“Mommy, the juice spilled.”
“Mommy, I need help with my Lego set.”
Mommy, I can’t find my other shoe.
Mom, I am feeling confused about something my friend said and I need to talk to you.
Here I am.
Do you see the shift? “I’m here” is literal: I am present.
“Here I am” is something more. Yes, the physical presence is indicated, but a willingness, an offering of self is also swelling in that phrase.
LEARNING THE PHRASE HINENI
I discovered I’m here/here I am difference when the Holy Spirit had me pause in my reading of Genesis in chapter 22.
Parents, you know the one.
When Abraham has to lug his own son—the one rightful heir who was meant to father multiple nations— up a mountain to be slaughtered by his own hand?
I don’t know about you, but every time I read this, I silently pray, “please, God, never test me to this extent.”
Something leapt out at me (again, through the Holy Spirit) as I was reading this passage:
Abraham repeats one phrase three times: “Here I am” or hineni in Hebrew.
I did a little digging online, and I found the distinction I mentioned earlier: hineni is not merely presence. In Hebrew to indicate mere presence, someone says Po ani (I also saw this phrase as ani Po).
But hineni carries connotations of submission: I am ready, willing, and able to serve you. To use an idiom, hineni means “I am at your service.”
HINENI IN RESPONSE TO GOD
Let’s examine the three mentions of hineni.
Rightly, Abraham uses hineni when God calls his name to give him this test:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him ‘Abraham!’ And he said ‘Here I am.’ He said ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall tell you.Genesis 22.1-2, ESV
When God calls Abraham’s name, Abraham is ready and willing to do whatever comes next.
And what came next was absolutely heart-wrenching. Take note of how many qualifications are used in that phrase: your son, your only son, whom you love.
God is emphasizing just how great of a sacrifice this will be for Abraham.
If you are a parent, you know that this request is as unthinkably as it gets. As if the stakes could get any higher, there is the added sacrifice of Abraham’s legacy. If Isaac dies, so does his progeny.
But Abraham does no hemming, no hawing. The offer of hineni, or “Here I am” means— I turn myself over to you.
The offer of hineni, or “Here I am” means— I turn myself over to you.
If a mark of obedience is the haste with which it is performed, then Abraham scores the highest marks in obedience.
The very next verse tells us that “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac” (22.3).
Can you imagine the tightness in Abraham’s chest? Was his stomach flipping itself this way and that as they silently walked up a mountain in the early morning sunlight? But he forged ahead.
HINENI A SECOND TIME
A curious interchange happens between Abraham and Isaac before they reach the top.
Isaac breaks the (implied) silence with “My father!” And Abraham responds with hineni Beni “Here I am, my son.”
He uses the same phrase that he would use in respect to God. Not “what do you want?” Or “be quiet—we are almost there” or “well, you should have gone to the bathroom before we left!”
No. He speaks to his son with the tenderness and respect that this phrases carries.
Why is this notable?
The use of this phrase indicates how much he loves his son.
For anyone who might try and argue that this experience for Abraham is the same as schlepping a goat up the mountain — just a means to an end— is sorely mistaken. No, this is deeply personal. Even in what would be Isaac’s final hours of life, Abraham speaks to him with the tenderness and honor that only a loving father would.
This phrase emphasizes the sacrifice. He loves Isaac so very much, but his love for God is even greater still.
A HINENI UTTERED WITH RELIEF
And to give this tale beautiful shape, the resolution holds one final Hineni.
As Isaac is bound, and Abraham is holding the knife (is it poised for striking?), an angel appears and calls Abraham’s name twice in a manner that suggests frenzy: “Abraham! Abraham!”
And what does he respond? Hineni. If the first hineni were out of submission, and the second out of tenderness, I have to imagine this final utterance is brimming with hope and relief.
The angel calls Abraham to a halt, and in a nearby thicket is a ram to be offered instead of Isaac.
DO WE RESPOND HINENI IN OUR CALLINGS?
I couldn’t help but scan my recent callings from God to see if I was responding in a manner of hineni: I am yours for the taking, Lord.
Did I respond with hineni when He asked me to bring up the gospel to the young mother I just met?
Did I respond with hineni when He asked me to stop advertising during Lent?
Did I respond with hineni when He asked me to send a tee shirt to someone I know is struggling?
My answer is often, “okay, God, soon I will.” But I can’t imagine that God is pleased by the answer “soon.” He wants the complete offering of hineni— the abandonment of self-centered comforts, desires, and timeline.
Again, it was the immediacy and the no-looking-back dedication with which Abraham responded that makes him such a faithful servant.
And we know how the story ends. Isaac is spared, and God declares to Abraham:
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore… and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.Genesis 22. 17-18, ESV (emphasis mine)
God values obedience. God rewards obedience. Here I am, Lord.
with His love,