On Ani Hu – “I am he”
The phrase ani hu appears five times in Isaiah chapters 40-48. Virtually untranslatable, it is literally I-he, as in “I am he”, “I am the One”, “It is I”. The mediaeval Jewish scholar Ibn Ezra called this phrase the most sublime expression of the unity of God. It is perhaps deliberately evocative of the equally enigmatic “I am who I am” as God revealed himself to Moses.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament, made in about 250 BC, translates ani hu in Isaiah as “I am”, just as Jesus referred to himself as “I am” in John. John 8:58 is translated “Before Abraham was born, I am” and it is the same “I am” found in later verses of the same chapter. It is translated variously “I am the one I claim to be”, “I am he”, and “ek is wat ek is” in Afrikaans Bibles, which takes us neatly back from John through Isaiah to the revelation to Moses.
The 20th century Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand had a suggestive interpretation of the phrase ani hu. He said that it can be interpreted as a symbol of the Union with Christ, where the boundaries between the believer and Christ are done away in the intimacy of the divine embrace, with the result that out of the two emerges a new person. He relates the prayer of St Gertrude:
“I am you. You are I. I am not you, you are not I. I and you, we are a new being: an I-you.”
Ani hu, I am he, or I-he, can thus be interpreted in the light of Galatians 2:20, where Paul testifies, in the words “I yet not I”, that his life has become identified with Christ.