This week’s Torah Portion Shmot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) contains the extremely powerful declaration from the Almighty Himself!
Exodus 3:14 אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה ‘… ‘ehyeh asher ehyeh …’ – I will be what I will be.
“13 And Moses said to God, “Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),” and He said, “So shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.'””
These 3 keys words have been consistently very poorly translated into Greek as ‘ego eimi ho on‘, and into Latin as ‘ego sum qui sum‘, meaning ‘I am who I am’, or ‘I am He who is’, and even more fraudulently and sadly the focus that has followed has been on the words ‘I AM’, as if this is somehow a name for Yehovah and more.
But much more significantly, “I will be what I will be” is really a statement that Yehovah is the God of the future tense.
In the context of when this declaration was made at the Burning Bush, the People of Israel were not in a good place and had surely given up hope. Moses asks what name to tell the people, perhaps asking by what authority he is speaking. By declaring this name, that God is a God of the future, it appears that Yehovah is both telling them to see and recognize Him by His future actions in dis-arming Egypt and in saving them, and also that as the God of the future, their future, He is very much involved in their lives and in saving them.
This should give us all real hope.
But in “I will be what I will be” there is also a sense that they could not know Him until he acted. It would be His actions that would show who and what He was. His saving them would demonstrate His love and compassion.
The Creator of the Universe is not just involved in the past, in creation and getting us to this point in time, He is very much involved in the future and it is in the future where we will perhaps see His greatest works. We should take courage from this and be lifted up. No matter how dark the present may appear and the hopes for a good future may seem to be fading, we need to remember that our Father in Heaven will be there in our future and He will act for great loving kindness toward those who are His children.
But there may be even more that we can take from the sense and meaning behind this name.
The late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks also explains in a speech at Berkley, how this declaration of the Almighty’s, when asked His name by Moses is a declaration of God being a radically free agent.
That is, he argues that God is declaring He is a God of the present and future who can and will do and be what he wants. Thus the future is not pre-determined but open to the will of God.
Rabbi Sacks then goes on to explain that, in being made in the image of God, we human beings are also creative beings who are also radically free to create our own futures, to choose what we want to become and what we want to be.
This is a liberating concept that is at the heart of the Bible.
The understanding that, while we may have ‘two hearts’ or two inclinations (Yetzer HaRa and Yetzer HaTov), we also have a great capacity to create a good and positive future for ourselves and those whom we touch.
We are not ‘totally depraved’ sinners as Christian Reformed theology teaches (based on the false doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ – see ‘Original Sin and the Seed of Abraham’ by Frank Selch).
So the Almighty declares His freedom and power over the future; power to bring great blessings to man, as well as to bestow curses and punishment. At the same time He gives us the power and freedom to choose to heed His direction and receive His blessings or to turn our back on Him and ultimately receive some unwanted and painful attention from Him.
This understanding should give all who acknowledge the God of Israel great hope. That is we should trust that together we can make things better.
This is true faith and this faith is not a faith in the past but a faith in and for the future.
So you can be radically free; create your future; work to turn both your ‘hearts’ to true trust and obedience in God and be overwhelmingly rewarded!
This idea of being a radically free agent was presented by Rabbi Sacks in a brilliant talk at Berkley late 2012 – watch here(- this is a long video – Rabbi Sacks starts talking some 10 minutes in).
PS: Many ‘Christian’ translators have translated Ex 3:14 and the phrase ‘ehyeh asher ehyeh’ as ‘I am that I am’ and then tried to argue that this ‘name’ is used by Yeshua to label himself in John 8:58. The leading Hebrew scholars from Rashi to today inform us that this phrase is properly translated as ‘I will be what I will be’ and not ‘I AM’.
Note: While I would not suggest that Google Translate is a most authoritative source for translations it does very nearly translate the Hebrew אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה into ‘I will be what I will be’ (it just has who instead of what).
A Song for Ex 3:14 I will Be What I Will Be