As the mother of young children, I often heard cries in the night, muffled sounds in the darkness or sharp wails from beds of sickness. A fevered child called for me. “Here I am,” I answered. A toddler thought I could kiss his ear ache better, “Here I am.” For all the things that unravel while we sleep, hunger, thirst or nightmares that rouse us, storms that rattled the windows, they’d call and I’d answer, “Here I am.”
It’s what any parent does for aching need or yearning calls. We come; we answer, “Here I am.”
Then isn’t it ironic that we sometimes wonder if the Lord is as consistent as we try to be as parents? When fever of a sort, or worry, or concern throbs—or sleep or storm rattles our own windows– why would we have any doubt that if we cry out, the Lord would answer, “here I am?”
Yet doubt we sometimes do, when life presses upon us. Have we been forgotten or overlooked by the Lord this time? Is his concern turned away from me this time? Even if we have felt the cascade of light and testimony in the past, the question really is, can we count on him to be there for us now?
Are God’s tender mercies for us only once in awhile or are they something that we can find ultimate security in? We have been cast into a stormy place in mortality and even when times are peaceful, we are aware that sudden squalls can come. Our tenuous security can be so easily threatened. Are we safe? Is he there always—or only sometimes? If I felt his help yesterday, can I really count on it tomorrow?
A familiar moment in Christ’s life addresses this question. When he fed the 5,000, the crowds had pressed him, wanting more bread, following him on foot, plying him with requests—and, as he so often did, he retreated to a mountain apart to be with his Father.
Meanwhile the apostles were on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose creating boisterous, threatening waves. Based on Matthew 14, we often tell this story in terms of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water, and then his sinking with fear in the storm, a little like we are all tempted to do when waves dash at us. But something else is particularly noteworthy in this story.
Jesus had departed into a mountain and was alone on the land, but “he saw them toiling in rowing for the wind was contrary unto them” (Mark 6:48). Saw them though he was not close by. Saw them though it was the fourth watch, meaning the middle of the night some time between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. when he might have been sleeping. Their exertion against the waves did not escape him.
He walked across the water to them because they needed him then—and what did he say? “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27).
In a desperate moment, there is the Lord, saying, “It is I.” That is another way to say, “Here I am” or “Here am I.”
“Here am I,” is not a random saying, but we learn in scripture that, it is in fact, a code phrase that signifies a covenant relationship. It means we are bound together by covenant. This covenant creates for us a relationship of mutual trust. The Lord says that because we are in a covenant together, we have a grasp on his hand—not a slippery grasp or a fickle one, but a firm, one. “Here am I” is the phrase the two parties in a covenant use to answer one another. “The Lord promises, ‘I will come unto you,’ and the mortal beings reply, ‘I believe you will come.’”[i]
We speak often of the promises that come with having made a covenant with the Lord, but is there anything really more important than the simple assurance that we find in Isaiah 58:9 “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”
In fact, when the Lord gives the covenant promises to Abraham with which we are so familiar, promises of posterity, priesthood, a promised land and more, he prefaces all of this with an overarching promise that says essentially, I am here for you. “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Abraham 2:8). It is this context in which we understand the rest of the covenant.
If we misunderstand this assurance, we may cast ourselves in shivers of insecurity in this life, but knowing it, we can be secure. The very Creator of the universe won’t keep us cooling our heels while he takes another appointment or forgets our names. We call and he answers. He is neither aloof nor indifferent.
I am frightened, we say. “Here am I,” he answers. I am alone. “Here am I.” My life did not comply to the script I had so perfectly designed for it. “Here am I,” he assures us. “It is I, be not afraid.”
Most of all we examine the enormous chasm that separates us from home and from him, and he stretches out his arm and says, “Here am I. We can cross this together.”
He is the firm, steadfast and immovable one, the one who announces that he is I AM, and with our covenants in place, that is our foundation. Eternally present, eternally now.
“Here am I.” This assuring phrase is a familiar one that rings from the pre-mortal world. “And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27). With all the personal risks associated, he said, “Here am I.” This has been our anchor from before time, before memory.
That assurance continues in this scripture:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
“Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
“And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
“And I will be found of you, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 28: 11-14).
