Moses' Question to God, "What Name Do I Give Them?"

Elijah at the entrance to the cave

By Fr. Tom Rouse

I recall the story of a missionary who went to Africa with the stated intention of bringing God to a people whom he thought had never heard of God before. They were, to use that old-fashioned term, “pagans.”

Having settled into the mission station, he set out to live his God-given call to preach the Gospel and bring the God of Jesus Christ to a people whom he assumed did not know the true God. And one of the first questions he had to ask was, “What is your name for God?” Then and there he came to the profound realization that God had gone before him. 

This story comes to mind as I reread the account of Moses’ encounter with God (Exodus 3:13-20) where Moses asks the question, “if they ask me what God’s name is, what am I to tell them?” The answer is twofold. First, God is the answer to the basic question of identity - “Who are you?” The answer is, “I am …” Secondly, “you know me through the belief and trust of your ancestors and the names that they gave me.” It’s like the experience of Elijah as he sat at the entrance to the cave waiting for God. God wasn’t in the powerful wind or the great fire or the mighty earthquake. God was in that gentle breeze or, depending on the translation you use, the enigmatic sound of silence. 

In a sense, God is saying, “Don’t worry about what you are to say. Listen to the people to whom you are sent. They also walk on holy ground because I am already there and they have their own wonderfully mysterious names by which they have long learnt to give expression to what it means to listen to the sound of silence and know that I walk with them.” It was my privilege as a missionary in Fiji to grow in my knowledge and sense of God through the gentle patience and kindness of a people who coped with my groping efforts to talk about who it is I believe in. And they helped to fill in the huge gaps. And I am still learning to answer the question, “What is your name?” Take your time and let God find his way into your hearts.

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