A Grammatical God (Cassandra Millis)

There are two groups of people who get antsy about the use of the name “Yahweh.” One group are Jewish believers who believe that name is too holy to be spoken and will henceforth replace it with “Adonai” which is a lower name of lord (think the tenth day of Christmas.) The second group are students who aren’t super confident about the imperfect verb tense because that’s pretty much what we’re talking about when we describe the proper name of our God. (And every Christian who hated grammar considers switching faiths, but don’t worry: it’s really not that bad. It’s actually kind of cool.)

If you will allow me a cathartic moment to complain about this language; in Hebrew there are “weak consonants”. That basically means that some letters will just disappear if there are other stronger letters next to it. Every Hebrew word comes from a root (a verb) that is three consonants long, but if one of those is weak, it can disappear giving you only two consonants and you have to guess what the third one is if you want to learn with what word you are dealing. This can be frustrating especially since the word for “is” (which, you know, is not that uncommon) has three weak consonants. They could all disappear. (They don’t, Hallelteeyah (hope you read last week’s post), but they could.) The root for the verb “to be” is hyh- or hayah.

The proper name of the Lord is Yhwh. (Another fun fact about Hebrew: the written language started out without vowels so those were added in later with little dots or lines around the consonants.) Essentially this means that the name that God gives Himself in Exodus 3 so that Moses can tell who sent him is just the imperfect first person singular of to be- most frequently translated “I am.”

But the imperfect verb doesn’t just mean “I am.” Truthfully, the imperfect verb is a little silly because it can literally be any of the three tenses- past, present, or future, so I was, I am or I will be. Also- God doesn’t just say “I am” he says “I am who I am” (yhwh asher yhwh if you are really into the Hebrew). So what does this tell us about God?

He was who He was, who He is and who He will be. He is who He was, who He is, and who He will be. He will be who He was, who He is, and who He will be. In short: He never changes. Not only is His existence the basis of everything (seeing as He is the only thing that was not created but simply always was) but His faithfulness, goodness, and love are always there. You do not have to worry that because of anything you have done or failed to do that God will change towards you. He is who He is. He was who He will be. The same God who created you, saved you and sustains you is still present with you with all of His being-ness. That will never change.

Even if you are really bad at imperfect verbs.

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