When God reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-21), He identifies Himself as “Yahweh” (or “Jehovah”), which is often translated “I am who I Am.” What does that name mean?
13Then Moses said to God, “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?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14
The phrase translated “I am who I am” is hayah asher hayah in Hebrew. It is sometimes abbreviated YHWH. It is the most frequent name for God in the Old Testament, occurring about 6828 times.
The word hayah (Strong’s H1961) is the first person singular of the verb to be. It was used frequently in normal speech: “I am sorry.” “I am worn out.” “I am a sojourner and a foreigner among you.’ “I am the daughter of Bethuel.” (It occurs 3502 in the Old Testament.)
The word asher (Strong’s H834) is the relative pronoun (of every number and gender) “who, which, what or that”. (It occurs 5548 times in the Old Testament.)
When God identifies Himself as I AM WHO I AM, He states He is the only being who is self-existent. You could also translate this phrase “I am He who is.” God’s existence is not dependent or contingent on anything or anyone else. He alone is completely sufficient and self-existent in Himself.
We find a similar title in Revelation 1:8: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” We human beings exist by the will of God. But God has existence in and of himself. He is the only being without a beginning or end.
Jehovah is another way to translate YHWH. The word ‘Jehovah’ probably never existed in the Hebrew language.
Originally, Hebrew was written only with consonants, leaving readers to supply the vowels. By the time vowels were added to written Hebrew, the Jews no longer spoke the name YHWH out loud out of reverence for God. Instead they substituted the word adonai, meaning ‘lord’ or ‘master’. The word ‘Jehovah’ consists of the consonants YHWH, and the vowels of adonai.
Many English versions of the Bible translate YHWH using ‘LORD’ in capital letters.
Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
- Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: God, Names of
- American Tract Society: Jehovah;
- Bridgeway Bible Dictionary: Yahweh
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Jehovah
- Fausset Bible Dictionary: Jehovah
- Holman Bible Dictionary: Jehovah; Yhwh
- Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible: Jehovah
- Kitto’s Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature: Jehovah
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: God, Names of
- McClintock and Strong: Jehovah
- The Nuttall Encyclopedia: Jehovah
- The Jewish Encyclopedia: Jehovah
- GotQuestions.org: What is the meaning of I AM WHO I AM?