you” (Exodus 3:15, Fox). In his specialty translation of the Torah, Alter draws the conclusion,

“‘I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be’ is the most plausible construction of the Hebrew, though the middle word, ‘asher, could easily mean ‘what’ rather than ‘who,’ and the common rendering of ‘I-Am-That-I-Am’ cannot be excluded…Since the tense system of biblical Hebrew by no means corresponds to that of modern English, it is also perfectly possible to construct this as ‘I am He Who Endures.’ The strong consensus of biblical scholarship is that the original pronunciation of the name YHWH that God goes on to use in verse 15 was ‘Yahweh.’”[4]

Durham’s observations on Exodus 3:14 also need to be noted:

“…‘I AM that I AM’ replies God. The verbs are first person common qal imperfects of the verb {chayah} ‘to be,’ connoting continuing, unfinished action: ‘I am being that I am being,’ or ‘I am the Is-ing One,’ that is ‘the One Who Always Is.’ Not conceptual being, being in the abstract, but active being, is the intent of this reply. It is a reply that suggests that it is inappropriate to refer to God as ‘was’ or as ‘will be,’ for the reality of this active existence can be suggested only by the present: ‘is’ or ‘is-ing,’ ‘Always Is,’ or ‘Am.’”[5]

The Greek Septuagint took the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I AM WHO I AM,” and translated it as egō eimi ho ōn, which Brenton’s English translation renders as “THE BEING,” and the 2007 NETS has as “I am The One Who Is.” The “I am” or egō eimi formula is important for later statements made by Yeshua the Messiah appearing in the Gospels, detailing self-identification (i.e., Mark 14:62; John 8:58; 18:5-6), which many conclude are direct indicators of the Messiah identifying Himself as the YHWH God of the burning bush theophany (discussed further).


[1] John I. Durham, Word Biblical Commentary: Exodus, Vol 3 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), pp 30-31.

[2] The NJPS notably just leaves it as “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.”

[3] Durham, 35.

[4] Alter, Five Books of Moses, 321.

[5] Durham, 39.


1 Comment

  1. Interesting verse in the first chapter of John, TLV, v. 18.
    No one has ever seen God,
    But the one and only God,
    in the Father’s embrace,
    has made Him known.

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