2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” Exodus 5:2-3
Update: please don’t read this unless you also read the retraction post I wrote after someone pointed out the errors in this one.
In Exodus 3, Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).
In response, God revealed to Moses His personal, covenant Name:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14).
In Hebrew, the Name is the Hebrew characters YHVH, called the Tetragrammaton by scholars. Hebrews considered the Name so holy that they literally made it unpronounceable. The vowels attached to these consonants in Masoretic texts can’t be read. When rabbis and cantors got to these consonants in their reading, they would substitute either “Adonai” (Lord) or Ha Shem (The Name).
God continued: “Say this to the people 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15).
Powerful stuff. The kind of Name that mountains would bow down and seas would roar at the sound of.
Notice that Moses anticipated this question coming from the Israelites. However, the one who actually asks the question is Pharaoh. But I don’t think the response was supposed to change. Moses was supposed to say, “I AM sent me to you.”
Instead, he told Pharaoh, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days journey into the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:3).
Hmmm. There seems to be a big difference between “I AM WHO I AM” and “the God of the Hebrews.” The first speaks of power and authority. Mystery and transcendence. It’s a Name that offers no further explanation, fosters no discussion, allows for no negotiation, and absolutely does not have to say “please.”
I AM WHAT I AM does not require the permission of a Pharaoh to do what He desires to do.
But this is not the name with which Moses answers Pharaoh. Instead, Moses responds, “the God of the Hebrews.” You can almost hear the stammer in his voice: “th-th-the God of the Hebrews. N-n-now, please let us go. We’ll only be gone three days. “
Three days? This is the first we’ve heard anything about three days. This wasn’t what God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. I AM WHAT I AM intends to set His people free forever, not offer them a weekend pass from slavery.
This is what happens when we don’t take God at His word. We feel like we have to present Him to the world as smaller. Less demanding. More reasonable. We try to explain the unexplainable, to name the Unnameable, and to tame the One who is untameable.
So of course Pharaoh says no. Moses hasn’t introduced Pharaoh to the Great I Am. Instead, he’s described him as a regional God. The God of the Hebrews. Pharaoh feels no obligation to this God. No reverence before Him. I AM WHAT I AM should make him fall to his knees. “The God of the Hebrews” makes him suppress a yawn.
In time, Pharaoh and all his household will tremble at the Name. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. But I have to wonder how the story would have played out if Moses had responded to Pharaoh the way God had instructed him to.
Beloved, God is revealing Himself to you every single day you are in His Word. Do not diminish Him. Do not apologize for Him. And do not look for the world’s permission to obey Him.