Knowing God By Name
By Jeff Calhoun
"And He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father,
who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name . . ." - Luke
Who is Our God?
In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks that occurred on September
11, 2001, there was much talk about God. The phrase "God Bless America"
echoed throughout our fifty states. Believers and non-believers alike
turned to churches and prayer gatherings for comfort, calling upon God
to heal and comfort them in the midst of their grief and pain. Others
wondered if God was truly there at all, and if He was, they questioned
His whereabouts on that terrible day.
Another group did a lot of talking about God: the terrorists themselves.
On the same day as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
some Palestinian militants were seen celebrating in the streets, declaring
"God is great!" On Sunday, October 7, 2001, Osama bin Laden said the
following in a videotaped statement: "There is America, hit by God in
one of its softest spots. Its greatest buildings were destroyed. Thank
God for that. There is America, full of fear . . . thank God for that."
Upon hearing those words, I had to wonder: "Who is
he talking about? Is he talking about our God, the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? We of course know that
he isn't, but how will the world know that? How will
they know, when we tell them about the God whom we serve,
that we do not mean this "God" spoken of by bin Laden?
As we continue to seek our God for revival in this land,
the distinction must be made between the God of the
Bible and the gods of other faiths.
who is our God? Osama bin Laden's "God" has a name: Allah. What is our God's name?
As with all matters, the answer to that question can be found in the Scriptures.
What is Our God's Name?
The Bible is full of references to the awesome power and importance
of the Name of our God. For instance, Proverbs 18 refers to His Name
as "a strong tower." In Psalm 119:55 the psalmist says, "I have remembered
your Name in the night and have kept your law." Psalm
138:1-2 says, "I will bow myself towards your sacred temple and give
thanks to your Name . . . for you have magnified your
word, your Name, above all." There are many other Scriptures
that speak of the sacred Name of our God.
One such verse has been adopted
by CBN during this time of prayer for revival: "If my people who are called by
my Name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and
turn from their evil ways, then I shall hear from the heavens, and forgive their
sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
An interesting thing to notice is that none of these Scriptures uses
the plural word "names" but the singular "Name." This
clearly indicates that there is but one Name for our
God. So what is it?
In Exodus 3, when Moses encounters our
God in the burning bush, he asks the following question: "See, when I come to
the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to
you,' and they say to me, 'What is His Name?' what shall I say to them?"
What follows is one of the most profound and meaningful truths that
can be found in Scripture. The answer to Moses' question is . . . "YHWH."
What's in a Name?
So, what does this mean? First, let's look at the word's structure.
This Name YHWH given to Moses in Exodus 3 is comprised of the Hebrew
letters Yod (Y), Hay (H), Waw (W - pronounced "Vav"),
and Hay (H), which together are often referred to as the Tetragrammaton
("The four lettered name"). Although the issue of how to pronounce this
Name has been the source of much debate and controversy for centuries,
the pronunciation more Hebrew scholars agree is correct is "Yah-oo-way"
(as in the transliteration Yahweh).
But let's not worry about what scholars think about pronunciation for a
moment. Try saying the name aloud, using no vowel sounds at all. When I do it,
it sounds very much like breathing. The Breath of Life.
Now, let's examine
what this Name means. The Name YHWH is an archaic form of the verb "to be," so
the concept drawn from the English translation of this word is "I am that I am,"
or "I am who I am." YHWH is not, however, the word used as "I am" when Yahweh
says, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you'"
(Exodus 3:14). Although the Name YHWH conveys the same idea of His perpetual existence
and presence as "I am," it means so much more, as we're about to see.
Hebrew language is one of complexity and intricate beauty. Each of its letters
has its own meaning and numerical value. In this case, the meanings of the four
letters used to form the Name of YHWH give the Name a powerful and prophetic significance.
First, the letter Yod literally means "hand," while Hay means "behold," and Waw
means "nail" (or "hook", depending on the context). So, in sequence: "Hand (Y),
behold (H), nail (W), and behold (H)." The context of the word YHWH means, "Behold
the nailed hand."
Clearly, this is no ordinary, every-day name. But wait,
there's more: Yahushua (often Yeshua or Yahshua), the Hebrew name of the Messiah,
the son of Yahweh, means "YHWH is salvation." Therefore, you can take that a step
further and see it as "Behold, the nailed hand is salvation." This not only powerfully
illustrates Yahushua's role as Savior, but also His divinity (as Yahweh incarnate)
and His relationship to Yahweh as His only begotten son. As Yahushua Himself said,
"I have come in my Father's name (John 5:43)." Just as His life and character
point us to His Father (John 14:6 - "no one comes to the Father but by me;" see
also John 17:23-26), so also does His name point us to the sacred Name of Yahweh.
He even instructed us to pray: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy
Name . . . (Luke 11:2)."
What About Those Other Names?
You have no doubt heard most or all of the following descriptive
terms and/or titles that have often been applied to Yahweh: El (meaning "mighty
one," also the name of the sky god of the ancient Syrians), Elohim (the plural
form of El), El Shaddai ("almighty one"), and Adonai ("my lord"), among others.
While those words, like the commonly used English terms "Lord" and "God," can
certainly express different aspects of the character of Yahweh, they are merely
generic titles and descriptions. None of them is His Name.
If someone were
to ask you "What is your God's name?" your first response might be "Jehovah."
This is one of the most popular terms attributed to Yahweh, and is often thought
by many to be His true name, but let's look at it more closely.
