Although God has many names that reflect His majesty, position, power and authority, the four Hebrew letters that correspond to “YHWH” are the most common portion of His name in the Hebrew Scriptures. These four English letters are transliterated from a Hebrew word (Strong’s Hebrew #3068). Sometimes it is transliterated as JHVH or YHVH, but the most common is YHWH. This name occurs thousands of times in the writings of the Old Testament.
The Bible translators used the English the word “LORD” (with the “-ORD” in smaller-sized capital letters) almost every time that YHWH appears. The word lord in lowercase is used when references are made to a mere man, and usually it is translated from other Hebrew words.
Some “sacred names” groups insist on certain pronunciations and English spellings for this Hebrew name of God. Some insist on using Yahweh. Some insist that the correct name is Jehovah. Biblical scholars will tell us that since Hebrew writing had no vowels, the correct pronunciation of this name has been lost. Many Jews have such reverence for God’s name that they will not even try to pronounce it. In the Septuagint, the Hebrew letters “YHWH” were translated as the Greek word “Kurios.”
God introduces Himself
Although God worked on a personal level with many of His chosen followers in the Old Testament, it seems there were periods of time when the relationship was tenuous and somewhat limited. That was made clear when, at the time of Noah, only one man and his family were judged worthy to survive the flood that YHWH orchestrated for the destruction of almost all of mankind. Only eight survived.
Many decades later, God was well known to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and others. Moses appeared about 400 years after Joseph and the relationship between God and man was again strengthened. It is clear that Moses did not know God’s name or who God really was at the start of the work God had prepared him for.
Exodus 3:13-14 records Moses’ question to God. He asked, “‘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?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”
In verses 15 and 16 God refers to Himself as “the LORD God of your fathers.” The name “I AM” is related to the personal name for God in the Old Testament. “‘I AM’ and the related YHWH are the names of God that infer absolute timeless self-existence. Although impossible to translate accurately and directly into English, YHWH conveys meanings of ‘The Eternal One,’ ‘The One Who Always Exists’ or: ‘The One Who Was, Is and Always Will Be’” (see our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story, p. 8).
Isaiah was inspired to record a direct statement from God about His name. “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). Putting in the Hebrew word, this reads: “I am YHWH, that is My name.” The reason the Jews wanted to stone Jesus was because He said He was the “I AM” (John 8:58)—which the hearers related to the YHWH that Israel knew and the Jews considered his statement to be blasphemy.
The name of God gives meaning to all that He is. God knows that He and only He is God, the Almighty and therefore everything becomes His responsibility. He consistently works within that realm as He interacts with the human race. Even those specially chosen by Him are dealt with from the position of His love and mercy as a Father and Creator and His justice and responsibility to maintain the order He has decreed in all of His creation.
God explains, “For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you… For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another” (Isaiah 48:9-11).
God is what His name declares Him to be, and nothing can change that. It declared the way that God thinks and operates in all things. In verse 12, He declares, “I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.”
Who was the YHWH of the Old Testament?
The YHWH of the Old Testament who interacted with mankind was not God the Father, although God the Father was always involved and present in the Word (John 17:21). Jesus Christ clearly said that no person had ever seen God the Father and nobody had heard His voice (John 5:37). Yet, Jacob declared that he saw God “face to face” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob had asked for His name, but it was not given, apparently (verse 29).
Note that in the Ten Commandments Moses recorded, “For I, [YHWH] your God” (Exodus 20:5). We also know that Moses was blessed and strengthened for his work with Israel when God allowed Moses to have a short glimpse of His glory. The story is found in Exodus 33:18-23. Moses was allowed to see God’s back, but not His face. God said He talked with Moses “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), but we realize God’s full power was turned way down. What an awesome thing to contemplate! No doubt God had to do something to make Himself visible to the limitations of Moses’ eyesight. Moses was satisfied by what he saw.
Who did Moses see? It was YHWH; God. John 1:18 tells us that no man has ever seen God the Father. Thus we know it was not the Father, but the Word (John 1:1-4).
The Father was not revealed to ancient Israel, but He was always there. Jesus said He would tell us plainly about the Father (John 16:25), but His plain talk was still often confusing because of the inner barriers we (and the disciples) have.
In John 17:5, Jesus made a profound statement. He asked God the Father in prayer to “glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John also wrote that when Jesus was asked to reveal the Father, He didn’t hesitate to say that if a person has seen Him, he has seen the Father (John 14:9).
Putting all of this and many more biblical accounts together, it is clear that the Word that became Jesus Christ the man was the YHWH men knew in the Old Testament (John 1:1, 14). It seems that awesome fact was not fully realized or known until His resurrection. The Bible says that if those who put Jesus to death had known who He was, they would never have killed Him (1 Corinthians 2:8). This understanding only adds to the precious blood that was shed for our reconciliation with God.
One further point to ponder—Jesus said He would have a new name (Revelation 3:12). Then we will know the name of God and the new name of the Word. Until then, let us be satisfied with that which God has revealed. It is enough.
For more about God’s name, see our Frequently Asked Question: “What is the correct name for God? Is there a special sacred name God wants us to use?”