Sunday Morning Greek Blog

January 29, 2012

“I Am” Statement of Yahweh (Exodus 3–6, esp. Exodus 3:14)

Filed under: "I Am" Statements,Exodus,Hebrew,John Gospel of,Old Testament — Scott Stocking @ 8:33 am

As I was reading through the early chapters of Exodus last week, I was not only reminded of the “I Am” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel, but I gained some new insight into the overall application of those statements. I want to share that with you in this post.

Face to Face at the Bush

Exodus 3 is the story of Moses’s first encounter with God at the burning bush in Midian. This is also the chapter where we have the story of God revealing his personal name to Moses: יְהוָ֖ה “Yahweh” (English texts set in small caps: LORD). But the text leading up to that revelation is a story that deserves the *facepalm* of all *facepalms*! God has been preparing Moses to confront Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. You’d have to admit, that’s a pretty big task in those days, considering most kings and their subjects wouldn’t give a second thought about having you beheaded or drawn and quartered for merely approaching the king without invitation let alone confronting the king.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Moses approaches the burning bush when Yahweh calls out to him. He removes his sandals, because he’s on holy ground. Yahweh proceeds to identify himself and his purposes for calling Moses, while Moses does his own reverent version of a facepalm (Exodus 3:6b). Listen to what Yahweh says to Moses in Exodus 3:6–10 (NIV) and see if you detect a pattern:

I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.

I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and

I am concerned about their suffering. So

I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…

And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and

I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.

So now, go.

I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

Yahweh makes seven(!) “I” statements here about who he is and what he will do, and he affirms that he has the power to do all this through Moses. I suppose God could have done it without all the pomp and circumstance of the plagues, but then how would anyone ever know what God thinks of kings who exalt themselves to positions of deity? But here’s the facepalm moment: after God affirms that he’s going to do all this through Moses, what does Moses say?

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).

*FACEPALM!*

Evidently Moses didn’t have Verizon, because he obviously didn’t hear God the first time. The creator of the universe is speaking to Moses, giving him more information about himself than he’s ever given to any other patriarch (except perhaps Abraham), and Moses is worried about himself! Duh, Moses, it’s not about you; God just confirmed that!

Saving Face

Of course, it’s easy for us 3500 years later to look back on this story and be a little critical of Moses. The story does show his human side, and I wonder how many of us would have be willing to saddle up and head out without questioning God further on the matter. God isn’t afraid of having a conversation with us, and he’s big enough to deal with our questions and fears. He’s ever so patient with us as we muddle through life trying to figure out his will and purpose for us. But he also offers reassurance to us in the form of a promise that is repeated time and again in both the Old and New Testaments. He offered that promise to the patriarchs before Moses, and he offers it again to Moses in 3:12: “I will be with you.”

This is where the Hebrew gets very interesting, and most English translations relegate the significant issue to a footnote. The Hebrew word for “I will be” is the standard “to be” verb: הָיָה (hāyāh), but since Hebrew, like Greek, alters the spelling of its verbs based on the person and number of the verb, the form that is used in 3:12 is אֶהְיֶה (first person singular ʾehyeh; notice the letters are the same, except for the aleph א added to the front of the word). This is the exact same form that most English translations render “I AM WHO I AM” in 3:14 when God reveals his name! To their credit, most English translations have a footnote on v. 14 saying that this could be “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE,” but in my opinion, that should be the translation in the main text. The form יְהוָ֖ה “Yahweh” that is used regularly throughout the Hebrew Old Testament is probably related to the third person singular form of the verb.

Hebrew verbs don’t have tense in the same way that English verbs do. Hebrew verbs either represent completed action (perfects) or incomplete action (imperfects). The verb form Yahweh uses for his name is imperfect (ironic, I know, but that’s the grammar). What I hear Yahweh saying to Moses here is that he will do whatever it takes, he will be whatever he needs to be, to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. That is a father showing ultimate love for his children: even if it comes to destroying every last trace of the Egyptian people and culture, God will deliver his people.

Facing Up

Once was not enough, though. God has to go back through the I statements again in Exodus 6, but the Israelites were too oppressed to hear it or believe it. So God’s mighty plagues were not just to break Pharaoh’s stubborn heart, but also to show Israel that he meant business about delivering them from the Egyptians. This is emphasized in the latter plagues that have no effect on the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived.

So what does all this have to do with the “I am” statements of Jesus? What occurred to me is that Jesus was doing for his audience what Yahweh did for Moses and the Israelites. His “I am” statements affirm that he is the savior and that he can and will do whatever it takes to deliver people from sin and Satan, even to the point of dying on a cross. Jesus stood up to the religious oppressors of his day and proclaimed the good news of God’s deliverance and love for his creation.

Many of us Christ followers I’m sure have done our own facepalms when friends or family just don’t comprehend the good news. Well, you’re in good company. Be patient and keep at it, because you might have to witness a lot of pain and suffering before the deliverance finally happens. And Christ offers the same assurance to us as Yahweh did to Moses: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 TNIV).

Peace,

Scott Stocking

Please check out my friend Eric Weiss’s post on this topic: http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/2011/05/exodus-314-and.html.

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2 Comments »

  1. Shalom, Scott!

    How are things in Nebraska this winter? We’re having a wonderfully warm winter, but could use more rain.

    I wrote a piece about Exodus 3:14 awhile back, which you may find interesting – http://theoblogoumena.blogspot.com/2011/05/exodus-314-and.html – in which I also suggest the active, by-our-side “I am/will be with you” nature of God being expressed by His name.

    Comment by EricW — January 29, 2012 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  2. Thank you, Eric. We’ve had a really mild winter overall. High temps have been in the low 40s the last few days. I’m sure we’ll get another blast of winter before all is said and done, however. I will take a look at your post. Peace to you.

    Comment by Scott Stocking — January 30, 2012 @ 5:29 am | Reply


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