Scriptures were being transcribed, it was believed by the Jewish scribes performing
the task that they should not pronounce the sacred Name of YHWH, for fear of violating
the third commandment ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
. . . " - Exodus 20:7). This led to the use of other words, generic titles (such
as "Adonai"), as substitutes for the true name, Yahweh. Therefore, if you were
to compare a typical, modern English translation of the Bible with the original
Hebrew texts, you would see how YHWH (which can be found a total of 7,038 times
in the original Hebrew Old Testament) was replaced by "the Lord" or "God."
The following excerpt from Webster's New Riverside University Dictionary
(1984 edition) details what the scribes did and the origins of the word
form Jehovah did not exist as a Hebrew word. It is actually a conflation (blend,
fusion) of two Hebrew forms that came about through a peculiarity of the Hebrew
writing system. The Hebrew name for God, the consonants of which are transliterated
YHWH, was considered so sacred that it was never pronounced and its proper vowel
points were never written. In some texts the vowel points for a completely different
word, Adonai, "lord," were written with YHWH to indicate that the word Adonai
was to be spoken whenever the reader came upon the word YHWH. YHWH was never intended
to be pronounced with the vowels of Adonai, but Christian scholars of the Renaissance
made exactly that mistake, and the forms Iehovah (using the classical Latin equivalents
of the Hebrew letters) and Jehovah (substituting in English, J for consonantal
I) came into common use.
Other texts agree: The Encarta Encyclopedia (2000
edition) says that Jehovah is the "name of the God of the Hebrew people as erroneously
transliterated from the Masoretic Hebrew text." A New Standard Bible Dictionary
(1936 edition) states, "The form 'Jehovah' is impossible, according to the strict
principles of Hebrew vocalization."
So, it is clearly no secret that Jehovah
is not the true Name of our God. But don't worry - this doesn't mean that the
wonderful suffixes normally attached to Jehovah (as in Jehovah Jireh, Rapha, Nissi,
etc.) are also wrong. Those transliterations are for the most part correct, and
when added to the name Yahweh (as in "Yahweh Yireh" - "Yahweh the Provider"),
they can serve as powerful expressions of certain attributes and characteristics
of our Lord Yahweh.
So, What's the Big Deal?
You may be thinking, "That's nice, but why do I need to know and use
the name of Yahweh?" You may feel perfectly secure and content in using
one or all of the generic and descriptive terms already mentioned, feeling
no need to change how you refer to Yahweh. Perhaps you think the name
sounds funny, or that it's improper or even downright wrong to use it
altogether. Well, you're not alone, and I was certainly skeptical at
first myself. It can be very difficult to eschew and let go of things
we have practiced and held on to for many years. But let's look at it
in terms of relationship.
Our Father desires to know us intimately and yearns for us to reciprocate
that desire. He loves us so much that "He sent His only begotten Son"
as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. If we truly long to serve our
God and have a deep and intimate relationship with Him, we should address
Him in a more personal and intimate way.
When someone begins a relationship with you, one of the first things
they learn is your name. As the relationship develops, they begin to
learn more and more of your character, and eventually, if they want
to, they will know you very well and will be devoted to your relationship.
However, the relationship would most likely not last very long if they
kept referring to you as "man" or "woman," "sir" or "madam." Such a
thing would keep a certain amount of distance between the two of you,
and would surely not be a good way to create and maintain intimacy and
They might tell you over and over again
that they love you dearly, but would you really believe them if they kept addressing
you by an impersonal title or description? The same applies to our relationship
with our wonderful Creator, Yahweh. To continually apply generic terms like "Lord"
and "God" to Him would be like a husband constantly calling his spouse "Wife"
or "Woman." To use "Jehovah" would be like the same husband calling his wife by
the wrong name altogether, expecting her to respond.
As we saw earlier, there are countless Scriptures that place a great
amount of importance on the Name of Yahweh. It is not simply another
generic term in a long list of titles and descriptions, as some would
want to believe. Nor is it a name limited only to the Old Testament,
as others have said. As Yahweh Himself said when He revealed His Name
to Moses, "This is my Name forever, and this is my remembrance to all
generations" (Exodus 3:15).
This is why our deceptive adversary (who comes
"to steal, kill and destroy") has tried to wipe out the Name altogether by deceiving
men into replacing it with other titles and generic or even false "names." He
does not want us to have a close relationship with Yahweh. In fact, that's exactly
why he is trying to deceive us, so that we will serve that which is not of Yahweh
(and therefore is of the enemy). Since he cannot create but only corrupt, he has
worked for centuries to corrupt and bury the sacred Name of Yahweh our God. He
knows that the Name of Yahweh is a powerful weapon. Why else would it be virtually
erased from all modern translations of the Bible? Why else would there be a counterfeit
name (Jehovah) in its place?
I, for one, no longer wish to give the enemy
any pleasure by continuing to deny the name of Yahweh. I count it as such a wonderful
blessing and privilege to know and use Yahweh's true Name. While He is indeed
my "Lord" and my "God," He is also my Abba Father, my Best Friend (who "sticks
closer than a brother"), my Everything. Whatever question we have, the answer
is always "YHWH . . . I AM THAT I AM."
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Author's note: This topic
has been one of much debate and controversy for centuries. I strongly urge all
readers to prayerfully consider what you have read here, weigh it according to
scripture, and further research this subject for yourselves. There is much material
available on the internet (such as the publications available on www.yahweh.org
and in print that will be helpful in your research.
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