In those five words - "I AM who I AM" - Moses would find the faith to realize that, even if he could not see the goodness in what God was doing, he could believe in the goodness of who God is and know that, because God is good, what he does is good.
From our perspective here in the 21st century, we are able to look back and see exactly what God was doing during those 40 years.
In those 40 years of wandering, a transformation was happening in the people of Israel.
The taste of quail and manna for 40 years cleared their palates of the spices of Egypt so that, when they reached the Promise Land - with its milk, and honey, and giant grapes - they would not still desire the tastes of the foods they ate in the land of bondage.
When they left the land of Egypt, it is probable that they trusted more in the Egyptian gods than they trusted in the God of Abraham (Exodus 32), but after 40 years of relying on Him for food, water, clothing, and direction, they would know the I AM was the only God who had provided for them on their journey.
It took 40 years to raise a generation birthed in freedom. Those who were left to wander in the desert an addition 40 years were those whose roots were still in Egypt. Their mindset was that of bondage because it was all they had ever known... and all their parents had ever known... and all their grandparents had ever known. But the generation that entered into the Promise Land had been birthed in the desert, in freedom. They had never tasted the bitterness of slavery and had only known the freedom of the Lord. This was the generation the Lord would use to conquer the giants of Canaan.
And as for those giants, for the same 40 years, those giants had tilled the land and planted vineyards. They constructed fortified cities and infrastructure to sustain an entire population. They built houses and cultivated their gardens. All of these things were completed upon the Israelites' arrival. They would not walk into an undeveloped wilderness. (Would that have been much better than the desert?) But they would walk into booming societies and economies that were primed for the new rulers - God's chosen people.
In the midst of 40 years of wandering, God's people could not know what God was orchestrating "behind the scenes." And because their faith was in the actions of God instead of the being of God, their reaction was disappointment and (as a result) complaining, mumbling, grumbling, arguing, and (ultimately) complete doubt in the promises of God.
But Moses never lost faith during those 40 years of wandering*. Even as they approached the Promise Land, it was Moses' faith in a good God that saved the Israelites from total annihilation (Numbers 14).
So where are you today?
I think if we're honest, many of us can say that we have been in a place of disappointment with the Lord - a place where His ways don't make sense, where following Him feels more painful than giving up and going back to our old bondage, where what He is doing seems to be the opposite of what He said He would do.
But I believe the Lord is calling each of us to a new revelation - a new knowledge of Him as the "I AM." Because when we come to a place where we can say "I trust in who You are, regardless of what I see You doing," then our hearts will be in a place protected from disappointment in the Lord and (as a result) from complaining, mumbling, grumbling, arguing, and (ultimately) the complete doubt in the Promises of God.
So the questions pounding in my mind today, in the midst of a desert place, are these: Is God a good God? Is He a man, that He should lie? Do I believe that, regardless of how it feels right now, God is working all things together for my good?
In the revelation of the "I AM", I can answer these questions positively, without fear of disappointment.
What about you?
(*Of course we know that Moses was disobedient as they reached the Promise Lane and was therefore not allowed to enter... but that is a different story for a different day.)