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Salt, Dust, Light, and Water in the Bible

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The Study of Salt, Dust, Water, and Light in the Bible

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Studying Salt, Dust, Water & Light in Scripture

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Salt, Dust, Water & Light in Scripture

Salt, Dust, Water & Light in Scripture

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Definition for I AM

I AM That I AM

As it turns out, God Himself tells us His Name, thereby informing man of his Essence.
According to biblical scholar Stephen Ray:
“I am” is the name of God (Ex 3:14), and the Jews clearly understood he was claiming to be the eternal I AM of the exodus.[1] “Of this vision our Lord spoke to the Jews in the Gospel when He said: ‘Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ He saw my day, He says, because he recognized the mystery of the Trinity.”[1-A][1-B]
In response to a request by Moses for the voice from the burning bush to tell him what is his name, God replies: I AM THAT I AM[2] (Exodus 3:14). Never have a mere five words ever said so much. Never have a mere five words ever contained such an infinite depth of Truth. Let us explore deeper. The Hebrew for the conjunction between the two I AMs is listed below. But first, Let us see what the Catechism has to say about God's name. The Catechism gives us insight not only into the Name of God, but also which Person(s) are included in that Name. Furthermore, we start to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ perfect humanity being present from the very foundation of creation. In the Catechism we read:
CCC, n. 205 God calls Moses from the midst of a bush that burns without being consumed: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham*, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6). God is the God of the fathers, the One who had called and guided the patriarchs in their wanderings. He is the faithful and compassionate God who remembers them and his promises; he comes to free their descendants from slavery. He is the God who, from beyond space and time**, can do this and wills to do it, the God who will put his almighty power to work for this plan. [See also CCC, n. 268]
*[SML Note:] This is significant. It tells us that the humanity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ (in the Person of the Son of God) are included in the Name of God communicated to Moses. The human Jesus himself tells us that before Abraham was made, I AM. Sheen helps us understand this. He writes: “Now in Christ there is the perfect nature of God, and the perfect nature of man***. But though there are two natures, there are not two persons [emphasis SML] in Him, but only One, which is the Person of [the Son of] God, the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Christ’s is a human individual nature without a human personality; in Him the Divine Personality of the Word performs the functions of the human personality, and it does infinitely more, as behoves a Divine Personality. His human nature is as entire and intact as any human nature; He is as perfectly human as any of us, being man in the truest sense of the term. And although the [mortality of his — SML] human nature in Christ is something new (for He assumed it in hypostatic union only at the Incarnation), nevertheless the personality of that human nature is not new, but eternal. Such was the meaning of our Lord when answering the Jews concerning the death of Abraham and His comparative age: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made I am’ (Jn 8:58).[2-A]
**[SML Note:] Jesus’ human nature under the Person of the Word of God is a part of the Name of God conveyed to Moses; a Name which is outside of the limitations of space and time.
***Sheen says that Jesus (i.e., the human nature part of the Person of the Word of God) possessed a perfect human nature. This characterization would be false if Jesus did not have a human body. A perfect living human nature requires a body. Without it, one’s humanity is incomplete. Without it, the overflow of the spiritual soul could not be sent out, expressed. Without it, the spiritual soul could still be in the image of God, but not in God’s likeness (the Trinity is unceasingly in an eternally fruitful act). A spiritual soul without a body cannot be in act. Without their human body, the souls in Purgatory have no means by which they can perform some meritorious act from which they would benefit themselves. So, when Jesus says, before Abraham was made (in time) I AM (outside of time and place), he is telling us that in the eternal now, he had a perfect human nature which included a glorious body — just not yet a mortal human body, which would have been given him at the incarnation.[2-B]
CCC, n. 268: Of all the divine attributes, only God’s omnipotence is named in the Creed: to confess this power has great bearing on our lives. We believe that his might is universal, for God who created everything also rules everything and can do everything. God’s power is loving, for he is our Father, and mysterious, for only faith can discern it when it “is made perfect in weakness” (Cf. Gen 1:1; Jn 1:3; Mt 6:9; 2 Cor 12:9; cf. 1 Cor 1:18).[2-C]
“I Am who I Am”
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?” God 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’ … this is my name for ever [emphasis SML], and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex 3:13–15).
CCC, n. 206 “In revealing his mysterious name, … God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is—infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the “hidden God,” his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men” (Cf. Isa 45:15; Judg 13:18).[2-D]
CCC, n. 43 Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that “between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude”; (Lateran Council IV: DS 806) and that “concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.”[2-E]
CCC, n. 207 By revealing his name God at the same time reveals his faithfulness which is from everlasting to everlasting, valid for the past (“I am the God of your fathers”), as for the future (“I will be with you”) (Ex 3:6, 12). God, who reveals his name as “I AM,” reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.

The Hebrew Words of Ex 3:13–15

'Aher ash-er' is a primitive relative pronoun[3] (of every gender and number); who, which, what, that; also (as an adverb and a conjunction)[4] when, where, how, because, in order that, etc.:—X after, X alike, as (soon as), because, X every, for, + forasmuch, + from whence, + how(-soever), X if, (so) that ((thing) which, wherein), X though, + until, + whatsoever, when, where (+ -as, -in, -of, -on, -soever, -with), which, whilst, + whither(- soever), who(-m, -soever, -se). As it is indeclinable, it is often accompanied by the personal pronoun expletively, used to show the connection [a family relationship such as father and son — SML].
אחר (Aher) – The verb[5] אחר ('ahar) means to come after or later, to derive or even to delay (to make to come after or later). Adjective אחר (aher) means another.
אשר (Ash-er) – Our word primarily expresses relation [such as the Father begetting the Son — SML]: this which that, or he who such and such. In some cases, it may express result: so that if a man could number the dust ... (Genesis 13:16), or purpose: in order to find favor (Ruth 2:2), or causality: because of their sister (Genesis 34:27), or concession: although you made me see trouble (Psalm 71:20).
Exodus 3:14 is the passage where “Moses when he asks, who shall I say sent me. And God said to Moses, I Am That I Am. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you” (Ex 3:14, KJV). The next four notes help to explain exactly who the last “I AM who “sent” Moses is: [paragraph note 1][paragraph note 2][paragraph note 3][paragraph note 4]. The Hebrew word most commonly translated as that or who, is either aher (אחר) or asher (אשר). Aher, as an adjective, means another. Asher [https://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/a/a-si-r.html], “occurs in two different ways: There's the verbal root אשר ('ashar), which indicates progression, and there's the particle אשר ('asher) that indicates relation.” According to Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon, the word can be translated as: “so that” or “in order that”. Putting all of this together, it is clear that I Am that (so that) I Am can be summarized thusly: I Am (the Father) so that I Am (the Son — indicating Divine and infinite Fruitfulness). Additionally, the single “I” for the two “I Am”’s indicates a Unity that can only come through the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 4:3-6).
[paragraph note 1] I Am That I Am indicates the Trinity. The single "I Am" at the end of the verse (Ex 3:14) indicates a single Person of the Trinity (likely the Son) who is sending Moses. Why is it likely the Son? In all of Scripture, only two Persons of the Trinity are ever described as sending — the Father and the Son. So that narrows it down. According to Augustine, it was likely the Son. The Son who is described as the face of God.[6]
[paragraph note 2] St. Hildegard writes, “We cannot recognize someone from his or her bodily appearance unless we can see that person’s face. But if we see the face, we will praise also the whole form of that individual. This is the way that God’s providence and work are within us human beings.”[7]
[paragraph note 3] St. Augustine writes, “But when Moses was sent to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, it is written that the Lord appeared to him thus: “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back side of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He is here also first called the Angel of the Lord, and then God. Was an angel, then, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? Therefore, He may be rightly understood to be the Saviour Himself, of whom the apostle says, “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” He, therefore, “who is over all, God blessed for ever,” is not unreasonably here understood also to be Himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”[8]
[paragraph note 4] According to St. Augustine, “The Catholic Church Only is the Place from Whence the Back Parts of God are Seen. The Back Parts of God Were Seen by the Israelites. It is a Rash Opinion to Think that God the Father Only Was Never Seen by the Fathers. Not unfitly is it commonly understood to be prefigured from the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, that His ‘back parts’ are to be taken to be His flesh, in which He was born of the Virgin, and died, and rose again; whether they are called back parts on account of the posteriority of mortality, or because it was almost in the end of the world, that is, at a late period, that He deigned to take it: but that His ‘face’ was that form of God, in which He ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ which no one certainly can see and live.”[9]
By understanding what name means in Scripture, we have only to look at God’s name (YHWH)/(I AM [so] That I AM). The name of something in Scripture describes who/what that thing is. Its substance, if you will. Let us look at a couple more examples of names used to indicate what the subject is. Our first parent, Adam, was given that name because it told us what he is. For example, in Genesis, Adam is described as made from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). Adam's name derives from the Hebrew noun ha adamah, which means the ground or earth.[10] The Hebrew word for dust in Genesis is ‘aphar’, which translates as “dust (as powdered or gray); hence, clay, earth, mud [Strongs 6083].” Adam’s name describes his substance, his personality. As for Eve, Scripture tells us, “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (Gen. 2:23). How did Eve get her name? Genesis tells us, “The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). Eve is the name describing what she is, i.e., the mother of all the living.
From this Scripture passage, we can determine that Divine unceasing fruitfulness is part of the very Essence of God. Furthermore, we must be in the image and likeness of that eternally fruitful Trinity. If not, we will never see the Kingdom of God. God tells St. Hildegard:
Thus God is Three Persons, eternal before all ages; and the assumption of the flesh by the Son did not occur before the beginning of the world, but at the preordained time near the end of times when God sent His Son. And when the Son became incarnate and the virginal flower blossomed in her intact virginity, God was still in Three Persons and willed to be so invoked; and therefore, no Person was added to the ineffable Trinity, but the Son of God simply assumed flesh. Hence also these Three Persons are one God in Divinity. And whoever does not believe this will be cast out of the Kingdom of God, for he tears himself away from the wholeness of Divinity in faith.[11]
When Adam and Eve sinned, they ceased to be in the image and likeness of God. As a result, they were kicked out of Paradise. In Ex. 3:14, when God answered Moses' question regarding what His name was, we learned that the very essence of God is eternal and unceasing fruitfulness. We are created in the image and likeness of an eternally fruitful Triune God. Thus, to remain in that fruitful image and likeness, fruitlessness is not an option. Just as lack of faith in the wholeness of the fruitful Trinity leads to our loss of the Kingdom of God, so too will our intentional or inherent sterility remove from us the state of being in the image and likeness of that same Trinity; leading to our damnation.
Updated: 09/29/2023


