Do we rightly understand and reverence the name of God?
In this Bible study we’re going to consider God’s name – Jehovah, Yahweh, or I AM – looking at two questions:
- Where does this name come from?
- What does this name teach us about God?
Just a quick note, this Bible study will be based on the King James Version (KJV) however, most Bible translations deal with the name of God in similar ways, although not always identically.
Where does God’s name come from?
LORD, Lord and lord
By way of introduction, have a look at Isaiah 19:4:
‘And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts.’
This verse is unique in the Bible in that it contains the word ‘lord’ represented in three different ways.
- ‘LORD’ – all capitals (or small caps).
- ‘lord’ – all lowercase.
- ‘Lord’ – with a capital ‘L’.
If we look through the Old Testament you will find these three renderings of ‘lord’ used many times. Why is this done? What is the difference?
Let’s look at each in turn. Through this we can find out more about the name of God.
This is generally how the Hebrew word ‘YHWH’ is translated and is the proper name for God.
The technical term for this word is the ‘tetragrammaton’. In the Hebrew it has its root in the word ‘hayah’ which means ‘the self-existent one’. This is the word translated as I AM in Exodus 3:14 when God is telling Moses his name at the burning bush.
We are unsure how the word ‘YHWH’ would have been pronounced originally; however, it is generally thought to be Yahweh or Jehovah in modern English.
The Hebrew word ‘YHWH’ appears in various forms 6873 times in the Old Testament. In the KJV it is generally rendered ‘Lord’ (approx. 95%) or ‘God’ (approx. 5%). However, a few times it is rendered ‘Jehovah’ and once in Psalm 68 it is rendered ‘JAH’.
The reason it is generally translated as ‘LORD’ is to follow the convention of the Jews who, for fear of breaking the third commandment, would not speak or write down the proper name of God. So out of respect and reverence for the name of God, it is usually translated ‘LORD’. The reason the word ‘LORD’ is written with all capitals (or small caps) is to distinguish it from another Hebrew word that is also translated ‘lord’ which we will look at next.
‘Lord’ and ‘lord’
This is how the Hebrew word ‘adonai’ is translated. This is the Hebrew word for lord or master.
Where this word is used as a term of respect for God, it is written with a capital ‘L’. Where it is referring to human beings it is written with a small ‘l’.
Hopefully, this has explained why the word ‘lord’ is written in these three different ways in the Bible. In summary:
- ‘LORD’: A translation of the Hebrew word ‘YHWH’. This is the proper name for God.
- ‘Lord’: A translation of the Hebrew word ‘ADONAI’, when applied to God. This means ‘Lord’ as a title or term of respect.
- ‘lord’: A translation of the Hebrew word ‘ADONAI’, when applied to human beings.
Understanding these differences is important as it helps us to appreciate more what the Bible is actually saying and who it is referring to in different places.
What does this name teach us about God?
As we have briefly seen, the proper name for God as revealed in the Bible is ‘YHWH’ which is rendered in English as Jehovah or Yahweh.
(Note in the name Yahweh, the tetragrammaton ‘YHWH’ has been combined with the first letter of the Hebrew words ‘adonai’ (lord) and ‘elohim’ (god) to form the word YaHWeH.)
We have seen that the root of the name in Hebrew is ‘HAYAH’ which means ‘the self-existent one’ or I AM.
It is worth spending a bit of time thinking about this as it starts to help us to appreciate just who God is and what he is like. Although, in reality, it shows us that we really cannot comprehend him.
- God is of course the only one who can call himself I AM. We can all say I am now, but there was a time when we did not exist. God however has always been able to say I AM. He had no beginning, he was not created, he is eternal and unchanging.
- The names Jehovah, Yahweh or I AM, encompasses God as all three persons of the trinity. The attributes of God are displayed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- God is self-existent, he does not need us for anything. He does not depend on any outside influence for anything. This is the definition of God. Nothing is more powerful than he is.
When we start to think like this, perhaps we come to understand just why the Jews would not even write down the name of God in case they did so blasphemously. Do we have sufficient reverence and respect for the name of God, which in turn points to the very essence of God himself? Think of the very first petition in the Lord’s prayer – which was Jesus’s guide for how we should pray – ‘hallowed be thy name’. A prayer before anything else that God’s name would be revered and considered holy.
God is very jealous about how his name is used. The level of respect we have for God’s name will give a clear indication of how much respect we have for God himself.[A00125 – 16/12/2019]