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  • Writer's pictureLynn Holzinger

Names of God: YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD)

And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"...

Exodus 3:14a

YHWH is the most significant name for God in the Old Testament. This name is first used in Genesis 2:4 and occurs 6,823 times in the Old Testament. It has a two-fold meaning: the active, self-existent One (Ex 3:14), and Israel's Redeemer (Ex 6:6). God's name, YHWH, is mainly associated with His holiness, His hatred of sin, and His provision of redemption. [NASB note on Gen 2:4, 1976]

The ancient Hebrew language of the Old Testament did not have vowels. YHWH is a tetragrammaton meaning "four letters," leaving scholars to debate how to pronounce this most holy name of God. Some versions of the Bible translate YHWH as "Yahweh" or "Jehovah," but most Bible translations use the word "LORD" in all caps.

God first revealed His name as YHWH in Exodus 3 when He comes to Moses in a burning bush. Moses is told to take off his shoes for the ground he is standing on is holy. God then commissions Moses to go back to Egypt because He plans to free the Israelites from their slavery of the last 400 years. When you read the full account (Ex 3-4), Moses finally agrees to go, but he is clearly resistant to this assignment. Early in the conversation, Moses asks God, "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they will ask me, 'What is His name?' Then what should I tell them? And God replies, "I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you." God goes on to say, "Say this to the people of Israel: YHWH, 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 eternal name, my name to remember for all generations" (v.13-15).

"I AM WHO I AM" is the inner meaning of YHWH and could also be translated, "I will be what I will be," showing that He is not only self-existent but also self-sufficient, all-encompassing, and without limitations. He is the One Being in the universe who is not dependent on something else for His existence. [NLT note on Ex 3:14, 2008] YHWH is God's eternal name, the name He wants to be remembered by for all generations.

The practice of using the name "Lord" (Adonai) in place of YHWH began with the Jews hundreds of years before Christ. "They did not want to pronounce or mispronounce the name of YHWH out of reverence. They did not want to risk violating the commandment that says, 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain,' (Exodus 20:7). So, the Jews began substituting God’s name (in Hebrew, “Lord”) which is now Adonai. This practice is followed today in English translations of the Bible to show reverence for the Holy Name." [Carm: Why Do Bibles use "LORD" instead of YHWH or Jehovah?] In order to differentiate, Bible translations use "LORD" in all caps when the Hebrew is saying YHWH and "Lord" in small letters when referring to Adonai.

So how did we get "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" for YHWH? "The name Jehovah is a product of mixing different words and different alphabets of different languages. Due to a fear of accidentally taking God’s name in vain (Leviticus 24:16), the Jews basically quit saying it out loud altogether. Instead, when reading Scripture aloud, the Jews substituted the tetragrammaton YHWH with the word Adonai (“Lord”). Even in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the translators substituted Kurios (“Lord”) for the Divine Name. Eventually, the vowels from Adonai (“Lord”) or Elohim (“God”) found their way in between the consonants of YHWH, thus forming YaHWeH. But this interpolation of vowels does not mean that was how God’s name was originally pronounced. In fact, we aren’t entirely sure if YHWH should have two syllables or three." [Got Questions: What is YHWH? What is Tetragrammaton?]

In conclusion, it is unknown how to pronounce YHWH, so we have several ways of translating His eternal name. Whenever you are reading in the Old Testament, pay attention to the word, "LORD." Is it in all caps or lower case letters? Do you ever see your translation using the name "Jehovah" or "Yahweh"? All three of these names reflect YHWH, God's personal name for Himself.

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