Before we begin this session, have you put on your wet suit yet? Did you remember the warning at the end of our last session that we would be taking a deep dive this time? If you are reading this, then I am going to assume that you were not intimidated by the warning and have donned the necessary equipment for the deep dive we are about to take. This session is going to take us into some deep waters! They may even seem murky as we attempt to swim through difficult and complicated Hebrew words and grammar. Don’t look now, but there may also be some Greek waters to swim through as well! I promise I won’t take you so deep that you won’t be able to come up for air whenever you need to! So, take a deep breath. Here we go!
In Session 1, I shared Exodus 3:14-15 where God revealed His name to Moses at the burning bush. We looked at it briefly in Session 2, as well. In this Session, we will be dissecting a phrase from these verses to understand the Tetragrammaton, and why God revealed it in the way He did.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM (Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM (Ehyeh) hath sent me unto you.
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Yehovah (יהוה) God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, Yehovah (יהוה) God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
These are the pivotal verses in the Word of God that declare the Shem HaMeforash and explain it. While the Tetragrammaton is used in the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis 2:4 onward, Yehovah had not revealed the meaning of His name prior to His encounter with Moses at the burning bush. Verse 14 is where we find the explanation of the Name. When He says, “I AM THAT I AM,” He is giving the explanation of His name which He reveals in the next verse. Now, let’s examine the Hebrew behind our English translation.
אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh
This is the explanation of the Tetragrammaton יְהֹוָה – YHVH.
“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” is the explanation of the unique four-letter name written throughout the Torah, for the Holy One (blessed be he) was without beginning … and he will be without end. This is the meaning of the Name: Hoveh (He Is), and Hayah (He Was), and Yihyeh (He Will Be).
Rabbi Yoseph Bechor Shor on Exodus 3:14
“What is meant by Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh: It teaches that the Holy One (blessed be he) said, I am, I was, and I will be. I was before the world was created, I am He since the world was created, and I am He who will be in the world to come.”
Otiot Rabbi Akiva, Letter Heh
Yehovah – יְהֹוָה means:
Hayah – הָיָה Hoveh – הֹוֶה Yihyeh – יִהְיֶה
He was He is He will be
Clear as mud? I thought so. Let’s keep diving until the waters begin to clear, shall we?
While the explanations above are apparently very clear to Hebrew readers, they are not at all obvious or understandable to us. We need a quick lesson in Hebrew grammar to help us grasp this.
אֶהְיֶה – Ehyeh
Translated “I AM” in most English translations, the Hebrew meaning is closer to “I WILL BE.” It is not the Name, but it is the key to the meaning of the YHVH – יְהֹוָה.
The root of the word ehyeh – אֶהְיֶה – is hayah – הָיָה (HYH), the verb “to be.”
All Hebrew words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives) have a 3-letter root. Verbs are declined (changed in form) according to seven conjugations. Qal is the basic, simple conjugation. All other stems are derived from it. Nearly 70% of verbs are Qal. Within each conjugation, verbs are either perfect or imperfect. Perfect verbs can be understood as indicating one time action. Imperfect verbs indicate continuous action.
Keep in mind as we move forward that where English uses separate words to indicate person (I, you, he, she, we, they, my, your, his, her, our, their, etc.), Hebrew does this through prefixes and suffixes on a single word. A single Hebrew word may contain a prefix and suffix.
איתנ – EYTaN Letters (Aleph, Yod, Tav, Nun)
Below are the four prefixes of Hebrew verbs in the Imperfect (future) forms in all conjugations. When these prefixes are seen on a verb, it indicates incomplete action and is usually translated in the future tense.
א – ‘ = I Will
י – Y = He Will
ת – T = She Will
נ – N = We Will
Qal Imperfect conjugation of the root היה – HYH – “to be”:
אהיה = Ehyeh = I will be (1st person singular)
יהיה = Yihyeh = He will be (3rd per. masc. sing.)
תהיה = Tihyeh = She will be (3rd per. fem. sing.)
נהיה = Nihyeh = We will be (1st per. plural)
הָיָה הֹוֶה יִהְיֶה
Reading from right to left, the first word above Hayah (past tense) means He was. The second word Hoveh (present tense) means He is. Finally, Yihyeh (imperfect or future tense) means He is to be (He will be). Ehyeh (first person singular, imperfect tense) means I will be.
There is a Jewish song called the “Adon Olam” which contains this explanation in the following line:
והוא היה והוא הוה והוא יהיה בתפארה
V’hu hayah, v’hu hoveh, v’hu yihyeh b’tifarah.
And He is He who was, And He is He who is,
and He is He who will be in glory.
From these three words, the Tetragrammaton is formed.
