But Moses said to God, ‘If I come 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 shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:
This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.
Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go. I will bring this people into such favour with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; each woman shall ask her neighbour and any woman living in the neighbour’s house for jewellery of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.’
My surname is one the most common in the English-speaking world. This means it isn’t very distinctive and is shared by millions of people. Sometimes this might be a good thing, sometimes not. One advantage is certainly that it’s very rare I have to repeat it, or that it gets misspelled. But however common a name might be it still tells you something. You could make an educated guess at which nation was the land of my fathers (at least on one side of my family tree) and you’d be right.
Jesus also didn’t have a very distinctive name – there were many people called Jesus (or Joshua) son of Joseph, so often his home town is added. Jesus of Nazareth, to distinguish him from any others.
There’s something of that in this passage. How were the people of Israel to distinguish their God from false Gods? Moses is first sent to say ‘I am has sent me to you’ – a grammatically challenging and enigmatic sentence. But then he is to clarify, precisely by suggesting God can be understood only in relationship to people. The God of your ancestors, of Jacob, Isaac, Abraham. Our God, the God that we turn to and worship, the God we love and who loves us.
We have many names, titles and descriptions of God, precisely because no single one of them could ever be enough. Rather, they all tell us something about our own relationship with the God we worship and turn to.
Lord, Mother, Father, Friend, ‘I am’, whatever we call you, however we address you, whichever name we prefer, we thank you that you are our God, that you love us and know our names, and that you have revealed yourself to us as you did to Moses. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicholas Jones, Minister, Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough