But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
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 forever,
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. (Exodus 3:11-16)
Moses and the Israelites in Egypt lived in a world filled with many gods and goddesses. That there was but one God was something that they only gradually comprehended. Therefore, at the beginning of their relationship, when God first appeared to Moses, it was only natural that Moses should wonder about the name of the God he was standing before. He accepted that this was the same God that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had worshipped, but he wanted a name to bring back to the people. Names were considered important because they gave you power: if someone calls your name, you respond to it, you look up, you see who it is that used your name. Moses wanted that with God.
God was amazed by Moses’ question, since it showed God how little Moses really understood. Names are necessary when there are many examples of something: for instance, there are a lot of human beings. Names keep us from becoming confused. But what need had God of a name? He’s all there is, the only God. Therefore, he responded, “I Am that I Am.” How else could he answer that question? So Moses went back to the Israelites and told them that “He Is” has sent me. The Hebrew pronunciation of that phrase is “Yahweh,” which is sometimes rendered in English as “Jehovah.”