I AM: Ehyeh. Imperfect, first person singular verb (Strong’s 1961).
There are two primary ways to say I am in the Hebrew Bible: ani and ehyeh.
Ani (and anoki) is the most prolific Hebrew word meaning “I am”. Even YHWH repeatedly used it to speak of Himself, saying “Ani YHWH” (I am YHWH):
You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am YHWH [et shem Eloheka; Ani YHWH].
The rarer word to be translated as I am or I will be is ehyeh and its most profound use was in the identification of God’s name.
The name of God is a controversial topic. Many Jews and Messianic Jews will not say His name aloud, substituting either Adonai (Lord) or HaShaem (the Name) in its place, out of a deep respect. For this reason most English Biblical translations take out the actual Hebrew word, YHWH, and put the LORD in its place. When you see “LORD” in all-caps, it is translating God’s name and substituting a readable title for God, in place of His name.
This name, YHWH, is also known as the Tetragrammaton (the four letters): yod, hey, vav, hey. Sometimes the name is rendered as Yahweh, but out of respect for those who refuse to say God’s name aloud I prefer to substitute the Hebrew letters with the four English letters, allowing the individual to read it out-loud or silently.
Personally, I do use the name YHWH in my reading. I feel closer and more personal to God when I read the Scriptures this way. Also, I find it very concerning that society has given the Adversary (haSatan) the name “Satan” when it’s really meant to be a title (the Adversary). Ultimately God’s opponent doesn’t deserve a name, but we’ve given him one. On the flip side, we’ve given God a title “the LORD” and removed His personal, intimate, name, YHWH, about which he says, “This is My name forever, and this is the name for all generations to use to call upon Me” (Exodus 3:15b).
So let’s take a more thorough look at the scene where God introduced His name.
Moses was shepherding his father-in-law Jethro’s flock at Mount Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai), minding his own business, when he saw an odd sight… a bush that burned continually but the fire did not consume the wood of the bush. As he came closer God spoke to Moses through the bush, announcing that he would use Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.
[YHWH to Moses:] “And now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I [mi anoki], that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”
And He said, “Assuredly I will be [I Am: Ehyeh] with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am [anoki] going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” [“Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”]; and He said, “This is what you shall say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM [Ehyeh] has sent me to you.’” God furthermore said to Moses, “This is what you shall say to the sons of Israel: ‘[YHWH, 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 this is the name for all generations to use to call upon Me.”
YHWH’s statement of I Am is actually the word “ehyeh”, but it would sound odd if Moses went back to the people and said EHYH (“I Am”) was God’s name, so God instructed Moses to tell the people that YHWH (“He Is”) was the name people, of all generations, should call Him.
EHYH= I Am or I Will Be
YHWH= He Is or He Will Be
YHWH was the celebrated name of God from the mouths of the people, but that didn’t mean that the word EHYH disappeared. God continued to use the word to describe Himself, in first person narrative.
For example, when Moses showed deep concern about his role as a public speaker to the Pharaoh, YHWH clarified things for Moses:
But YHWH said to him, “Who has made the human mouth? Or who makes anyone unable to speak or deaf, or able to see or blind? Is it not I, YHWH? Now then go, and I Myself will be [w-anoki Ehyeh] with your mouth, and instruct you in what you are to say.”
This translation reads, “And I Myself will be with your mouth”, but a more literal translation would be “And I, I Am with your mouth”.
But Moses was still hesitant, so YHWH called on Aaron to fill the position of speaker and then He said to Moses:
“So you are to speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth; and I, I Am, [w-anoki Ehyeh] with your mouth and his mouth, and I will instruct you in what you are to do.”
Others using EHYH
Surprisingly YHWH was not the only one to make an I Am name claim by using this word. We could make a lot of observations here about why others chose to use ehyeh instead of ani, and what it says about their character and their storyline. Potentially, this could make for a great theological dissertation, but this blog is merely an introduction to Hebrew words and where words are used. With that in mind, here is a list of humans who used EHYH to describe themselves:
Jephthah: I AM Your Leader
Judges 11:6, 9-11
And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.”
…So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and YHWH gives them up to me, I will become [I, I am: anoki Ehyeh] your head.”
And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “YHWH is witness between us; be assured we will do as you have said.”
Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before YHWH at Mizpah.
Jephthah announced, I am your leader if YHWH’s hands over the enemy. The elders of Gilead had faith that God would save them so they did not wait for the victory and made Jephthah a judge immediately. This was the same Jephthah that promised God he would sacrifice the first thing that came through the door to greet him upon his return from battle, if God gave them the victory. They defeated the Ammonites, he went home, and then his daughter walked through the door.
