I am or I will be

“I will be what I will be” is a history game changer, for God is going to do something never seen before.

Moses and the burning bush 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Moses and the burning bush 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Shepherding Jethro’s flock in the desert of Midian, Moses has a God encounter that would transform the rest of his life and the entire world (Exodus 3). At the burning bush scene, Moses is told by God to lead his people out of Egypt.
Instead of accepting the mission right away, Moses has some reservations about moving into a leadership role.
The first two attempted arguments Moses presents to God for not accepting the position are “Who am I?” and “By what God name am I being directed?” Answering the first overture, God says “I will be with you...” (3:12), and in responding to the second question, God reveals a name that was never mentioned in the past nor will it ever be repeated again – “ehyeh asher ehyeh.”
From the King James Bible to the New International Version, all translations of this phrase are either “I am who I am” or “I am that I am.”
These translations take their cue from the Vulgate (I am who am) or the Septuagint (I am He who exists). These translations assume that the entire three-word phrase is God’s name and it is a self-definition of who He is: self–existent, with no dependence upon any other.
However, Aquila and Theodotion Greek translations of ehyeh asher ehyeh rendered the expression as “esomai hos esomai” – I will be who I will be.” This version looks at this expression from a futuristic approach of things yet to be.
Without going into the intricacies of Hebrew grammar for ehyeh, we do see the word used both in a present tense as well as a future one. The first introduction to ehyeh is in a future tense when Isaac wants to leave Canaan because of the famine and God says to him: “Sojourn in this land, and I will be (ehyeh) with thee” (Genesis 26:3).
Ehyeh is used in a present tense when Boaz compliments Ruth for her courageous acts in leaving her home, taking care of Naomi and embracing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth responds to Boaz: “May I continue to find favor... though I am not (ehyeh) even as worthy as one of your maid-servants” (Ruth 2:13).
While the earliest accepted Jewish translation of the Bible, known as the Targum, kept “ehyeh asher ehyeh” intact with no translation, commentators afterwards have come to translate and interpret this expression in a similar fashion as the Septuagint and Aqulia. When transforming the word ehyeh into a pronoun, the name of God, does it take on the present, future or both? Giving a behind the scenes look into ehyeh asher ehyeh, the Talmud (Berachot 9b) states that God told Moses to say to the people of Israel that “I am with them in their affliction now and will redeem them and I will be with them in their future afflictions and redemptions (asher ehyeh).”
The phrase takes on both a present and futuristic connotation; rendering the first ehyeh as “I am” and the second one as “I will be.” Following the word clue from Exodus 3:12, when ehyeh is first mentioned, one commentator suggests that this is the only name of God and verse 14 is read as follows: My name is Ehyeh because I shall be with you… and you shall tell the children of Israel that Ehyeh sent you.
From a remez (numerical translation) point of view, the word ehyeh equals 21; the total sum of the first letters of Patriarchs’ names (Abraham; Aleph-1, Yitzhak; Yud-10, Ya’acov; Yud-10). Ehyeh is not just any God, but a specific one; he who established the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“Ehyeh asher ehyeh” translated as “I will be what I will be” is a history game changer, for God is going to do something never seen before: taking an entire nation from slavery to freedom. From this expression “hope” was born. Saying nothing ever really changes and God does not interfere with human affairs is simply not a biblical view. By accepting God into your life, the future can be different from the past.
David Nekrutman is the executive director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. Comments should be directed to info@cjcuc.com