יהיה – Yihyeh (He Who is to be)
הוה – Hoveh (He Who is)
היה – Hayah (He Who was)
יהוה – Ye-hov-ah!
God’s personal name is basically an acronym made from these three phrases. The first yod – י – from Yihyeh – יהיה, the heh and vav – הו – from Hoveh – הוה, and the final heh – ה – from Hayah – היה. This acronym means He will be Who He is and Who He was!
So then, if God said “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” (I will be who I will be), then why is His name not Yihyeh (He will be)?
God is communicating through His name His eternal ongoing nature by combining all the forms of the verb ‘to be’ into one unique name! He is letting us know that He always was, He always is, and He always will be! (Does this phrase have a familiar ring to it? It should! We will get to that later.) Yehovah was revealing His nature to Moses, speaking in the first person – I AM THAT I AM – Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. But when He reveals His Shem HaMeforash that the Israelites are to remember and mention, He uses the third person – HE WAS, HE IS, HE IS TO BE – Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh. In other words, He refers to Himself as I AM – Ehyeh; we call Him Yehovah – YHVH.
The fact that God’s eternal nature is expressed in יְהֹוָה was/is easily understood by Hebrew speakers. This concept was also expressed in other ways in Scripture, and can also be seen in the Targum. Let’s take a look at this.
A Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Aramaic was the language spoken by the Babylonians and the Israelites learned it from them during their exile. From sometime around the beginning of the Christian era, until the time of the Muslim conquest of Israel, when Arabic was introduced, the Targum was read alongside the Hebrew Scriptures in Jewish synagogues. A verse or two would be read in Hebrew and then read in Aramaic from the Targum. This was done for the benefit of the many people who did not speak Hebrew. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic and by the 3rd century AD only the peasants spoke Hebrew. There were two Targums – Babylonian (aka, Onkelos) Targum and Jerusalem Targum. The Jerusalem Targum was written in a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. The Targums are paraphrastic translations (much like the Message Bible is a modern day paraphrase) which basically tell the reader what the verse means or how it is interpreted rather than the literal meaning. The Jerusalem Targum is more paraphrastic than the Babylonian which is more literal. Look at how the Jerusalem Targum translates I AM THAT I AM.
אֲנָא הוּא דַהוֵינָא וַעְתִיד לְמִיהוֵי
I am he, that I was, and in the future am to be.
The Jerusalem Targum of Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh in Exodus 3:14
This paraphrase essentially skips ahead to verse 15 and gives the meaning of YHVH.
Look at this verse from Deuteronomy 32 and the unusual way the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan paraphrases it:
“See, now, that [I am he that is, and I was, and I am he that in the future am to be] and there is no other god besides me…”
The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of Deuteronomy 32:39a
The King James Version renders this verse:
“See, now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me…”
Deuteronomy 32:39a (KJV)
The Hebrew in the above verse is “Ani, Ani hu” (אני אני הוא). This literally means I, I am he.
The portion in brackets in the verse from the Targum above paraphrases “I, even I, am he,” but it seems to be paraphrasing the “I AM…” of Exodus 3:14 as the Jerusalem Targum did above, even though the Hebrew in Deuteronomy used different words for “I am he.” This confirms that the translators of the Targum understood the eternal nature of Yehovah that was imbedded in His name and implied in His other “I am” statements.
Here is another verse from the Hebrew scriptures where Yehovah shows His eternal existence:
“Thus saith the LORD (Yehovah) the King of Israel, and His redeemer the LORD (Yehovah) of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no god.”
The Hebrew here is: Ani rishon v’ani acharon – אני ראשון ואני אחרון. By saying, “I am first and I am last,” Yehovah is saying that He was God before the world was created and He will be God in the world to come.
“ADON OLAM”: Yehovah’s eternal nature is expressed in a medieval prayer poem that has been sung in synagogues around the world since possibly the 9th or 10th century. Adon Olam means Eternal Lord in Biblical Hebrew. In Modern Hebrew it can be translated Lord (or Sovereign) of the Universe. It has its roots in the Jerusalem Targum. We already looked at part of this poem earlier in the session. The opening portion of this prayer is:
Eternal Lord (of the Universe) who was king, before any creature was created.
At the time all was made through his will, as king his Name was called.
And after everything is completed, he will be king alone with awe.
And he is he who was (Hayeh היה),
And he is he who is (Hoveh הוה),
And he is he who will be (Yihyeh יהיה) in majesty!
In his Temple, my soul will sing, may he send his Messiah soon,
And then we will sing in my [sic] holy house, Amen, Amen, oh, awesome Name!
