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Does the original Hebrew text read "I am" or "YHWH" where Moses is asking G_d who to say sent him in Exodus 3:14?

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It reads "I am". Here's Exodus 3:13-14 in Hebrew and my suggested translation:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֣י בָא֮ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְאָמַרְתִּ֣י לָהֶ֔ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י אֲבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם שְׁלָחַ֣נִי אֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וְאָֽמְרוּ־לִ֣י מַה־שְּׁמ֔וֹ מָ֥ה אֹמַ֖ר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃

Moses said to God [Elohim], "Picture me coming to the sons of Israel and I say to them, 'The God [Elohim] of your fathers sent me to you.' And they answer me, 'What is his name?' What do I tell them?"

God [Elohim] said to Moses, "I am [is] who I am. Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel: 'I am sent me to you.' "

"I am" in the text is אֶהְיֶה 'eh-yeh, which is the verb הָיָה h-y-h "to be, to exist, to become" conjugated in the qal (standard active voice), imperfect tense (present/future), first person singular.

Because of the multiple translations of h-y-h and the fact that the imperfect tense doesn't exactly correspond to any one English tense, you also see things like "I will be who I will be" in translation.


As I look at this passage, it occurs to me that reading "I am who I am" as a name rather than a statement may miss the wordplay. When God tells Moses exactly what to say, it's not "I am who I am sent me." This suggests that the name He wants Moses to use ends at "I am". Hence I've written "[is]", since Hebrew does without the copula. In other words, God just says, "I am 'I am'."

(The reading that God intends the phrase "I am who I am" as a name assumes that God then gives Moses an abbreviated form in the second instance. The above reading resolves that issue. But I'm not sure I've seen my proposed sentence structure elsewhere in the Bible, so I'm not 100% sure.)

Another reading would be not "I am who I am" but "I am the one I am". That would read something like asking someone their name and having them reply, "I'm me!" with the implication that you ought to know who they are. This is especially true in this case since God has just said who he is — the God of their fathers!


Nowhere in this passage do we see the tetragrammaton YHWH, which looks like the third-person singular conjugation of the verb ("he is"), though it appears both before and after this revelation.


* "Picture me" — Moses literally says הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי hinneh anokhi, "[t]here I am".

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  • It seems like most of the "names" we call God are titles rather than names? There is power in his name so it seems very important to know what to call him. Any more thoughts on this? I wish I could read hebrew Aug 3 '18 at 16:45
  • @Keelan Whoops, you're right. And rather than go into def/construct/proper I think I'll just use Elohim. Thanks! Aug 3 '18 at 17:41
  • @HollyAllen There are many options for what to call him - one of my favourites is Jesus' "Abba", Father. :) Here, people often read this particular name as a revelation of a deep mystery about God's nature -- he is "existence" itself, or he is best identified as a "being" since nothing more specific can capture him. I think that sort of reading comes from the association with YHWH, which seems to be the same verbal root Aug 3 '18 at 17:48
  • A mysterious reading might be that God is actually trying not to reveal himself - he refuses to give them any more detail than the assurance that he exists. Why? Maybe because the question "What's his name?" is supposed to challenge him, the way you might ask for a detail from someone you think is lying, and God doesn't want to play that game. Or maybe he wants them to just exercise faith without certainty. I don't know which reading is best - maybe it's a bit of everything... Aug 3 '18 at 17:51
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God answers this Himself as his personal namer "YHWH" (Jehovah) is in the Bile about 7,000 times.

Jesus Christ made God’s personal “name,” Jehovah (Latinised), known (John 17:6, 26) is confirmed by Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. Unless noted, the scriptures are quoted are from the ‘New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures’.

Of Jesus Christ Paul says at Hebrews 2:10-12:-

“For it was fitting for the one for whose sake all things are and through whom all things are, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Chief Agent of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he who is sanctifying and those who are being sanctified all [stem] from one, and for this cause he is not ashamed to call them “brothers,” 12 as he says: “I will declare your name [God's name "YHWH"] to my brothers; in the middle of [the] congregation I will praise you with song.”

Verse 12 is a quote from Psalm 22:22 which reads:-

“I will declare your name to my brothers; In the middle of the congregation I shall praise you.”

What “name” was that verse 13 tell us at it also is a quote to the Hebrew Scriptures ( O.T.) and tells us the “name” mentioned in verse 12:-

“And again: “I will have my trust in him.” And again: “Look! I and the young children, whom Jehovah gave me.””

For verse 13 the Christian Greek Scriptures (N.T.) in Hebrew (from E-sword) read thus, noting God’s name, reads thus:-

ואומר וקויתי לו ועוד הנה אנכי והילדים אשר נתן־לי יהוה ׃

This “name” is verified by James Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary No. “3068 יהוה yehovah yeh-ho-vaw' From H1961; (the) self Existent or eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God: - Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050, H3069.”

The text that Paul is quoting and applying to Jesus Christ is Isaiah 8:18 which reads; note the underlining!:-

Isaiah 8:18 “Look! I and the children whom Jehovah has given me are as signs and as miracles in Israel from Jehovah of armies, who is residing in Mount Zion.”

Others read:-

(ASV) Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion.

הנה אנכי והילדים אשׁר נתן־לי יהוה לאתות ולמופתים בישׂראל מעם יהוה צבאות השׁכן בהר ציון׃

(O.T. +) הנה2009 אנכי595 והילדים3206 אשׁר834 נתן5414 לי יהוה3068 לאתות226 ולמופתים4159 בישׂראל3478 מעם5973 יהוה3068 צבאות6635 השׁכן7931 בהר2022 ציון׃6726

This “name” is varefied by James Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary No. “3068 יהוה yehovah yeh-ho-vaw' From H1961; (the) self Existent or eternal; Jehovah, Jewish national name of God: - Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050, H3069.”

(LITV) Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah has given to me are for signs and wonders in Israel from Jehovah of Hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.

(MKJV) Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of Hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.

(NSB) I am here with the children Jehovah has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from Jehovah of Hosts, who lives on Mount Zion.

(YLT) Lo, I, and the children whom Jehovah hath given to me, Are for signs and for wonders in Israel, From Jehovah of Hosts, who is dwelling in Mount Zion.

Thus showing the meaning of what Jesus Christ said at John 17:26:-

“And I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”

ethos

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