[1] Author’s note: To emphasize this, the New American Bible specifically capitalizes I AM, making it clear the translators consider that Jesus and St. John [in Jn. 8:56–59] here used the Divine Name, which nearly incites the Jews to stone Jesus for blasphemy.
[1-A] Sermon 83.5, in Caesarius of Arles, Saint Caesarius of Arles: Sermons (1–238), ed. Hermigild Dressler and Bernard M. Peebles, trans. Mary Magdeleine Mueller, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press; Consortium Books, 1956–1973), 14.
[1-B] Ray, Stephen K.. Genesis: A Bible Study Guide and Commentary (p. 191). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] (Strongs #834).
[2-A] Blessed Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ. Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition. pp. 23-24.
[2-B] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), n. 268.
[2-D] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), n. 205-207.
[2-E] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), n. 43.
[3] A relative pronoun is a word that introduces a dependent (or relative) clause [I AM (so) That I AM] and connects it to an independent clause [who shall I say sent me]. A clause beginning with a relative pronoun is poised to answer questions such as Which one? How many? or What kind? Who, whom, what, which, and that are all relative pronouns. Source: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/relative-pronouns/.
[4] Relative clauses are also sometimes referred to as adjective clauses, because they identify or give us additional information about the subject (e.g., what is your name?) of the independent clause they relate to. Like adjectives, these clauses in some way describe that subject. Other relative pronouns, like conjunctions, are words that join clauses—in this case, a relative clause to its main clause. As an adverb and a conjunction: when, where, how, because, in order that, etc.. The type of relative pronoun used depends on what kind of noun being described. Source: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/relative-pronouns/.
[5] A verb and adverb indicate act. Since I AM (that) (so that) (in order that) I AM all indicate act between the first and second I AM. An act such as begetting another. We know that the Trinity (God) is in eternal and unceasing act. There is nothing potential in God. At least six of the eight parts of speech clearly indicate that Exodus 3:14 Hebrew words aher and asher are clearly indicating the Essence of a Triune God — His Name.
[6] A Select Library of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. by Philip Schaff, D.D., LLD., Professor in The Union Theological Seminary, New York. T&T Clark Edinburgh Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan Volume III, Chapter 13, n. 223 St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity Doctrinal Treatises Moral Treatises.
[7] Hildegard of Bingen, Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs, (Kindle Locations 575-590). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.
[8] Augustine, On the Trinity, Chapter 1, n. 223.
[9] Augustine, On the Trinity, Chapter 17, n. 228.
[10] Wikipedia contributors, "Adam (given name)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Adam_(given_name)&oldid=951271687, (accessed April 23, 2020).
[11] Hildegard of Bingen, Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, ed. Bernard McGinn, trans. Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), 419.
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