Adon Olam, Sephardic Community of Constantinople, 1863
הָיָה הֹוֶה יִהְיֶה
Hayah Hoveh Yihyeh
In the Book of Revelation
One of the things that I have found to be a bit troubling as I have studied God’s hidden name is the seeming lack of manuscript evidence showing the Tetragrammaton in the Greek New Testament Scriptures. However, we are about to see that what we have learned thus far about the meaning of Yehovah and how it was expressed in the Targum and the Adon Olam can also be seen in the New Testament. I hope you will find it as exciting as I have to see how the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and English versions of the OT tie in with and confirm our understanding of the Greek and English NT, especially with regard to God’s unique name and its meaning.
Remember, earlier in this session, I asked if the meaning of Yehovah (He was, He is, He is to be) had a familiar ring to it. Let’s explore that now!
We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, [and art to come]: because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned.
Do you hear it? Ding! Ding! Ding!
Let’s look more closely at the Greek and Hebrew behind the English translation of this verse: “… which art (G. Ho On, ο ων; H. hoveh, הוה), and wast (G. Ho En, ο ην; H. hayah, היה), [and art to come] (G. Ho Erchomenos, ο ερχομενος; H. yihyeh, יהיה)
There is actually a separate Strong’s concordance entry for the phrase “which art, and wast, and art to come”: G3801: transliterated as ho on kai ho en kai ho erchomenos (ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος). It occurs five times in Revelation.
And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, [and shalt be] (Ho On kai Ho En kai Ho Erchomenos), because thou hast judged thus.
…Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come (Ho On kai Ho En kai Ho Erchomenos)...
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come (Ho On kai Ho En kai Ho Erchomenos), the Almighty.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come (Ho On kai Ho En kai Ho Erchomenos).
By now, I am sure you can see that the Greek phrase ‘Ho On kai Ho En kai Ho Erchomenos’ is equivalent to the Hebrew ‘Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh.’
These five verses in Revelation express the Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh that make up God’s Name, Yehovah. John, the writer of Revelation, knew what the writer of the Jerusalem Targum knew, what the writer of the Adon Olam knew, and what many of the Rabbis knew about the eternal nature of God. Three people groups – Jews, Samaritans*, and Christians — understand that God’s name means Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh (He was, He is, He will be). This is what can be known and understood from God’s revelation of His name to Moses at the burning bush.
We also see, from these verses in Revelation, what is expressed by Jesus in John 17, that the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father and they are one. (see John 17: 11, 21, 22)
* (Nehemia Gordon, the author of Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, once interviewed a Samaritan leader and author about his understanding of the name of God and how the Samaritans pronounced the Tetragrammaton. This man said that they do not call Him by name but refer to Him as Shema (Aramaic for the Name). During Biblical times they referred to him as Ashem. He explained that, though they did not call Him by His name, they knew what it meant – Hayah, Hoveh, Yihyeh.)
In the Septuagint (LXX)
And the New Testament
The Septuagint is the ancient Greek translation of the Torah. The oldest complete manuscripts of the LXX are from the 4th and 5th centuries AD and include the New Testatment. These are the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. The codices were copied by Christians. The original LXX is believed to date to approximately 250 BC and would have been the version in use at the time of Christ.
An English translation of the LXX by Brenton (1844), renders Exodus 3:14 as:
“And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you.”
Exodus 3:14 (Brenton)
The literal translation into English of the LXX of this verse is:
And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am He Who Is (Ego Eimi Ho On – εγω ειμι ο ων), and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, He Who Is (Ho On – ο ων) has sent me to you.
Exodus 3:14 (Gordon)
The above English translations by Brenton and Gordon of the LXX translation of Exodus 3:14 are doing similarly to the Aramaic Targum — paraphrasing the Hebrew for those who do not know Hebrew.
εγω ειμι (Ego Eimi) = אהיה (Ehyeh) = I Will Be (I AM in KJV)
ο ων (Ηο Οn) = הוה (Hoveh) = He Who Is (I AM in KJV)
Just like Ehyeh, Ego Eimi is not the Name; it is the key to understanding the meaning of YHVH יהוה. Ego Eimi (LXX) literally means “I am” but it is a translation of Ehyeh (I will be). Ho On (LXX) literally means He is, but it is translating Ehyeh (I will be).
So… Why is it “I AM” in the Greek Septuagint and “I WILL BE” in Hebrew?
This has to do with the Hebrew imperfect (future) tense, which expresses continuous action. Ehyeh is imperfect tense. I am and I will be are essentially the same thing in Hebrew, although neither of these is a perfect translation. Ego Eimi is essentially equivalent to the Hebrew Qal conjugation.
Here is an example that may help in understanding the difference between the perfect and imperfect Hebrew tenses:
Perfect verbs express one time action: I am sitting in my office studying the Bible. (It is what I am doing now.)
