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“I Am That I Am”

By James Donahue

The old Popeye cartoons of years back, where Popeye declared: “I am what I am,” would have been a shock to the ancient Hebrew people who recognized that phrase; “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” as the holy name of God.
At least this is how God allegedly responded when Moses asked for God’s name in Exodus 3:14. The English translation in the King James Version of the Bible reads “I Am that I Am.” And to the Hebrew people at that time, this phrase was considered a proper name for God.

But not to worry. The people of Moses’ time had lots of other special names for God, some of them considered even more holy than Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.”

The most common reference to God in the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, is YHVH. This is considered an unutterable name, not only because it is almost impossible to really utter, but also because only the high priests were ever allowed to say it aloud. When the people heard the name they reportedly threw themselves flat on the floor or ground, it was considered that holy a name.

It is interesting to note that the name YHVH, which is composed from the Hebrew letters Yod, Hey, Vav and Hey, appears over 6,800 times in the Tanakh. It appears to signify that the Creator God’s name is so holy it is beyond human ability to utter and beyond all definite description.

Yet the Jewish people invented a lot of other names for God, each with a special meaning.

Elohim was such a name. It looked upon God as the Creator of the Universe.

The people also used the name El to simply refer to God as God. 

Sometimes they used Elyon, which meant “highest,” and Avinu, meaning “our father.”

Then there was the name Jehovah, which was common reference to God. Other names for God were Yahweh, Yodh, He, Waw, Ehyah, Adonai, HaShem, AdoShem, Baali, Elah, Eloah, El Roi, El Shaddai, Shalom, Shekhinah and HaMakom.

Each name had a significant reference to some special quality about God. For instance, the name Jehovah Tsidkenu meant “God Our Righteousness.” Jehovah Raah meant “The Lord Our Shepherd.”

Indeed, it must have been very confusing to be raised as a Hebrew child in those days. It would take years of schooling to learn and understand the complexities of just praying to God.

And then there was the strange abilities of the so-called holy men like Moses and Abraham who allegedly talked directly to God, and have Him answer back. We have to wonder how they addressed Him.