The Names of God 2 – YHWH / Jehovah
Last month, we started talking about the names the Bible uses for God. Last month we looked at Elohim. This month we will look at the holiest name for God – YHWH or Jehovah. This name is the most used name for God in the Hebrew Bible. Used 6218 times, the name is defined in Exodus 3. Moses has grown up in Egypt, has killed a fellow Egyptian, fled to Moab, and was a shepherd. From the adopted son of Pharoah’s daughter to the humiliation of shepherding, Moses was one of the least likely people to lead a monumental Exodus. But God has a way of picking precisely those kinds of people to do his business.
Exodus 3 has Moses tending his flock when he encounters when The Angel of the Lord appears. Whenever we see in scripture a reference to the angel of the Lord, we see an encounter with God. This case was no exception. A bush was burning, but it was not consumed, and Moses was summoned to the holy fire. God reveals his plan for Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery and transform it into a nation. But Moses has his doubts about God’s plan. We pick up the narrative in vs. 13:
Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation. Exodus 3:13-15 CSB
So here we have the first time in Scripture that God declares his own name, I AM. The Hebrew form is אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה ‘eh-yeh. Because this is a common expression (which can also mean “become” or have “have been”), the writers of the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures chose a variation of that word for God’s name – יְהוָ֔ה YHWH. This name is the holiest name of God. It is so Holy that even in our modern English versions of the Bible, we spell it with all capitals Lord.
The Hebrew people considered this name so holy that they went to extremes in protecting it. For example, the Essenes, an extremist group of Jews that lived during the time of Jesus on the Eastern bank of the Dead Sea near Qumran, were copying scripture; they had a procedure when transcribing the name. When encountering the name, they would stop, break their pen, throw out their ink, take a mikvah (a ceremonial spiritually cleansing bath), put on clean garments, get a new pen and new ink, and continue.
So how do we get Jehovah out of YHWH? That comes from an error in transcription in Latin where it appeared JHVH. The King James version used that transcription and translated it into English Jehovah. In any case, YHWH and Jehovah are the same names for the Most Holy God.
However, not only is it a Holy name, but it is also a personal name. When one knows another person’s name, there is a sense of intimacy established. A relationship is intimate when we use the name YHWH or Jehovah. God has chosen to reveal the name he wants us to use to know him. I AM is the self-defining God who does not need anything outside of himself to make him who he is. Notice also that he pairs his name YHWH with being the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is a God for people, as we are a people for God.
As an application, we can remember this when we feel distant from God and feel that he has abandoned us. We can then call on the name of God – YHWH – and direct our prayers to him. When we feel God is most distant, that is actually when he is most nearby. By focusing on him and not us, we let God be who he is. He is God Elohim’s creator, but he is also YHWH’s holiest and personal God. Next month, we will look at a name for God that Jesus used. As YHWH is the holiest name for God, Abba is the most intimate name for God.