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Hosea 1:9

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר קְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ לֹ֣א עַמִּ֑י כִּ֤י אַתֶּם֙ לֹ֣א עַמִּ֔י וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹֽא־אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם׃
And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”(ESV)

The last part literally says something like “and I not-I-am to you”.1 I’m not sure how much sense the Hebrew makes, but it reminds me a little of the use of אהיה as a noun (a name) in Ex 3:14:

אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם
I AM has sent me to you

Because in Hosea it’s in parallel to a “not” name (Not My People), this is an attractive association to me. Making it a name in a noun clause, that would be: “I [am] Not I AM to you”. English translations don’t appear to be attempting to convey this, though, and I don’t even see it cross-referenced.


See also a related question about another potential reference to the Pentateuch in this verse.

1. The NET notes explain that the editors of BHS suggested an emendation to לֹא־אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (lo’-’elohekhem, “I will not be your God”). It’s difficult to tell whether ESV has accepted this. (The NET claims not to but still supplies “God” “for clarity”.) The fact that the editors of BHS suggested an emendation also makes me think the Hebrew is at least a little weird.

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  • @Susan, pardon me if this is an ignorant question but isn't the Hebrew of Ex 3:14 "I will be" (and "the being [one]" in LXX)? – user10231 Oct 15 '15 at 12:12
  • @WoundedEgo You’re asking about the distinction between present and future in the Hebrew? Hebrew doesn’t distinguish (except by context): imperfect. (If you’re instead asking about the LXX, I played with this a little on this question, but yes, I am (present) the one being.) – Susan Oct 15 '15 at 12:40
  • @Susan Thank you for the info on the Hebrew imperfect. I have heard "I will be" often but I see where the gerund is appropriate. At any rate, given that "John"s "The Bible" is the LXX (though a non-extant or poorly cited version) he's clearly not use the term from Ex 3:14, "hO WN". And that no one with an LXX for their "The Bible" considered referring to oneself as "I am that I am" as offensive is clear from Paul's usage: 1Co_15:10a But by the grace of God I am what I am... I'm of the opinion that the word order is used to emphasize "before Abe's birth" indicating it is yet future: offensive – user10231 Oct 15 '15 at 16:31
  • It’s Hebrew, not Greek, that carries ambiguity about present vs. future. The latter isn’t really an option in John 8:58, if that’s what you’re getting at. Anyway, if interested, check out the answer to my earlier question about the relationship between John 8:58 and OT texts. – Susan Oct 15 '15 at 20:22
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It is Possible, but Debated

Duane Garrett discusses this in his entry about the verse in Hosea, Joel, Vol. 19A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997)

He states:

Some scholars argue that the Hebrew actually means “And I am not ‘I AM’ to you.” In other words, they argue that with these words God has relinquished the title of I AM for Israel (Exod 3:14); he shall no longer be the God of Moses that they knew.90 This interpretation is possible.91 It is, however, open to question. The text nowhere else makes reference to the name “I AM” or to the burning bush episode.92 We also have to wonder whether the ancient Hebrew reader would take this clause to mean “And I am not ‘I AM’ to you.”93

His footnotes are relevant here:

Note 90, which lists sources who argue for a reading of the divine name:

See Hubbard, Hosea, 65, Wolff, Hosea, 21–22; and especially Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 198–99.

Which refers specifically and respectively to (copied from the Bibliography; my clarification is in brackets):

  • Hubbard, D. A. Hosea. TOTC [Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries]. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989.
  • Wolff, H. W. Hosea. Hermeneia. Translated by G. Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
  • Andersen, F. I. and D. N. Freedman. Hosea: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB [Anchor Bible]. New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Note 91, which describes how this reading is grammatically possible:

To take וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹֽא־אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם to mean “I am not I AM to you” requires that one treat it as a verbless clause in which אֶהְיֶ֥ה functions not as a verb but substantivally as a proper name in the predicate position. The order [subject + לֹא + predicate noun] can be used for a negative verbless clause. Examples include this verse (אַתֶּם֙ לֹ֣א עַמִּ֔י “you are not my people”), Hos 2:4 (Eng. 2:2), and Jer 2:11 (= 16:20). On the other hand, we also see the pattern [לֹא + predicate + subject], as in Amos 7:14 לֹא־נָבִ֣יא אָנֹ֔כִי (“I am not a prophet”). See also Jer 5:10 and 51:5. If the statement is a negative rhetorical question, the normal order is [הֲלֹא + subject + predicate], as in Exod 4:11; 14:12; Num 22:30; Deut 3:11; Isa 45:21.

Note 92, which mentions the only other use of this Hebrew word in Hosea:

The only other occurrence of אהיה in Hosea is at 14:6 (“I shall be as the dew to Israel”), where it is simply a verb and cannot allude to Exod 3:14.

Note 93, which gives the reasons he (and others) see for NOT reading it as the divine name:

We have several reasons for reading the phrase with אֶהְיֶה as a normal verb (“I am not your [God]”). First of all, וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹֽא־אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם is normal Hebrew grammar. That is, we have many examples of a [subject pronoun + לֹא + imperfect verb] pattern (to cite but a few, Jer 15:19; 23:14; 38:18; Ezek 5:11; 11:11; Hos 5:13). The Hebrew reader probably would take אֶהְיֶה in its ordinary sense as a verb and not as a proper name. The lack of the word אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (“your God”) is not all that surprising; we saw that Hosea omitted both יהוה and הוֹשֵׁעַ in v. 6 (saying only “and he said to him”). Also there may be another reason for Hosea’s choice of וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹֽא־אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם over something like וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (“I am not your God”) at this early stage of the oracle. By simply saying “and I am not yours,” the text continues to operate at two levels. On one side is God’s relationship to Israel, but on the other is Hosea’s estrangement from his own family. “I am not yours” allows for this ambiguity in a way that “I am not your God” would not. See especially 3:3, where Hosea tells Gomer, “Then indeed I shall be yours” (וְגַם־אֲנִ֖י אֵלָֽיּךְ), a reversal of the line in 1:9. Finally, as mentioned above, there is no other reference to Exod 3 or to the I AM in this oracle. It seems strange that the text would slip in such a significant allusion and then do nothing with it. Instead, the oracle ends at 2:25 (Eng. 2:23) with Lo-Ammi saying, “You are my God” (אֱלֹהָֽי), which implies that the reader was simply to understand אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (or, אֱלֹהֵיךָ) at 1:9. If an allusion to Exod 3:14 were the point of the text, we may have expected the reversal also to include אהיה in some fashion (i.e., “You are I AM to me”). For further discussion see C. S. Ehrlich, “The Text of Hosea 1:9,” JBL 104 (1985): 13–19.

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  • Thanks! I think what is still most compelling to me about the substantive אהיה idea is the parallel with the preceding clause, and with "לא + substantive" names throughout the chapter. "You are not my people, and I am not your God" creates in English a syntactical parallel that isn't there if you read אהיה as "a normal verb". To me the first clause makes me want to read the second similarly. But it's very helpful to see the other arguments laid out, so thanks for taking the time to compile it (+1). – Susan Mar 21 '16 at 6:35
  • @Susan: Yes, there is some merit in the parallel of name with the preceding clause; yet contra, as "a normal verb," it is in parallel with the descriptions that follow each name about what God will do with respect to that name. Perhaps a better "normal" translation would be not to speculate any elision, something like "I will not exist to you" or "I will not be there for you." Either plausible of לֹֽא־אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶֽם. I can see why it is debated. I need to examine the passage and context closer sometime, since I cannot come to a conclusion myself which is the better way to read it. – ScottS Mar 21 '16 at 16:35

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