Ruth: I AM NOT like your Servant
Then she (Ruth) said, “I have found favour in your sight, my lord (Boaz), for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your servant, though I, I am not [w-anoki lo ehyeh] like one of your female servants.”
And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left.
Boaz was like an anointed figure to Ruth. Ruth said she was not like a servant to Boaz and in response Boaz served her food… and she ate abundantly. Boaz called on Ruth to eat the bread… just as Yeshua (Jesus) offered it to His disciples. Ruth and Boaz would become ancestral grandparents of the future Messiah.
David: I AM Son-in-Law to the King? Should I be?
1 Samuel 18:17-18
Then Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife, only be a valiant man for me and fight YHWH’s battles.” For Saul thought, “My hand shall not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” But David said to Saul, “Who am I [mi anoki], and who is my family, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be [ki ehyeh] the king’s son-in-law?”
David questioned his right to say I AM son-in-law to God’s anointed king. In the end he would become more than just son-in-law to the king, he would be able to claim I AM King!
Jonathan: I AM Second in Command!
1 Samuel 23:17a
[Jonathan to David:] “and I myself am [w-anoki ehyeh] second in command to you; and Saul my father knows that as well.”
Jonathan supported David’s kingship over his own father, Saul, and he placed himself as David’s greatest supporter and second to the one he thought could best say “I AM King”. This was a very telling statement considering that, as Saul’s beloved son, he would have the right to think that kingship should be his own inheritance.
Hushai: I Am David’s Servant
Years later, when King David’s son Absalom revolted against him, David’s court was divided. But many remained loyal to David, including Hushai the Archite. David asked Hushai to go back to Absalom and claim allegiance in order to be a spy (2 Samuel 15:34) and so he did as David requested:
2 Samuel 16:16-19
Now it came about, when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, that Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”
But Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?”
So Hushai said to Absalom, “No! For whomever YHWH, this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be [ehyeh], and with him I will remain. Besides, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? Just as I have served in your father’s presence, so I will be [ehyeh] in your presence.”
Hushai remained loyal to David, not only because they were friends but because he believed that YHWH supported David. Hushai believed that only David could rightfully say the words, “I AM King!”
EHYH: You are My People, I AM your God!
When it comes to the prophets, the use of EHYH was almost exclusively reserved to describe God. The one exception was the only time this word was written in the scroll of Isaiah.
Here Isaiah metaphorically described Bablyon as a queen, and God acknowledged that this queen saw herself as an everlasting I Am:
Isaiah 47:6-7a, 10-11
[YHWH:] “I was angry with My people, I profaned My heritage and handed them over to you. You did not show mercy to them, on the aged you made your yoke very heavy. Yet you said, ‘I am [ehyeh] a queen forever.’ …
…You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ your wisdom and your knowledge, they have led you astray; for you have said in your heart, ‘I am [Ani], and there is no one besides me.’
But evil will come on you which you will not know how to charm away; and disaster will fall on you for which you cannot atone; and destruction about which you do not know will come on you suddenly.”
This passage used both terms for I am: EHYH and Ani. Out loud Babylon boasted to be a forever ruler, like a god; at the heart of Bablyon they desired to be unique, unbeatable, and unlike any superpower nation before them. They would not get their wish.
Other prophets to use ehyeh were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Zechariah, and they only used the word ehyeh when quoting God.
Jeremiah repeated drove home YHWH’s promise to be the God of His People:
[YHWH:] …so you shall be My people, and I, I will be [w-anoki ehyeh] your God,’
[YHWH:] I will also give them a heart to know Me, for I am YHWH; and they will be My people, and I, I will be [w-anoki ehyeh] their God, for they will return to Me wholeheartedly.
[YHWH:] “You shall be My people, and I will be your God [w-anoki ehyeh lakem l-Elohim].”
[YHWH:] “At that time,” declares YHWH, “I will be the God [Ehyeh l-Elohim] of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”
[YHWH:] They shall be My people, and I will be their God [wa-ani ehyeh lakem l-Elohim]; and I will give them one heart and one way, so that they will fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, so that they will not turn away from Me.
Ezekiel, a contemporary prophet to Jeremiah, also carried on with the same theme of God’s promise:
Ezekiel 11:19-20 (see also Ezekiel 14:11b)
[YHWH:] And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God [wa-ani ehyeh lakem l-Elohim].”
