The name also points to God’s self-sufficiency. Self-existence means that God has no origin; self-sufficiency means that God has no needs. “I am that I am.” That’s what God is saying to Moses. Now it is true that God graciously uses us to carry out His plans. He was doing that with Moses, after all. He was calling Moses because He was going to send Moses to Egypt to be His agent in bringing the people out to their own land. But He didn’t need to use Moses, and He doesn’t need to use us either.
God doesn’t need any helpers. He can do it all by Himself. He doesn’t need us. He is well able to take care of Himself. God doesn’t even need worshippers. We don’t add anything to God by worshipping Him. But if God uses us as helpers, that’s a privilege. And if God uses us to defend the Gospel, that’s a privilege. And if God uses us in worshipping Him, the blessing of that is all ours.
When we begin to understand that, we begin to understand why in the Bible unbelief is such a serious sin. God presents Himself as the all-sufficient One, and He calls upon us to trust Him, which is what faith is. If we refuse to do that—that is, if we won’t believe in God—what we are really saying is that some other thing is more trustworthy than God Himself. If something else is sufficient, and God is not, then we can’t trust Him. Now that’s a slander on the name of God, as well as folly.
Another thing the verb “to be” suggests is that God is eternal. It’s hard to find one word to describe this. We talk about God being everlasting, and we talk about perpetuity or eternity. It really means that God is, He has always been, and He always will be, and that He is always the same in His eternal being. That’s a comfort, of course, to us. Since we have been made in the image of God, God has put eternity within our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). And what that means is that we have been given a sense that we are meant to live beyond this life. To know that God is an eternal being is a comfort for those who come to know Him.
God is also unchangeable. The term theologians use is immutable. This means that God never differs from Himself. What He is today, He will be tomorrow; and what He is today He was yesterday. This attribute has important consequences for us. First, God can be trusted. He can be trusted to remain as He is. If He reveals Himself to be one way, you can be sure that tomorrow that’s the way He is going to be, and He is going to be that way the day after that. The God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is like Jesus Christ, and He is always going to be like Jesus Christ. We are never going to be surprised by Him somehow. Nothing is ever going to change God.
Second, God’s immutability means that He is inescapable. He’s not going to go away. None of His attributes is going to change. He’s not going to become less holy than He is or less sovereign than He is, or any of the other things. Now what that means is that you have to come to terms with God as He is, and wise is the person that comes to terms with God early.
You would think that after a revelation like that, Moses would say, “Well, God, that’s a great revelation you gave me. Thank you for that. I really feel honored by that. What would you have me do?”
But we know that that’s not what happened. As a matter of fact, the giving of the name came out in one of Moses’ objections. God had first of all called Moses, as we saw, and said, “I am going to send you to Egypt to Pharaoh to tell him ‘Let my people go.’” And Moses began to make excuses. First of all, he said, “Who am I?” You find that back in the beginning of the third chapter. What he meant was, “I am insignificant. Why send me? I can’t do the job.” And then after he had raised the first question, “Who am I,” God had answered it in effect by saying, “I don’t care who you are, that’s not the issue. Of course you are inadequate. I am the one that’s sending you. I am the one that’s adequate.” Then Moses says, “Well who are you?” After God had given him that great name that showed who He really was—the sovereign, eternal God—then Moses began to make other excuses that you find in chapter 4.
The first excuse Moses gave was that the people won’t believe him: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me, and they say ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” (Ex. 4:1). That was reasonable, and so God responded by giving him three signs. Sometimes we read more into symbols than we should. But in this case there is a great deal to be said for them.
The first thing Moses was told to do is to take his shepherd staff and throw it on the ground. And when he did it, it turned into a snake. Then when he grabbed it again at the command of God, it turned back into a rod. He did that before the people. And we know he did it before Pharaoh because we find that later on in the story.
What’s important about that? A staff is about the most insignificant thing you can think of—just a stick a wood, and dead wood at that! It wasn’t from the burning bush. If it had been, and Moses would have told the people that, well, that would have symbolic value! This is a little stick he cut down somewhere. And God uses that. In F.B. Meyer’s devotional commentary on Exodus he makes a great deal of that.1 Whatever we have in our hand—and by that he meant whatever endowment God has given us, whatever talent we have—if we give it over to God to be used by Him, He’ll use it in a powerful way. And you recall that it was that staff that was used in many of the miracles. Finally, when the staff was held out over the Red Sea, it divided and the people crossed. When it was held out again, it closed up and drowned all the Egyptians. Just a staff of wood; but powerful, you see, when God was using it.
1F. B. Meyer, Moses: The Servant of God (New York: Revell, n.d.), 35-36.