To the Jews the name of God was very important because it described God Himself. It was not just a title but a character analysis. Many names are used because there are many aspects to God’s personality. One name is far above all the others in importance and significance. All that God was to His people was wrapped up in that name. It was THE name of God.
Unfortunately today we don’t know what the name really was. We know the 4 consonants the comprised it, Y H W H (‘Tetragrammaton,’ meaning ‘four letters’) but we don’t know how it was pronounced. The Jews never said it because they didn’t want to take a chance of using the name in vain (Exodus 20:7). In Hebrew only the consonants were written, the vowels were memorized and passed down orally. But this name was never passed on. How does one pronounce “YHWH”? Some use the vowels from Adonai (‘lord’) and pronounce it ‘Jehovah’ while others think ‘Yahweh’ is more accurate. What ever the original pronunciation, it is the significance of the name, what it shows us about God, that is still as true today as ever.
Understanding the difference between the three main names for God can help understand the Bible better as well. In Joshua 7:6-7, for example, He is called God (Elohim, creator and sustainer), Lord (Adonai, master) and LORD (YHWH, deliverer). Understanding the precise aspect of God each referes to brings new light to the passage.
YHWH points to God as holy (Exodus 15:11; Leviticus 11:44-45). It is YHWH who judges sin in Eden (Genesis 3), with the flood (Genesis 6) and with plagues against Egypt (Exodus). Because He is holy, He delivers those who turn to Him to have their sins replaced with His holiness (Isaiah 43:11). It was YHWH who made clothing for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), shut Noah safely in the ark (Genesis 7:16), and delivered the Jews from Egypt (Exodus 12-15).
YHWH is unique because it describes God’s personal covenant relationship with each one of His people individually, not as a group. While God (El) and Lord (Adonai) are also used of others and by those who aren’t believers, YHWH is only ever used by God’s people. It is so significant to the Jews that many of them named their children in honor of YHWH. Whenever you see a Jo starting a name (Joab, John, Joel, Joshua) of ah at then of a name (Elijah, Elisha, Azariah, Hananniah) then YHWH is included in their name for Jo and ah are abbreviations of YHWH in Hebrew.
While the name YHWH was used form Genesis 2 on, the real significance of God as their personal deliverer wasn’t seen until the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 6:1-3). God is the eternally existent one who is always available for His people. The Hebrew word YHWH is really the ‘to be’ verb in Hebrew (3rd person singular, “He is”). So in choosing this for His name God is saying “I am” – I always am, past present and future. There is never any need to use past or future tense for He always is. This is how H revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). The Jews clearly understood this, for when Jesus used this name for Himself they tried to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:58).
In fact, the culmination of YHWH as the holy one who judges sin yet delivers those who turn to Him is seen most clearly in the work of Jesus on the cross. ‘Jesus’ means ‘YHWH is salvation’ and that’s exactly what happened in the crucifixion and resurrection. YHWH, Jehovah, Yahweh, LORD, however you want to say it the meaning is the same. He is our deliverer.
YHWH refers to God as the One who judges sin and delivers those who turn to Him for deliverance. He is judge or deliverer. To every person who ever lived He is one or the other. Pharaoh said “Who is YHWH? I don’t know YHWH!” (Exodus 5:2). He didn’t then know Him as deliverer, but He would soon know Him as judge. We all know Him either as our deliver or as our judge. Which is He to you today?
BIBLE STUDY ASSIGNMENT
The Bible mentions many things that God will provide. Look up the following verses and fill in the blanks to discover some of them:
Gen 22:8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide ____________________, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Genesis 45:11 I will provide for you there, because _______________________. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
Genesis 50:21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide __________________.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
1 Chronicles 17:9 And I will provide ________________________ and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.
Isaiah 61:3 and provide __________________ in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Ezekiel 34:29 I will provide for them _____________________, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide ______________ so that you can stand up under it.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us _______________?
Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet _____________ according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Psalms 34:8-10 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord ________________ .
Psalms 84:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no __________ does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
(If I can answer questions or offer personal counsel, or if you would like a free copy of my Spiritual Warfare Handbook, email me at Jerry@ChristianTrainingOrganization.org or download it from http://sw.christiantrainingonline.org/. My next book, Spiritual Warfare in the Bible, which is a more advanced treatment of spiritual warfare, is also available there for free.)