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‘I , I AM’

May 2013 | by Kent Philpott

What a strange arrangement of words! Any newspaper editor would complain if they saw this in one of their newspaper articles, let alone as a heading!

 

If you generally avoid complicated looking arrangements of words and everything to do with grammar, make this newspaper article an exception and read it! There is a vital message in this strange arrangement of words, ‘I, I Am’, for every believer in the one true and living God.

 

Burning bush

 

In Exodus 3 we find the account of Moses at the burning bush. Moses was 80 years old. He had lived for half that time in Midian, a region to the east of the Red Sea. On the slopes of Mt Horeb he discovered a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed. The sight arrested his attention, and from the bush God spoke to him.

     God then told Moses to go back to Egypt. This was the very place from which he had fled facing accusation for murder. His task was to demand that the Pharaoh, King of Egypt, must release the people of Israel from their slavery.

     Moses was understandably reluctant to accept this task at first, but after some conversation with God, he was persuaded to do as God told him. However, before leaving, he wanted to know the name of this God who was speaking to him and sending him, in case the Israelites and the Egyptian king asked him.

     In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses his name. One translation of that name is, ‘I Am Who I Am’. The name of God, who he is, turns out to be basically untranslatable. It is not really a name, so much as a statement that God cannot be named.

     He is who he is and is actually the un-nameable One, unlike all the other so-called deities of the ancient world. This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one true God.

     He is the maker of heaven and earth, the only uncreated One; and there is no way to compare him to the gods and goddesses created by human beings. Moses went on to reveal to the Egyptian king that his God is the only living and true God.
    

Four consonants

 

In the same passage of Exodus 3 is found a Hebrew word translated ‘I Am’ — a shortened version or contraction of the longer phrase above. In verses 4 and 15 we find this Hebrew word, which when transliterated becomes ‘YHWH’ — just four Hebrew consonants.

     This contraction, YHWH, is often referred to as the ‘tetragrammaton’ (‘four letters’). So Exodus 3:15 reads: ‘God said to Moses, say to the Israelites, The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation’.

     The capitalised word LORD in this English translation is the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew text. This four letter word YHWH, Hebrew scholars now tell us, should be read as ‘Yahweh’ (rather than the older reading of ‘Jehovah’).

     In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint, translated by Jewish scholars in Alexandria toward the beginning of the second century BC, the tetragrammaton YHWH is translated by two Greek words (ego eimi), which in English are ‘I, I Am’. Here again that strange arrangement of words.

     Moving forward about a millennium and a half to the days of Jesus of Nazareth, the construction ‘I, I Am’ is found on the lips of the one who called himself Son of Man and Son of God.

    

Seven titles

 

In John’s Gospel the phrase is used seven times in titles that reflect who Jesus actually is.

     These are:

John 6:35 — I, I Am the bread of life;

John 8:12 — I, I Am the light of the world;

John 10:7 — I, I Am the door of the sheep;

John 10:11 — I, I Am the good shepherd;

John 11:25 — I, I Am the resurrection and the life;

John 14:8 — I, I Am the way, and the truth, and the life;

John 15:1 — I, I Am the true vine.

     Perhaps the most dramatic use of the Greek equivalent to YHWH is found in John 8:58. Jesus, in confrontation with religious leaders who had been accusing him of having a demon, said, ‘Truly truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’.

     To make such an assertion, if it were not true, would make Jesus a blasphemer deserving of being stoned to death (see Leviticus 24:16 and Deuteronomy 13:6-11). Fully aware of this, Jesus clearly and directly identified himself with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush.

 

Jesus

 

Jesus, himself, is ‘I, I am’, and this is why Christians say that Jesus is God become flesh, the God-man, fully God of very God, and fully man of very man.

     This is why the death of Jesus as a substitutionary atonement satisfies the just demands of a holy God. Jesus takes our sin away, since he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

     The God who revealed himself to Moses and who spoke to him from the burning bush was born of the virgin Mary. He lived among us and was crucified to cover our sin and rebellion, reconciling us to the creator God.

     Being convinced that Jesus is truly God does not, however, mean that we believe in more than one God. A Christian believing that Jesus is the Lord can still heartily recite the passage that the Jews call the Shema: ‘Hear O Israel: The LORD our God is one!’ (Deuteronomy 6:4)

     God is a unity of more than one. The Hebrew word to describe this special kind of unity is echad. It is the word used to describe the coming together of Adam and Eve to be one flesh in Genesis 2:24.

     In this way, Christians believe God to be both unity and plurality. God is three persons, but he is also an echad — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is one God.

     And so the great Shema is kept intact. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit — the ‘I, I am’.

Kent Philpott