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11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I[a] that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign[b] that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13 “But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses: I am who I am.[c] Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.

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  1. 3:11 Who am I: this question is always addressed by an inferior to a superior (to the ruler in 1 Sm 18:18; to God in 2 Sm 7:18 and its parallel, 1 Chr 17:16; 1 Chr 29:14; 2 Chr 2:5). In response to some special opportunity or invitation, the question expresses in a style typical of the ancient Near East the speaker’s humility or gratitude or need of further assistance, but never unwillingness or an outright refusal to respond. Instead the question sets the stage for further support from the superior should that be needed (as here).
  2. 3:12 Sign: a visible display of the power of God. The ancient notion of a sign from God does not coincide with the modern understanding of “miracle,” which suggests some disruption in the laws governing nature. While most any phenomenon can become a vehicle for displaying the purposes and providence of God, here the sign intended to confirm Moses’ commission by God seems to be the burning bush itself. Since normally the giving of such a sign would follow the commission rather than precede it (see Jgs 6:11–24), some see Israel’s service of God at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt as the confirmatory sign, albeit retroactively. It is more likely, however, that its mention here is intended to establish the present episode with Moses alone as a prefigurement of God’s fiery theophany to all Israel on Mount Sinai. Serve God: Hebrew ‘-b-d, “serve,” includes among its meanings both the notion of “serving or working for another” and the notion of “worship.” The implication here is that the Israelites’ service/worship of God is incompatible with their service to Pharaoh.
  3. 3:14 I am who I am: Moses asks in v. 13 for the name of the One speaking to him, but God responds with a wordplay which preserves the utterly mysterious character of the divine being even as it appears to suggest something of the inner meaning of God’s name: ‘ehyeh “I am” or “I will be(come)” for “Yhwh,” the personal name of the God of Israel. While the phrase “I am who I am” resists unraveling, it nevertheless suggests an etymological linking between the name “Yhwh” and an earlier form of the Hebrew verbal root h-y-h “to be.” On that basis many have interpreted the name “Yhwh” as a third-person form of the verb meaning “He causes to be, creates,” itself perhaps a shortened form of a longer liturgical name such as “(God who) creates (the heavenly armies).” Note in this connection the invocation of Israel’s God as “Lord (Yhwh) of Hosts” (e.g., 1 Sm 17:45). In any case, out of reverence for God’s proper name, the term Adonai, “my Lord,” was later used as a substitute. The word Lord (in small capital letters) indicates that the Hebrew text has the sacred name (Yhwh), the tetragrammaton. The word “Jehovah” arose from a false reading of this name as it is written in the current Hebrew text. The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One who is” (ōn being the participle of the verb “to be”). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.