God added to the same tune when He declared that He would be the people’s God and David would be a shepherd and prince amongst the people:
[YHWH:] “Therefore, I will save My flock, and they will no longer be plunder; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
Then I will appoint over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, YHWH, I will be their God [wa-ani YHWH, ehyeh lahem l-Elohim], and My servant David will be prince among them; I YHWH have spoken.”
Ezekiel 37:23 (see also Ezekiel 36:28)
They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their offenses; but I will rescue them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God [wa-ani ehyeh lahem l-Elohim].
In the writings of the prophet Hosea, YHWH changed His tune. The people had become so distorted and corrupt that YHWH would no longer draw the people to Himself. Hosea’s cheating wife bore three children to Hosea and the final child bore the name “not My people”:
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. And YHWH said, “Name him Lo-ammi, because you are not My people, and I am not your I Am [w-anoki lo ehyeh lakem].”
This was a hard blow. After years of claiming “I Am your God and you are My people”, YHWH declared “I Am not your God and you are not My people”. They had pushed Him away so much that He could no longer call them His own.
However, in the final chapter of the scroll of Hosea, YHWH’s overwhelming desire to love His people took precedence over His disappointment and anger. He refused to accept their abandonment of Him and He vowed to love them freely, regardless of their rejection:
[YHWH:] “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, because My anger has turned away from them. I will be [Ehyeh] the dew to Israel…”
YHWH gathered His people back to them and was the “dew” to Israel… He was the water of life for His people, quenching their thirst and helping them grow and flourish. YHWH would provide all the life, and the liberty, and the love that they needed.
In the scroll of Zechariah YHWH’s I Am statements highlighted His glory, righteousness and truth:
[YHWH:] “Jerusalem will be inhabited as open country because of the multitude of people and cattle within it. And I, I will be [wa-ani ehyeh] for her” declares YHWH, “a wall of fire to her on all sides, and I Am the glory [u-l-kavod ehyeh] in her midst.”
YHWH of armies says this: “Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I, I Am their God in truth and righteousness [wa-ani ehyeh lahem l-Elohim bey-emet u-bi-ts’daqah].”
Job, EHYH, and the Suffering Servant
There’s one other person in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that used the term ehyeh to refer to himself… Job.
There are six narrators in the scroll of Job (God, Job, and Job’s four friends}, but only Job used ehyeh in his dialogue. There is much to speculate about here, but I think the main point to focus on is that Job fits the Suffering Servant motif that is repeated in the Tanakh. With that in mind, the use of EHYH reminds us that Job was without blemish or fault, and his suffering seemed wildly unjust, much like the future suffering servant who had every right to say I AM King.
But Job was no king; he was a simple family farmer, and he lost everything. His suffering was so extensive that he wished he had never been born:
Job 3:11, 16
[Job:] “Why did I not die at birth, come out of the womb and pass away?…like a miscarriage which is hidden, I would not exist [I am not: lo ehyeh], as infants that never saw light.”
[Job:] “I should have been as though I am not [lo ha-yiti ehyeh], brought from womb to tomb.”
Settling on the fact that he was still very much alive, Job began to focus on his existence as it was:
[Job:] “I am [ehyeh] a joke to my friends, the one who called on God and He answered him; the just and blameless man is a joke.”
[Job:] “But He has made me a proverb among the people, and I am [ehyeh] one at whom people spit.” [Literally: they spit in the face that I am].
Job constantly cried out to God and his use of ehyeh statements had an impact. He was broken and beaten but, in the end, he did not lose hope. YHWH would not abandon him, instead He spoke to Job and Job saw the light. Job rekindled his hope and he trusted in YHWH to redeem him. And God delivered! He would bring Job home and restore his fortunes twice over.
YHWH was with Job in his suffering. By His words He lifted Job out of despair and into hope.
I AM With You: EHYH Immak
YHWH repeatedly promised to “be with” His people. Almost every time He made that promise the word EHYH was used:
[YHWH to Joshua:] “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I, I Am with you [w-anoki Ehyeh immak].”
After Moses’ death YHWH again spoke to Joshua saying:
Joshua 1:5 (see also Joshua 3:7)
[YHWH to Joshua:] Just as I have been with Moses, I Am with you [Ehyeh immak]; I will not desert you nor abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
When Gideon faced the terrifying army of the Midianites he questioned whether he had the strength or lineage to carry out God’s plan, but God answered Gideon’s concerns with these words:
[YHWH to Gideon:] “Certainly I Am with you [Ehyeh immak], and you will defeat Midian as one man.”
But there were also times where YHWH made it clear that He was not on their side:
[Asaph:] But to the wicked God says,
“What right do you have to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you yourself hate discipline, and you throw My words behind you.
