With the book of Shemot comes a fresh cast of characters. The narrative quickly moves through our new protagonist’s early life. We witness Mosses’s birth and miraculous salvation, his growth in the house of Pharaoh, and his flight to Midian after killing a taskmaster. All this covered in the space of a single chapter.
Now fully grown and tending his father-in-law’s sheep, Moses first encounters God. Calling out to him from a burning bush, God appoints Moses to the task of delivering the Jewish people from Egypt. Burdened with doubt and insecurity, Moses asks what name he should give as proof to the Israelites of God’s directive.
God’s answer feels terse to the point that I cannot help but picture God giving it with an audible sigh. God simply states, “I Will Be What I Will Be” (Shemot 3:14). It seems that God is telling Moses not to worry about the “correct” name. Rather, Moses should use whatever name he thinks will help motivate and reassure the Israelite people.
However, “God said further to Moses,’Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, this My remembrance generation to generation’” (Shemot 3:15). But wait, isn’t the central dogma of Judaism, “Hear O Israel the Lord is God, the Lord is One?” (Deuteronomy 6:4). If God is one, which of the many names mentioned is supposed to be His eternal appellation?
Through Her name, God is telling Moses to explain that he was sent by the God who is both Israel’s future – “I Will Be What I Will Be” and their past – “The Lord, the God of your fathers.” It then becomes Moses’s job to make the people believe that God is also their present.
It is all too easy for us to process the world in what was and what will be. Using the past as a guide and the future as a source of hope, we must strive to live in the present. For it is the pursuit to see, experience, and praise God in the here and now that will bring to fruition the words of the Prophet, “And on that day it will be that God is One and His name is One” (Zechariah 14:9).