“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”
The History of Jehovah
One of the most difficult things to understanding is the relationship between Exodus 3:14, “I Am That I Am” and the name “Jehovah.” The amount of information available on this subject can be both mountainous and confusing at the same time. If you’re reading from an English translated Bible, you notice the word Jehovah is not used in this verse. And yet every bible scholar worth his salt will tell you “I Am That I Am” is all about God’s name and who He is. How does this weighty phrase mean Jehovah? Let’s see if we can figure out the mystery!
When God commissioned Moses to be Israel’s liberator from Egypt, Moses asked God for His name in order to validate his message to the children of Israel. Moses asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” That’s a fair question from a man who had already experienced rejection by the Israelites as a prince of Egypt. Answering, the Lord identifies himself to Moses as, “I Am That I Am” and tells him to say to the Israelites “I Am” hath sent you. From the anglicized Hebrew language it transliterates, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” Let me give you a couple boring technicalities. The Hebrew verb “Ehyeh” is the imperfect first person tense of the Hebrew word “hayah.” Imperfect tense means the verb in that phrase includes all of time—past, present, and future! Hayah’s Hebrew meaning is to exist, to be, become, or self-existence. In fact, Strong’s concordance makes the jump of using the root word Hayah in Exodus 3:14 instead of Ehyeh. However, most scholars seem to indicate Ehyeh is the proper word to use as the context is in first person. And since Ehyeh is the imperfect first person tense, the reading can be paraphrased as, “I am the one who is self-existence in past, present and future.”
In the Old Testament, there is also an imperfect third person singular of the Hebrew word Hayah, it’s the word “Yahweh.” It means, “He is,” “He exists,” or, “He is self-existence.” When a man writes God’s name in the Old Testament he uses the third person singular—Yahweh or, He is! And just to confuse things more, the Hebrew writers never pronounced or wrote God’s name in the Old Testament, as it was holy. Instead, when they scribed God’s name they took out all the vowels and presented only four Hebrew letters as the name’s designation: YHWH. Together we discover both Ehyeh and Yahweh are variations of the same Hebrew word, Hayah, to exist or self-existence. The only difference is whether we read it in first person or third person! In summation: when God identifies Himself in Exodus 3:14, He does so with Ehyeh, I am. When the Old Testament writers present the name of God they did so as YHWH, or He is.
Later on the large majority of Jews would substitute YHWH with the Hebrew word, “Adonai.” In simplest terms this word means Master. It was substituted as the Hebrews refused to use the personal name YHWH for God! In fact, at one point in history there was great concern that the pronunciation of God’s name would be forever lost as the utterance of the name was forbidden. So in the Middle Ages some scholars had the bright idea of inserting the vowels from Adonai and Elohim into YHWH producing YeHoWaH! Overtime the Hebrew “Y” became the Latin “I” in transliteration. In the 1200’s the letter “J” was added into the Latin language in many cases replacing the “I.” From that “J” eventually took on the English pronunciation of our “J” sound bringing us to Jehovah. So eventually Jehovah became an anglicized misrepresentation of YHWH, the personal name of God. And that my friends is a simplified history of how we go from Exodus 3:14 to Jehovah!
J. Robert Hanson