tn The verb form used here is אֶהְיֶה (’ehyeh), the Qal imperfect, first person common singular, of the verb הָיָה (haya, “to be”). It forms an excellent paronomasia with the name. So when God used the verb to express his name, he used this form saying, “I am.” When his people refer to him as Yahweh, which is the third person masculine singular form of the same verb, they say “he is.” Some commentators argue for a future tense translation, “I will be who I will be,” because the verb has an active quality about it, and the Israelites lived in the light of the promises for the future. They argue that “I am” would be of little help to the Israelites in bondage. But a translation of “I will be” does not effectively do much more except restrict it to the future. The idea of the verb would certainly indicate that God is not bound by time, and while he is present (“I am”) he will always be present, even in the future, and so “I am” would embrace that as well (see also Ruth 2:13; Ps 50:21; Hos 1:9). The Greek translation of the OT used a participle to capture the idea, and several times in the Gospels Jesus used the powerful “I am” with this significance (e.g., John 8:58). The point is that Yahweh is sovereignly independent of all creation and that his presence guarantees the fulfillment of the covenant (cf. Isa 41:4; 42:6, 8; 43:10–11; 44:6; 45:5–7). Others argue for a causative Hiphil translation of “I will cause to be,” but nowhere in the Bible does this verb appear in Hiphil or Piel. A good summary of the views can be found in G. H. Parke-Taylor, Yahweh, the Divine Name in the Bible. See among the many articles: B. Beitzel, “Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical Paronomasia,” TJ 1 (1980): 5–20; C. D. Isbell, “The Divine Name ehyeh as a Symbol of Presence in Israelite Tradition,” HAR 2 (1978): 101–18; J. G. Janzen, “What’s in a Name? Yahweh in Exodus 3 and the Wider Biblical Context,” Int 33 (1979): 227–39; J. R. Lundbom, “God’s Use of the Idem per Idem to Terminate Debate,” HTR 71 (1978): 193–201; A. R. Millard, “Yw and Yhw Names,” VT 30 (1980): 208–12; and R. Youngblood, “A New Occurrence of the Divine Name ‘I AM,’ ” JETS 15 (1972): 144–52.
tn Or “Thus you shall say” (also in the following verse). The word “must” in the translation conveys the instructional and imperatival force of the statement.