The Names of GOD: YAHWEH
The name Yahweh occurs more than 6,800 times in the Old Covenant, this name is referred to as the ‘personal’ name of the God of Israel. It appears in every book except for Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.
This particular name – Yahweh – is known as the Tetragrammaton and usually modern translations of the Bible use the name Jehovah or Adonai instead of Yahweh. The word ‘Jehovah’ came about by non-Hebrew speakers and non-Jews trying to pronounce the Hebrew letters and vowel markers with the English equivalent. The Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, rather vowel markers are used to determine the vowel sounds between the consonants. The name Yahweh is unbelievably holy and sacred, only the priests in the Temple were allowed to speak it and only during sacred ceremonies and sacrifices. After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the name Yahweh was no longer pronounced at all, instead the name Adonai was substituted into the Biblical text and this is how the correct pronunciation was lost.
The Hebrew letters that make up the name of Yahweh are ‘yod heh vav heh’, the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have a ‘j’ sounding letter and therefore, the translation of Jehovah cannot be correct. There are some who believe the pronunciation may be ‘Ya’hov’ah’ but again, since the pronunciation of the name Yahweh ceased to be spoken AT ALL after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, there is really no absolute understanding of how this name should be pronounced.
English translations of the Bible usually translate the name Adonai and Yahweh as ‘Lord’ and the name Yahweh is very closely associated with the acts and miracles that God performed in redeeming His people. The name Yahweh is associated with God as He redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt.
Exodus 3:14-15, ‘God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” God furthermore said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,” ‘The Lord (Yahweh), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial name to all generations.”‘
Note that Yahweh is the God of individual people!
We’ve looked at several names that God has used to reveal Himself;
- Elohim – a God of complexity and depth, Elohim being plural and implying that there are many facets to God’s nature and character; He’s all in all, all encompassing and as Christians we see clearly the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this name.
- El Roi – a God who sees His people and acts on their behalf.
- El Shaddai – a God who is enough for His people, He’s more than adequate. He and He alone is enough!
- El Olam – a God who eternal; He has no beginning and He has no end. He simply IS.
- Jehovah Jireh (Yahweh Yireh) – a God who provides what is needed for His people.
Yahweh – the God of their fathers
Yahweh is a name that describes a God who wants to be known personally by His people. When God first spoke to Moses from the bush that didn’t burn, God revealed something very special about Himself.
Exodus 3:6-8, ‘He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God. The Lord (Yahweh) said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from the land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey….”‘
God revealed Himself as a God who was personally ‘aware’ of what His people were enduring and He was moved by their plight. He revealed Himself as the God of their fathers, the Patriarchs of their nation, individual men that He had relationship with – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He saw their afflictions, He heard their cries and was moved deeply by their sufferings, in fact He was so moved that He had ‘come down to deliver them’ from their slave masters. Yahweh is a very personal name and it’s so sacred that Rabbi’s and Jewish sages throughout the centuries have refused to use it for fear of defiling it. This is God’s Name!!!
Without actually saying the name Yahweh, the Jews have described this name as ‘The Name,’ ‘The Great and Terrible Name,’ ‘The Ineffable Name,’ ‘The Holy Name,’ ‘The Distinguished Name’. Most Jews today still don’t use the name of Yahweh when referring to God, rather they call Him Hashem, a Hebrew word that simply means ‘The Name’.
Rarely do Jews write the name Yahweh and when they write the word ‘God’ they never write it in full; they always write it as ‘G_d’ or ‘G-d’. Why are they so hesitant to write or use His name?
His name is sacred, holy and utterly personal and therefore it’s perfect and undefiled. For human beings who are born sinful, having the name of God come from a sinful mouth defiles it. They won’t write His name in full because to casually write His holy, beautiful, sacred name on a piece of paper (other than a Torah scroll or a printed Bible) runs the risk of that piece of paper being damaged or thrown away and the name of God should never be tossed into the garbage. Therefore, if His perfect name isn’t written down, it cannot be defiled if the paper is damaged. Rather than run the risk of defiling His beautiful name, they won’t say it or write it down. That’s how much they revere His name.
Our culture is so flippant and casual with regard to God and His name that we toss it around like a swear word and think nothing of saying ‘O my G…’ or writing OMG in our texts to describe how we feel about something. We show little to no reverence for His name.
Of course, we know how God came down to deliver His people from the slavery from the Egyptians, He showed Himself to be unbelievably powerful when He visited the 10 plagues on Egypt while protecting and covering His own people so that they were safe and unscathed by them.
He was personally with them during the destruction of Egypt; He was personally with them when they crossed the Red Sea; He was personally with them in the pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire during the nights while they were in the wilderness. He was with them in a cloud that covered the Tabernacle in the wilderness and He was with them providing them miraculous food every day except for Shabbat, which He provided doubly for them the day before; He was with them in a rock that followed them and provided them with water; He was with them every day making sure their clothes didn’t wear thin and their sandals didn’t wear out for 40 years!
Yahweh was there with them personally even when they rebelled and complained and carried on; He was with them personally. Then of course there is the ultimate redemption which was part of God’s plan right from the very beginning. He left His place of Glory and He humbled Himself and became a man. Not just any man either, He humbled Himself and was born to a humble Jewish couple, they were a poor couple living in an obscure rural village that didn’t have the greatest reputation.
He lived among us, grew up among us during the most difficult and dangerous period of ancient Israel’s history when the religious leaders were thoroughly corrupt and the nation was dominated and subjugated by brutal foreign rulers who were merciless and cruel. God lived among us although He never sinned like us. And for what purpose?
God saw us living in slavery to sin, sin the hard taskmaster of our souls that tortured and crushed us under its heavy boot. He saw our misery, He heard our cries and saw the tears we’d shed and He came down to deliver us and then took the extreme steps of actually taking our place and received the punishment we deserved for our crimes. That’s personal!
Psalm 103 beautifully describes Yahweh’s personal interaction with His people to redeem them. In this psalm I’ve written the name of Yahweh in place of the word Lord because it makes the psalm so much more personal. The word Yahweh is a ‘name’ whereas the word ‘Lord’ is a title and in the Hebrew, the name of Yahweh is used.
Psalm 103:1-13, ‘Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Yahweh performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. Yahweh is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on His children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear Him.’
Using His name makes this psalm so much more personal.
If you had a personal meeting with Queen Elizabeth, you would address her as ‘Your Majesty’, that’s her title. You would be aware of her position, her power, her influence, her wealth, her connections and possibly some of the things she’s done. But if you spent time with her, and became more than just an acquaintance, how would you feel if she said, “Oh, just call me Elizabeth?” You’d still be in awe of the fact that she’s the Queen of England, that she’s a powerful monarch, that she wields great power and influence and spending time with her would be quite daunting, but being on a first name basis is very personal and intimate, the relationship would be very, very different.
When God revealed Himself by His name, He became different to all other gods and deities; He became personal and intimate with His people to the point that He actually dwelt among them. He responded to them with compassion and lovingkindness, redeeming them from slavery and not giving them what they deserved for their sin. He did it in the Old Covenant in the form of the cloud and fire and He did it in the New Covenant in the man Yeshua.