Could he be more clear? We will have an expected end if we keep our covenants. If we seek him, we will find him. There will be no change of administration with him. He will not be only a fair weather friend. He will not feel after us only when we are perfect, for we have been born into a place where that is a standard beyond us.
Instead, when we have covenanted with him, his answer to us is “Here am I” whether we are on the Sea of Galilee of the seas of heartbreak or pain or inadequacy. “It is I, be not afraid.”
Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen Ricks write about the words “Here am I,” which are embodied in three Hebrew words: esed, hinneni, and bara (spelled here without their diacritical markings). Understanding their meanings expands our comprehension of this covenant relationship.
Esed is often translated into English as “loving-kindness.” Hinneni means “Behold me! Here am I!” “We might add, “ready to serve,” or “at your service.” It is a word of love.
“The third word bara is a root that means ‘covenant.’…When applied to an agreement between God and man, it means ‘an alliance of friendship’ accompanied by ‘signs and pledges.”
The Covenantal Response to God
Those who are in this covenant of love with God, exhibit this same loving steadiness in response. We learn to love and trust him, because he loved us first. When the Lord calls them, they answer, “Here am I.” He has originated that steady lovingkindness, and we learn to follow the same.
Moses is in the wilderness, the “backside of the desert” and sees a bush that burns but is not consumed. God calls out to him, “Moses, Moses.” To each of us, he calls in a similar way.
Dennis Rasmussen observes:
With a question God gives the gift of choice. He asks; man must respond. To complete his work God Omnipotent seeks for help. Will man choose to give it?…Will man through his choosing finish the work that God through his choosing began? Will man freely respond, freely return? God asks, then God waits.”
Of course, Moses answers, “Here am I” (Exodus 3:2)
Isaiah, when he has his great vision of the Lord, is undone by the chasm between them, exclaiming that he is a man of “unclean lips”. The Lord touches his lips with a live coal, thus cleansing them and then Isaiah is ready, “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
Samuel received his call with that same covenant phrase upon his lips. While he was lying in the temple, the Lord called Samuel, who answered, “Here am I.” Misunderstanding the voice, he ran to Eli, believing he had called the boy. Eli sent him back to bed, and again the Lord called and Samuel answered, “Here am I.” A third time this happened with Samuel answering again, “Here am I.” It was then that Eli perceived the Lord had called the child.
Yet, no more important example of this than exists in the story of Abraham himself, where “here am I” becomes a chorus of submission and trust. God calls to Abraham who answers, “Here I am,” and then delivers the searing news that he should, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
When Isaac calls to his father, asking him “where is the lamb for a burnt offering.” Abraham answers, “Here am I, my son.”
Finally, Abraham has the knife raised, ready to slay his son, an angel calls out of heaven to him, and he answers, “Here am I” (Gen. 22)
“Here am I” signifies the trust and love that marks being in covenant with the Lord.
From him, the assurance that we can turn to him, count on him, rely on him—that he remembers us always. We say, “I needed you and you came, even when I didn’t always see it and recognize your touch. I trust that when I need you (which is always), you come. I can trust that you always will.”
The answer “Here am I” from us to the Lord means like a child to a father, I trust you. I will follow you. I will always remember you. I will obey. I am not afraid to submit and cast my entire soul and its welfare and future upon you. If you ask me to stand by pharaoh or lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, I am here. If you ask me to warn a people who don’t want to be warned, or to be cast into a pit for my testimony or to fight against principalities and dominions of darkness, I am here. If, instead, you ask me to be patient in trial, wait steadily for better times without losing hope, hide my unseen wounds to be strong for others, here am I.
Once years ago, I had a daughter who received a severe head injury while on vacation in Mexico. With twenty bleeds in her brain, she languished nearly in coma, but rousing to semi-consciousness periodically for days. When her eyes fluttered open, she called out, Mom, and I answered, “Here I am.” I was the source of comfort and familiarity in a world of test tubes, foreign speakers and an uncertain future.
Then, while she slept, I lay on a narrow cot in the same room and I called out, with worry and fear for her, called out to a source of comfort and familiarity, “Father.” He came and said “Here am I.”
[i] Parry, Donald W.; Peterson, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks, “His Hand is Stretched Out Still: The Lord’s Eternal Covenant of Merdy from Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen.