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THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES: Wrestling with Scripture #22

Updated: Mar 4

Unless you’ve read through the front matter in your Bible, you may wonder why the word Lord is sometimes presented in all capital letters (LORD) and at other times, it isn’t. Most English translations use the mainly lowercase Lord for the Hebrew word Adonai in the OT (which can simply mean master) and for Kyrios in the NT (the Greek word for Adonai), but substitute LORD whenever the Hebrew word YHWH/Yahweh (yah-way) appears.


It may surprise some, but Yahweh is actually God’s name, the personal name He gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14. At the burning bush when Moses asks God what he should say when the Israelites want to know the name of the one who sent him, God replies, “I AM (YHWH) who I AM” and says to tell them that, “I AM (YHWH) has sent me to you.” A few lines later God says, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exod 3:15).


Given this clear instruction, why do most Christians refer to our heavenly Father as God rather than use the name He provided? Especially since, I was surprised to discover, the Hebrew word for god is more of a title than a name. Translated from El or Elohim, the word isn’t even exclusively reserved for our God in Scripture. In the OT, it’s a rather generic term for any “top-level deity” and is also used of the false gods of the pagan nations. This is probably why we also see the word God all in capitals (GOD) in the Bible, typically in combination with the Lord GOD, to differentiate the true God from all others.


There are probably several reasons why most of us don’t feel comfortable using the name Yahweh. First, we aren’t sure exactly how to say it. Since ancient Hebrew had no vowels, God’s name is more correctly rendered YHWH. At one time, only the priests in Jerusalem were allowed to speak the name aloud out of respect for its sacredness. When the temple was destroyed and Israel taken into exile, God’s name stopped being spoken, and its original pronunciation was eventually lost.


Second, there isn’t an exact English transliteration for the word, although God Himself uses Yahweh and “I AMinterchangeably. Although I AM may seem an odd name, it alludes to God’s eternal, self-existent nature. He was not created. He has no beginning or end. He has always been and will always be.


Third, some consider Yahweh to be an Old Covenant name, closely linked to the historic redemption of God’s chosen people, Israel, and therefore inappropriate for New Testament Christians, who are told that Jesus (who declared Himself to be I AM in John 8:58), is “the name which is above every name” and “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow …” (Phil 2:9-10).


Wherever we land on this subject, we’ve already looked at the importance of names in “Wrestling with Scripture #4,” so the name (or names) of God should be of great interest to us. Because Hebrew is a colorful and descriptive language that often makes use of word pictures, the Old Testament appends many vivid concepts to the name Yahweh to characterize the greatness of our God. Let’s look at a few, keeping in mind that Yahweh was first, and seemingly inaccurately, transliterated as “Jehovah” in the sixteenth century because the Old Latin alphabet did not contain the letter “Y” and the original Hebrew “W” had come to be pronounced more like a “V.”


In Genesis 22:14, Abraham refers to God as Jehovah-Jireh (which means “the Lord will provide”) when God sent a sacrificial ram into the thicket as a substitute for Isaac.  Exodus 15:26 advises the Israelites to heed God’s law and He would keep the people free of the diseases that plagued the pagan nations. He tells Moses that He is Jehovah-Rapha, “The Lord that heals.”  When Moses held up his arms to ensure an Israelite victory in battle, he called the place Jehovah-Nissi, meaning “the Lord, our banner,” because it was there that God guided, protected, and gave Israel victory over its enemies (Exodus 17:15). In Psalm 23, King David, a former shepherd boy, uses the name Jehovah-Rohi which means “The Lord is my shepherd” to describe the loving way that God faithfully leads and guides His sheep.


God is also described as Jehovah-Shalom, “the Lord, our peace” (Judges 6:24), Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer 23:6), Jehovah-Sabaoth, “the Lord of hosts/God’s army” (Isa 6:1-3), Jehovah-M’Keddesh, “The Lord who sanctifies” (Ex 31:13), Jehovah-Shammah, “The Lord who is there” (Ezek 48:35), and El-Shaddai, "God Almighty," the Creator of all (Gen 17:1).


As I wrestle with this, it seems appropriate for us to meditate on these names, asking God to more fully show us what each one reveals about His character. To start, let’s look at a familiar passage, Psalm 23, with these OT names in mind:


“The LORD is my shepherd (Jehovah-Rohi). I shall not want (Jehovah-Jireh). He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters (Jehovah-Shalom). He restores my soul (Jehovah-Rapha); He leads me in the paths of righteousness (Jehovah-Tsidkenu) for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me (Jehovah-Shammah); Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (Jehovah-Nissi); You anoint my head with oil (Jehovah M’Keddesh); My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”


It might also be edifying to incorporate the various names of God into our prayer life.  If we’re feeling anxious or lonely, we could cry out to Jehovah-Shalom or Jehovah-Shammah. If we need courage or strength, what better name to call upon than Jehovah-Nissi or Jehovah-Sabaoth? In need of healing or guidance, lean into Jehovah-Rapha or Jehovah-Rohi. In need? Who better to talk to than Jehovah-Jireh?


Whatever we call our LORD, His name is above all names, and He alone is worthy of our praise!

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