Here am I! – the Hebrew meaning of Hineni

The phrase “Here am I!” has a heroic ring to it. This phrase became famous thanks to a passage from the Book of Isaiah. It was the prophet’s courageous response to God’s calling:

And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I (hineni)! Send me.’ Isaiah 6:8

Isaiah is quick in his obedience. He gives a resounding “yes” to God’s call, before knowing what would follow.

What does ‘Hineni’ mean?

“Hineni” (hee-neh-nee) is a Hebrew phrase comprised of two short words: ‘hineh’ and ‘ani’, meaning “here” and “I”. More literally, “hineh” is translated as “behold” (certainly, surely), which is a much stronger word than simply “here”.

When the two words are put together, ‘hineni’ becomes more than just sharing your geographical location. It is a powerful declaration – one that can be made to God, and one that God can make to us.

“With reference to the past or present, it points generally to some truth either newly asserted, or newly recognized (Genesis 1:29, 17:20, 27:6, 1 Samuel 14:33). With reference to the future, it serves to introduce a solemn or important declaration (Exodus 32:34, 34:40, Isaiah 7:14),” according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.

What makes ‘hineni’ such a powerful statement? It is an offer of complete availability, of total readiness to serve. When we utter ‘hineni’, we make ourselves fully available to whatever it is God might ask of us. Even without knowing what that might be. The answer of ‘hineni’ is one of faith.

The Call

Our Heavenly Father longs for His children to respond to Him, to draw near to Him and live in fellowship with Him. His heart’s desire is to have an intimate relationship with us. What an amazing God!

This fellowship and closeness enjoyed by Adam and Eve was disrupted after they ate from the tree God commanded them to steer clear of – and Adam knew it! But God called out to him. Not to find out physically where he was in the garden, but to re-engage with him after his disobedience.

God was providing Adam an opportunity to confess. He was inviting Adam to dialogue with his Creator and re-enter an intimate space. He was giving Adam a chance to become accountable to his actions.

And yet, Adam’s impulse was to hide, to evade God’s question with a non-answer: “I heard you, I was scared, and I hid.” (Genesis 3:10) Adam did not respond, “Hineni” — “Here I am”.

In contrast, we see a much different interaction when we turn to Genesis 22. This is the first time ‘hineni’ appears in Scripture.

‘Hineni’ in the Bible

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Hineni! (Here I am)”. Genesis 22:1, NLT.

Abraham replies without hesitation, despite not knowing what will come next or what God is about to ask of him. What he knows is that God called to him, so his delight is to respond.

By answering ‘hineni’, Abraham demonstrates his readiness and his faith. His faith is proven as he proceeds with the request God has just made of him; to take his only son, the one he waited so many years for, and offer him as a sacrifice.

Just a few verses later, as Abraham is on the verge of literally killing Isaac, the angel of the Lord calls to him. What is Abraham’s response? The response of a servant: ‘hineni’.

We see ‘hineni’ appear at pivotal moments throughout Scripture. Moments when profound change is about to take place in the lives of those responding to God.

‘Here I am!’

In Exodus, Moses is minding his business and caring for the flock of his father-in-law. Suddenly, he notices the phenomenon of a bush that is engulfed in flames, yet not burning up.

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

‘Here I am! (Hineni)’ Moses replied. Exodus 3:4 NLT.

Moses’ response of ‘hineni’ indicates that he is ready to hear and obey, again, not knowing what is about to be asked of him. God tells Moses how He has seen the afflictions of His people, heard their cries and that He knows their suffering. He intends to intervene, and He wants to use Moses in that intervention.

Without knowing it on the front end, Moses’ response of ‘hineni’ becomes a turning point in his life.

The Readiness of a Child

We can also appreciate and glean from the example of Samuel replying ‘hineni’, since initially he does not know it is the Lord. Samuel thinks it is Eli calling his name. This demonstrates that ‘here I am’ can also be used within the context of a family, indicating readiness to pay attention or follow instructions.

‘Hineni’ can be a child communicating their willingness to submit to their parents’ requests. It’s even been compared to a type of military responsiveness. As if the person uttering ‘hineni’ is saying, “at your service”.

In 1 Samuel 3:1, we find Samuel as a boy, ministering to the Lord. Already a positive indication that even as a child, Samuel had a heart inclined towards the ways of God.

When God calls out to Samuel, Samuel runs to Eli, thinking he was the one who called his name. Three times this happens, and each time Samuel’s unchanging response is ‘hineni’.

I also love that this supernatural encounter takes place in the most mundane of settings; Samuel is actually asleep when God calls to him.

Is ‘hineni’ a prayer?

“Hineni” is also an integral prayer recited during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Most of the prayers for the High Holidays are in the first-person plural: For the sins we have committed before you. We praise you. These prayers are recounted communally.

In contrast, the Hineni prayer, which is typically recited by the cantor, is in the first-person singular. The congregation listens intently to the liturgy, which humbly asks that the prayers be accepted, despite any personal shortcomings.

Here I stand, impoverished in merit, trembling in the presence of the One who hears the prayers of Israel. Even though I am unfit and unworthy for the task, I come to represent Your people Israel and plead on their behalf. Therefore, gracious and merciful Adonai…I pray that I might successfully seek compassion for myself and those who send me.”

Cantor Matt Axelrod shares this insight to the Hineni prayer:

“More than a simple indication of being physically present in a location, the word “Hineni” is more of an existential expression. I’m not only here, but I’m here. Spiritually, I’m all in. I’m prepared to reflect on who I am, what’s important to me, and how I can effect change for others.”

Can God also say “hineni”?

‘Hineni’ is not only the response of God’s servants. It is also a declaration God Himself makes to His children. We see three examples alone in the book of Isaiah, where God promises His enduring presence and sustenance. We find these in Isaiah 52:6, 65:1, and in the following verse:

“Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.”  (Isaiah 58:9)

As evidenced in the Psalms, God is our ever-present help, and He delights to make Himself available to His children. By God saying ‘hineni’ to us, He is saying that He hears us, He sees us, and He knows us. God models to us the same kind of devotion He asks of us.

Is your heart prepared to respond in kind? Are you ready to offer yourself, even without knowing what service the Lord will ask?

I pray today that our hearts will leap without hesitation. That we might make ourselves fully available to whatever God asks of us. And that our faith would be added to in the process.

By Avital Snow.

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