I do not know Hebrew, but I've always been under the impression that the Tetragrammaton is a literal "I AM".

Strongs: 1961 אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה
Strongs 3068 יְהֹוָה

What is the difference between the saying in Exodus 3:14 and the Tetragrammaton like in Psalm 83:18?


6 Answers 6


Exo 3:14 and 15 has two verbal forms of the same stem (hwh). The answer in 3:14 is explanatory, but in 3:15 it is literal—YHWH is given as the name. Moses asked about the name and the explanatory reply was “אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה” (ʾehyeh ʾăšer ʾehyeh)—I am that I am or I will be what I will be (S. R. Driver considers it idem per idem construction as in Exo 33:19, "employed where the means or desire to be more explicit does not exist" The Book of Exodus, Cambridge Bible commentary, 1911, 363; also cf. Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, Oxford 1913, 185-186, discussed by David N. Freedman, "The Name of the God of Moses ", JBL 79/2, 1960, 153). Moses is told to say “אֶהְיֶה” sent him to Israel. Notice that this form with “אֶ” indicates the 1st person of the Hebrew verb. However, Moses didn’t continue to call him “אֶהְיֶה” (I am or I will be) from then on in Exodus.

In the next verse in Exo 3:15 we have the ubiquitous name then given (which is found throughout the Bible and in Psa 83:18) as the 3rd person singular form of the same stem (older form with hwh not hyh) which is here written, יְהֹוָה, but should have been written יַהְוֶה (yahweh). This verb become name now means “He will cause to be or he creates.” (W.F. Albright, Contributions to Biblical Archaeology . . ., JBL 43 [1924], 370-378). We are certain it is an /a/ beneath the /y/ (and not an /e/ as in אֶ [ʾe] above) because of a study of the transcriptions of personal names compounded with the abbreviated form of the name from both early Akkadian and later Greek sources and even Greek attempts to reproduce the Tetragrammaton (Freedman and O’Oconnor, YHWH, TDOT 1986, 500ff). This /a/ in Biblical Hebrew would then make it causative and not simply “He IS or He WILL BE.”

The present Masoretic vowel pointing “יְהֺוהָ” does not reflect the original vocalization, but indicates the vowels of אֲדֹנׇי (ădōnāy). The vowel points were placed on YHWH to indicate to the person reading the scroll in the synagogue to substitute Adonai instead. This is because of the tradition of the “ineffability” of the name and not pronouncing it (from an interpretation of Lev 24:16 and Exo 20:7-don’t blaspheme the name). This was not the original practice. Just before 586 C.E., in archaeological ostraca from Arad and Lachish (which see) the name was used in common greetings. The sensitivity can be traced to the beginning of the exile, but must utilize the study of personal names compounded with the abbreviated name of YHWH. At first, it only applied to non-Hebrew languages, specifically Aramaic, where the terms Elah and Elah Shamaim was used instead (see Ezra and Dan). Substitution of Adonai in Hebrew begins about the fourth to third century at the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

  • Explanation of idem per idem: The same for the same. An example of idem per idem in the bible can be found in Exodus 3:14 "And i will be gracious to whom i will be gracious; and i will show mercy to whom i will show mercy." which is basically the equivalent of "I am the gracious and merciful one". Similarly, "ehyeh ʾăšer ʾehyeh" can be translated as "I create what i create" (in which "ehyeh" in Archaic Hebrew means "I cause to be" or "I bring into being") which means nothing more than "I am the creator". (taken from jstor.org/stable/3264465?seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents)
    – bach
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:20
  • @youarethesaltoftheearth How do you understand the logical flow between "I will be who I will be" in Ex 3:14 to "He will cause to be" in verse 15?
    – Austin
    Nov 18, 2021 at 6:00

It is very odd that Moses would ask in Exodus 3:14,

“If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’—what should I say to them?”

Considering that Moses probably knew which God he was speaking to based on the previous statements in the exchange in verse 6

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

It is doubtful that Moses would not know who the God of the Hebrews was having lived among them for so long. He was even raised by his own mother for several years according to Exodus 2:

7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get a nursing woman for you from the Hebrews, so that she may nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes, do so.” So the young girl went and got the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him.

10 When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “Because I drew him from the water.”

Undoubtedly, he would have know who he had spoken to. So, why did Moses pose this question? The answer is best illustrated in the form of a legend about the Egyptian god and goddess Ra and Isis. In this legend, Ra becomes injured, and Isis uses this fact as leverage to learn the divine name of Ra. Isis tells Ra that she could only heal him if she knew his secret name. Isis immediately cured Ra, but he could not take back the power that he had granted her by telling her his true name and from that point on Isis was equal even to the sun god in power.

It was believed in most mesopotamian cultures in antiquity that a god's true divine name contained power and that by learning that divine name an individual could control a god and gain power over that god. Therefore, most ancient spells spells and incantations involved some wording along the lines of "By the name of [divine name] I command [action]" - because it was believed that this lent the spell power. For example, on page 124 of Jewish Aramaic Curse texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia by Dan Levene we see a spell in which the canter is instructed to use the name of Hadriel and Shakniel to silence "evil and violent people who stand gainst Berik-Yeheba son of Mama"

In the name of Hadriel, Shakniel, the well, the stone, and the pit, I adjure, I adjure you, in the name of he who is great and frightful, that you may silence from Berik-Yehaba son of Mama the mouth of all the people who write books, who sit in forts, who sit in market places and in streets, and who go out on the roads.

Another on page 46 seems to utilize as many names as possible as a power-enhancement tactic for the spell

I have adjured you by the holy angels, and by the name of Metatron the pure angel, Nidrel and Nuriel and Huriel and Sasgabiel and Hapkiel and Mehapkiel, shose seven angels that are going adn overturning the heavens and the earth and the stars and the zodiac signs and the moon and Plaedes. May you go and overturn evil sorceries and powerful magical acts...

This is also why Jews do not speak or write the name Yahweh to this day - it is a sign of respect, but few realize that this is the reason why. It would be disrespectful to speak this divine name in any attempt to control the one true God.

This then allows us to better understand why God does not use the actual Tetragramaton when responding to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Moses clearly knows whom he is speaking to, but is fishing for God's divine name. Instead of giving it, God answers with a name similar to his actual name in much the same way Ra answers Isis with his lesser names (notice God's answer is only one letter of difference from the spelling of Yahweh). Instead of giving his name, God responds by saying (as Dick Harfield noted in his answer) "I am who I am and I will be what I will be." With this one pithy response, God has both answered Moses and signaled to him that he will not be controlled by any mere mortal and that no use of his Divine Name will control him.

  • +1 I gave several plus ones on this board. A lot of quality answers. This one is my favorite as it most satisfactorily provides a narrative explanation between verses 14 and 15.
    – Austin
    Nov 18, 2021 at 6:34

The Name revealed in Ex 3:14 explains the meaning of the Tetragrammaton, either directly or indirectly depending on how the latter is vocalized.

We have to take into account two properties of Hebrew verbs: stem and form.

A verb stem is an offshoot of the root that is used to indicate the properties of voice and aspect. The relevant stems here are:

  • Qal stem: Simple action, active voice;
  • Hifil stem: Causal action, active voice.

Hebrew has two main verb forms: the Perfect and the Imperfect. The perfect describes completed action whereas the imperfect describes actions or states which are incomplete, ongoing, habitual, or continual.

The Name revealed in Ex 3:14, "Ehyeh", is qal stem, first person, singular, imperfect form, of the verb "hyh", "to be". Therefore it means "I was", "I am", or "I will be", all in a continuing sense, depending on the context where it may be used. So if used by God in the first person, since God lives in eternity, which is not an infinite succession of moments but one moment of infinite fullness, it will be "I Am" (which is clear in Jn 8:58, when Jesus says "before Abraham was, I Am", and not "before Abraham was, I was").

The Name revealed in Ex 3:15, "YHWH", comes from "hwh", an earlier variant of the root "hyh", "to be". In contrast to "Ehyeh", it can have two possible meanings depending on its vocalization:

  • qal stem, third person, singular, imperfect form, if vocalized "YiHWeH", meaning "he was", "he is", or "he will be", all in a continuing sense, and depending on the context where it may be used. So if it is used by a creature, which exists in time, to refer to God, it would refer to all three meanings at the same time, as in the past God continually was, in the present God is, and in the future God will continually be: "He Was, Is and Will Be". Thus, in this case the Tetragrammaton is the same Name revealed in Ex 3:14 but pronounced by a creature, denoting God as He is in Himself: Absolute, Subsistent Being.

  • hifil stem, third person, singular, imperfect form, if vocalized "YaHWeH", meaning "He causes to be". In this case, while the Name of Ex 3:14 denotes God as He is in Himself, the Name in Ex 3:15 denotes God as viewed by creatures: He who causes them to be, the Creator.

A frequent objection to the second option is that the hifil stem of hwh does not occur anywhere in Hebrew, only in Aramaic. I answer that objection by pointing out that, if the Exodus took place in mid-XV century BC, then the Name was revealed to Moses at a time when Aramaic and Hebrew had not yet become differentiated. This is consistent with the reference to "the land of the Shasu of Yhw" in the temple at Soleb, Nubia (Sudan), built by Amenhotep III (1391–1353 BC).



Strongs: 1961 אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה http://biblehub.com/hebrew/1961.htm

is a Verb.


Strongs 3068 יְהֹוָה http://biblehub.com/hebrew/3068.htm

is a name incorporating the idea of the above Verb.

So Ex. 3:14 explains the meaning of the name.

We can get all very complex in explaining this but that is not the point of the question.


It seems highly coincidental that יהוה (YHWH) means "he will be," while the Egyptian god Khepri has the same meaning. That is, since King Hezekiah made a strategic political alliance with Egypt around the same time that the tetragrammaton became popular and when winged scarabs and winged suns begin to be employed in Judean royal imagery (approx. 700 BCE).

The descriptions of Yahweh as a sun god in many biblical passages also fits with this interpretation of the name. Most scholars see a "solarization" of Yahweh beginning in the eighth century BCE, while others see this process originating earlier, or even being original.

In other words, the tetragrammaton is likely a new name, promulgated and perhaps even invented by Hezekiah in the early seventh century BCE.
As for the original name of God and its meaning, that is another subject for another thread.


The Tetragrammaton is YHWH, which with vowels included may have been Yahweh. It is often rendered in English Bibles as LORD, but some prefer to translate it as 'Jehovah'.

The phrase used by God in Exodus 3:14 is "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" which means (approximately) "I will be what I will be." This is not related to the Tetragrammaton and was not a precursor to the divine name used in passages such as Psalm 83:18. The etymology of YHWH is uncertain, but Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger say in Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God: In Ancient Israel, page 393, Yahweh might originally have meant "he blows".

The Tetragrammaton is by no means the only name used for God, in the Old Testament. Other names include Elohim, Elyon, El Shaddai and so on. It largely depends on the preferences of the author and on the culture at the time of writing.


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