Growing up in rural East Texas, an area seemingly home to more churches than people, I visited many churches of diverse denominations. Amidst different beliefs and doctrines, one thing was always the same: music. The tempo, style, and volume of the songs might change depending on which building I visited, but one aspect of the lyrics appeared immutable: the usage of the name of God as “the LORD”. Even in my infancy as a believer I pondered the meaning of great song verses like “Blessed be the name of the LORD”, thinking, “Wait a minute….we are singing blessed be His name, but we aren’t even saying His name!”
In high school I excelled at speech and debate. This led me to the invaluable gift of being able to investigate the claims that many people believe. For centuries, the church has simply used the phrase “the LORD” without really understanding where it came from or why it’s used. So let me ask you a few questions as we dive into this subject.
- Do you know God’s name?
- Is it important to know and use God’s name?
What is the Name of God?
The most important proper name given to God in the scriptures isn’t even translated in the majority of our English Bibles! Whenever you see the name of “the LORD”, it comes from the Hebrew name of God – YHVH – which may have been pronounced something like Yahweh (Yah-way). This name is used 6,828 times throughout the scriptures. That is more than three times as often as the Hebrew word for God – “Elohiym”. Prior to Moses returning to Egypt, he asked God to reveal His name so he (Moses) could tell the children of Israel who sent him. Let’s read God’s response:
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
The significance of a name cannot be overstated. Yahweh is literally the most important unique identifier that God reveals to His people. A name carries with it a particular reputation. In fact, many times simply saying the name of a person evokes emotions based on that person’s character. Is it any different with our God? He desires that when people hear His name, it causes them to bow down and worship Him. In fact, Moses upon hearing of the name and character of God, from God himself, immediately prostrates himself out of reverence and awe. True worship epitomized.
And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as Yahweh had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. 6 Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.
The purpose of this article originates from my desire for you to see that our Father has a name. His character and reputation is bound up in His name. It is grievous to me that His name is no longer even included in our English Bibles. Think about that for a moment. The name of the One that this is all about, to put it lightly, isn’t even afforded room in our translation of His Word. We need to look at how we arrived where we are today. How did a man-made substitution for the holiest name in existence find it’s way into our translations? The answer will require gut-level honesty, a willingness to humble yourself, and an intense desire to know and love the truth above the traditions of man.
Where Did “the LORD” Come From?
Yahweh entrusted His name to Israel. Historically speaking, Israel’s responsibility was to be a kingdom of priests to the nations. They were endowed with the name and character of Yahweh as His representatives on the earth. Along the way, because of their propensity to stray away from doing what God said, the name of God fell out of use. Eventually, their rabbis placed a man-made prohibition on speaking the name of Yahweh, which inevitably led them to replacing His name with a man-made substitute. Here is an example of the reasoning behind replacing God’s name:
Think about this for a moment. The most holy thing in existence, the name of Yahweh, is given to Israel specifically for the purpose of making it known and somehow they lost its pronunciation? Wait a minute! How does this happen? Did the entire nation just wake up one day and think, “Oh no, we totally lost how to say our Father’s name.” If you read any background on this issue, almost always as the reader you are kinda just expected to gloss over the idea that we actually have no idea how to accurately pronounce our God’s name because one-thing-led-to-another and it “fell into disuse.”
So do you know what the rabbis did? I would love to say that they diverted all of their attention to finding what their ancestors lost and recovered the pronunciation, but alas they didn’t. Instead they just created a man-made substitution for the name. Simple enough, right? Well, it gets more incredible. Not only were substitutes for the name of God invented, but in a truly “religious,” dare I say narcissistic way, these scholars then added a rationalization that appears reverent. You will find statements like this one from the ESV preface amply supplied.
Now this sounds reverent and religiously charged, but I want to remind you that it wasn’t until after the Jewish people allowed the name of God to fall into misuse that they then decide they were too reverent to not use His name. Some well-meaning Jews today will contend that the 3rd commandment is the justification for not using the name of God. So in order to not take God’s name in vain, they just simply don’t use it, period! What? Did they find a loophole so that God cannot hold them accountable for misrepresenting Him? Not to mention that the 3rd commandment is traditionally, even within Judaism, to refer to matters related to oath taking. The tragic truth is that despite their attempts to avoid responsibility for profaning God’s name, Ezekiel sets the record straight.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says Yahweh God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh, declares the Yahweh God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.
So to recap I would like to just look back over and ask again, how did we wind up with “the LORD?”
- Jews of antiquity stopped using God’s name.