Imperfect verbs express action that continues on into the future: I study the Bible. (It is what I do – now, tomorrow, the next day, and on and on.)
A more accurate explanation of the meaning of Ehyeh: I am NOW and I will continue to be into the FUTURE.
Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria, said it another way in this excellent explanation for Jews and Gentiles who did not know Hebrew:
“…he says, ‘I Am He That Is’ (Ego Eimi Ho On) which is equivalent to saying, ‘It is my nature to be…’”
Philo, Names, Paragraph 11
Let’s look at some NT verses where Jesus uses I Am (Ego Eimi) statements (These are sometimes not readily apparent in our English translations):
Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am (Ego Eimi).
(The Jews and Pharisees at the time of Christ certainly understood that this was a reference back to Exodus 3:14. That is why they immediately picked up stones to throw at Him!)
…for if you believe not that I am he (Ego Eimi), ye shall die in your sins.
…When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he (Ego Eimi), and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he (Ego Eimi). And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he (Ego Eimi), they went backward, and fell to the ground.
I am (Ego Eimi) the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I (Ego Eimi), be not afraid.
The Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33b, pg. 423, referring to “It is I” in Matthew 14:27, says, “…the words allude to the definition of the name Yahweh given in the LXX of Exodus 3:14 (cf Matt 22:32; John 8:58; Mark 14:62) and Isa. 43:10; 51:12. Let’s look at these verses and an additional verse:
I am (Ego Eimi) the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
(Jesus was quoting Exodus 3:6.)
And Jesus said, I am (Ego Eimi): and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD (Yehovah), and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he (Ego Eimi; Hebrew: Ani hu): before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
I, even I, am he (Ego Eimi Ego Eimi; Hebrew Anochi Anochi Hu) that comforteth you…
I, even I, am he (Ego Eimi Ego Eimi; Hebrew Anochi Anochi Hu) that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
Ego Eimi occurs in many places in the Septuagint. Ehyeh occurs only in a few places in the Tanakh, most notably in Exodus 3:14 where it occurs three times. Readers and listeners of the Septuagint would have repeatedly heard or read Ego Eimi (I Am) said by YHVH throughout the Greek Scriptures – it was a theme. In the same way, those who knew Greek in the time of Christ and the early church would have recognized these Ego Eimi (I Am) statements by Jesus and recognized the reference to the creator in Exodus 3:14-15.
As Ehyeh (אהיה) and Ego Eimi (εγω ειμι) are the key to understanding God’s eternal nature and his Name, so Ego Eimi is key to understanding Jesus (Yeshua) as God come in the flesh. The one who was and is and is to come!
Can I get an AMEN and HALLELU YAH?
DISCLAIMER: Much of the information covered in this session regarding Hebrew grammar is greatly oversimplified. Hebrew is a complex language. There are many differences between Biblical and modern Hebrew, and the tenses in Hebrew are not easily explained or translated into English. The same is true for Greek. I am by no means an expert in Hebrew or Greek. I can hardly even be considered a novice. Therefore, I have relied heavily on the understanding of Nehemia Gordon as presented in his video, The Great I AM Revealed, available on his website nehemiaswall.com.1 (This video is found under the Yehovah Studies tab, and requires a membership as a support team member to view.) I have also drawn information from the book Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence — The Hebrew Power of the Priestly Blessing Unleashed by Nehemia Gordon.2
1Nehemia Gordon, “The Great I AM Revealed,” Hebrew Makor Foundation. https://www.Nehemiaswall.com (accessed November 1, 2018).
2Nehemia Gordon, Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence – The Hebrew Power of the Priestly Blessing Unleashed, (Hilkiah Press, 2012).
Now that you have come up for air, I want to thank you for staying with me on this exhausting foray into the depths of Hebrew and Greek. To be perfectly honest, we didn’t even break the surface tension on the Hebrew or Greek waters!
Wait! Don’t be alarmed. That’s as far as I will attempt to take you on this journey! Go ahead… heave that huge sigh of relief!
I should probably give you a break after this workout session, but…
- Look for more verses that show the eternal nature of Yehovah. Search in the Old and New Testaments.
- What do the verses from Revelation that we looked at show you about the Father and the Son, and their relationship to each other.
- Spend some time meditating on the verses we read and the verses you may have found. How has what we have learned thus far affected your perception of God, the Father, and God, the Son?
Congratulations on making it through the hardest part of this Bible study! I’m so happy to be taking this journey with you.
Come join me in Session 4 where we will look for God’s name in the New Testament and study Jesus’s Hebrew name and what it means!
I leave you with this blessing:
May Yehovah bless you and keep you;
May Yehovah make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May Yehovah lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
Shalom, my friends!