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Knowing God By Name

By Jeff Calhoun
Guest Writer -

"And He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name . . ." - Luke 11:2

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.

So, 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.

The 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.

When the 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 "Jehovah:"

The 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 love.

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 and in print that will be helpful in your research.

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