- Rabbis then banned the name of YHVH from verbal usage.
- In fact, some actually taught that if someone used God’s name then that person would have no part in the world to come. A purely 100% man-made curse that directly prevents people from obeying things God said to do. Unbelievable. No wonder Jews are afraid to use His name!
- Alongside banning His name, they create and use substitutes like “Adonai”.
- English translators followed suit and decided to use “the LORD”, the translation of “Adonai”, in place of the name of Yahweh.
Relationship with the Father
It grieves me that man got us into the position we are in today. In fact, this article wouldn’t even be relevant had Israel walked in their God given calling. It furthers saddens me to think how some will read this and purpose to be contentious because of their zeal for the traditions of men. Yet this issue isn’t a matter of preference, opinion, or tradition. We are talking about the name of our Father. The name He gave us! I pray that as you examine this post that it will encourage you in your relationship with your Abba (Father).
In reality, the real heart of God beats to be known by His children as Abba! Yet to the world who doesn’t yet believe, we must proclaim the name of the One True God, Yahweh. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God of power and salvation. Yeshua is the very character, nature, and fullness of Yahweh in the flesh. May our hearts overflow with praise to His name.
2 Blessed be the name of Yahweh
from this time forth and forevermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of Yahweh is to be praised!
Ditches on Both Sides of the Road
Unfortunately, as with absolutely anything in Scripture, there are ditches on both sides of the “road” of the name of Yahweh. We have thoroughly addressed the background as to how we arrived at our current predicament, but I need to mention a group who has gone into the ditch on the other side.
Sacred Name Movement
There is a movement that refers to themselves as Sacred Name. Some within argue that only if you correctly pronounce YHVH are you saved. They distort Scriptures like Romans 10:13 indicating that an exact pronunciation must be used. Then, of course, they tell you their preferred method of pronunciation, which usually came to them through “God telling them, etc.” Some have little to no evidence that their pronunciation could even potentially be correct, others are generally accepted among scholars today. The point being that they require you to fit inside their prescribed vocalization.
The problem with all of this is that we have no way of knowing with 100% accuracy what is the proper way of pronouncing YHVH. It is what it is and it is where we find ourselves at this point in history. The Bible never prohibits mis-pronouncing God’s name, so don’t buy into fear in that area. Sacred Name groups cause difficulty for people like myself who use Yahweh because I considered the evidence and think that is the best presented name. But I am not tied to it either. If a group of scholars produces evidence showing a different pronunciation, I will give it a hearty amen, and change my ways. My prayer is simply that every day we all are growing in grace and the knowledge of God.
Avoid this pitfall by realizing we need to be grounded in the Word of God. No one group has special revelation from God as to how to utter His name. Until someone produces an audio message of Moses, Aaron or Yeshua speaking the name of God then this will be an issue on which contentious people will dwell.
The Purpose of His Glorious Name
At this point you may be asking, “Why does any of this matter? Why take the time and debate claims or various religious groups and sects?” Some would even wonder why I couldn’t just leave them alone in their comfortable bubble of Westernized Christianity!
I touched on this earlier, but it’s where we need to end. Every name on earth carries with it a reputation. What do people think when they hear your name? What do you think when you hear the name John, Matthew, Chris, Sophia, Emma or Abigail? A name immediately draws a connection to a person who possesses it. When you think about that individual, does it evoke good or bad sentiments? However your are affected by a name, it is always due to your experiences with the person who has that name.
You were created to proclaim, praise, glorify, make known, sing of, sing to, fear, love, and trust His name. Yahweh desires this type of encounter with people. When they hear His name and His Son’s name, Yahweh wants people to remember His character, power, love and mercy. Literally everything Yahweh has done since the foundation of the world is to make His name great in all the earth. His glory is inexplicably linked to His name and reputation. Abba designed it this way. You were created to proclaim, praise, glorify, make known, sing of, sing to, fear, love, and trust His name. When you do, you are literally participating in making Him great in all the earth. Yahweh desires the fruit of our lives and our lips. This isn’t simply a matter of verbal ascent, saying the right things. No, this is a call to be radically authentic in God, an all consuming passion that affects everything you do. To glorify our heavenly Father in agreement with His Word should be that which inspires us most!
4 Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
Surely you know!
I have written extensively, in The Chief Goal, the Glory of God, on how the name of Yahweh being glorified in all the earth is the paramount concern for our Father. Additionally, more study on the name of Yahweh and His true nature is available in the article titled Torah, Blessing or Curse?