Yesterday we looked at the very first name of God given in scripture – Elohim. Today we are going to look at the most sacred, most dramatic name given to God, mainly because it is the name given by God Himself when asked what His name was to be. The name in Hebrew is transliterated into English as Yahweh. In Greek, it is Jehovah.
In many modern English translations, the name Jehovah is written as LORD, with all capital letters. The first time this name is used of God is in Genesis 2. In the second view of creation, when the author steps back after having described creation in its entirety in most of chapter 1, and tells of the specific creation of humans and describes their unique relationship with God, the author uses the more personal name Yahweh or Jehovah. In fact, this is the only proper name given to God. Other names, like Elohim (which is only a Hebrew term used to describe God’s deity) or Lord (meaning master), are descriptive names given to God. Jehovah, though, is a personal name, given by God Himself when asked by Moses what He was to be called to the people of Israel. That story is found in Exodus 3, where Moses has an encounter with God after fleeing Egypt and leaving his people behind. He had married and had become a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks. One day while in the wilderness, Moses sees a bush on fire, but not being burnt up. He goes to check it out, and God speaks to Moses through the burning bush. He tells Moses that He is going to use him as the instrument by which he frees the Israelite people from Egypt, but Moses isn’t excited about the job. The dialog goes like this:
10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” 13Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “(Exodus 3:10-14, emphasis added).
The Hebrew word for AM here is hayah, which means “to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen…” Often, people translate the name I AM to “the Self-Existent One.” I always found it interesting that it is translated into the present form of the verb to be, which technically means that whenever you use it, it is always accurate. For instance, when I talk about my car, I can say “when my car was new,” but I can no longer say “my car is new,” because my car is several years old. But with God, He always IS – he has existed since before the creation of the universe, He is here now, and He will always be around. He always IS. This consistency is important to our relationship with Him, because it tells us that He cannot cease to exist, and it implies that He never changes. Whenever our circumstances shift and our lives crumble, we always have a God who is consistently the same, who is always there. He IS.
Something else to note is that the name Jehovah is also known as the covenant name of God. Now, I could spend days and days studying and writing about covenants in the Bible, but for today’s purposes, it’s only important to know that a covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. Many agreements are between equals, like two humans, but the agreements between God and humans is far from equal (God being so much higher in stature than us), so “all of the covenants between God and Man in the Bible are really based on our Creator’s unmerited favor and loving-kindness towards His fallen and sinful creatures” (see here). Thus, the name Yahweh/Jehovah is affiliated with a loving, merciful God, who is quick to forgive the sins of His people. The name became sacred among the Jewish people, to the point to where they would not say it or even write it. Instead, they often just left it out or abbreviated it with just the consonant letters (YHWH). Even today, many Jewish people refuse to write “God” and will instead write something like “G-d” as a way to deter any kind of defacement to God’s name in written form (see here).
One final note on the name Jehovah is that it is often used in the Bible as a compound name for God. Though it is used by itself in some cases, more often than not it is combined with some other descriptive name or word for God. Here are some of the most common:
Jehovah Elohim – translated LORD God; utilizes the two most common names for God, and emphasizes His supremacy
Jehovah Jireh – translated the LORD will provide; emphasizes that God provides, and is adequate when the time comes
Jehovah Rophe – translated the LORD heals; emphasizes the spiritual, emotional, and physical healing that God provides
Jehovah Nissi – translated the LORD our banner; a term taken from the battlefield, emphasizes that God “lifts up” His people in battle
Jehovah Sabaoth – translated the LORD of Hosts; emphasizes God’s commanding position over the angels and his own angelic armies.
Admittedly, this is not a name for God that I have used very often. I so often associate using the name Jehovah with Jehovah’s Witnesses, that I often avoid even thinking about it. But now that I have learned a little more about it, and seen the wonder behind the name that God uses for Himself, I may find myself praying to my Jehovah God, the God who is loving, merciful, and whose honor and integrity will never fail.