When you see a thief, you become friends with him, and you associate with adulterers. You let your mouth loose in evil, and your tongue harnesses deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought that I, I Am, had become [heyowt ehyeh] like you; I will rebuke you and present the case before your eyes.
YHWH would show the wicked their own destruction. They could see their reflection and it looked nothing like their Creator. They were not being image bearers, they were being image destroyers and YHWH would not stand for it.
David, on the other hand, was YHWH’s chosen anointed son who would be the most prolific pro-God king on the throne of Israel. YHWH also gave a promise to David that would, simultaneously, be an announcement for His plan of salvation. He wouldn’t just be with David in Spirit, He would be a Father to David’s anointed descendant. This descendant of David would be a walking, breathing, Son of God who would redeem the people and breach the gap that had developed between YHWH and humanity:
2 Samuel 7:12-14a (see also 1 Chronicles 17:9-14, 1 Chronicles 28:6)
[YHWH to David:] “When your days are finished and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I, Myself, will be [Ani, Ehyeh] a father to him and he, he will be [w-hu yih’yeh] a son to Me.”
This was a prophetic statement outlining YHWH’s plan for Salvation. YHWH, the great “I Am” would bring a “He will be” into the picture, to heal the rift and open up the Kingdom of God to everyone.
Yeshua: I Am!
As we have read, YHWH frequently made this statement:
I Am with you [Ehyeh immak]
This is an important phrase to remember. It’s a beautiful promise that, no matter where we are, YHWH is with us.
But this statement becomes even more profound when Yeshua comes onto the scene.
Joseph had just found out that Mary was pregnant, and it was not his child. Devastated, he decided to secretly send her away so she would not be humiliated. While contemplating his plan, Joseph was visited by an Angel in a dream:
[Angel to Joseph:] “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Now all this took place so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they shall call Him Immanuel” which translated means, “God with us.”
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he named Him Jesus.
YHWH’s repeated “I Am with you” statements in the Tanakh became a physical manifestation in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) with Yeshua’s birth. It’s like a call and respond:
Tanak (OT): I Am with you!
B’rit Chadashah (NT): God is with us!
The Gospel writer John particularly noted each I Am statement that Yeshua made during His ministry. There were seven:
- I Am the bread of life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
- I Am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5)
- I Am the door of the sheep (John 10:7, 9)
- I Am the good shepherd. (John 10:11, 14)
- I Am the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)
- I Am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
- I Am the true vine (John 15:1)
The gospel writer Mark noted that at His trial Yeshua made one final I Am statement:
Mark 14:60-65 (see also Luke 22:70)
And then the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not offer any answer for what these men are testifying against You?” But He kept silent and did not offer any answer.
Again the high priest was questioning Him, and said to Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?”
And they all condemned Him as deserving of death. And some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists and say to Him, “Prophesy!” Then the officers took custody of Him and slapped Him in the face.
Just like the suffering Job had said, I am [ehyeh] one at whom people spit, so could Yeshua say the same thing.
From here Yeshua went to a final trial with Pilate before being condemned to death on the cross. Yeshua went to the grave but He would not stay there. He rose up, conquered death, and broke the barrier between YHWH and His people. They could go back home to the Father, redeemed and restored.
God says I Am (EHYH), and we say He Is (YHWH), but the beautiful thing about the One who named Himself “I Am” is that His existence is what made each and every one of us. YHWH can claim:
I Am Creator; I Am Sacrifice; I Am Love; I Am King Everlasting.
Thank you, YHWH, for existing, creating, loving us, and saving us. You are why we live and breathe. May each breath we take be a prayer of thanksgiving back to you, the Great I Am! Amen!
Next week: Revisiting UNEXPLAINABLE
3 thoughts on “Ehyeh: I AM!”
Once again, Sarah, thank you so much for a brilliant and insightful writing that brings us closer to God.
I have a question for you. I know that you spend a lot of time putting these letters together for all of us, and it takes a lot of time and effort away from your family and your work and your own life. How can we support you in this effort? I would like to send you a little bit of money to help you offset your time and expense. I know others would like to do the same. So if I could eat transfer you some funds do I just use the same email address?
I know that you would resist this kind of gift, but with all that you give us the small gift back to you in favor, and in kind is at least the minimal that I can do. God bless.
All of our love to you, Dennis, and Kathy Terry
Dennis & Kathy, you are so kind. Truth be told I have been considering putting a donate button on the page… but (haha) I just haven’t found the time!! Anyone can e-transfer at email@example.com.
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