YHWH

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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 Exodus 3:13-14 [13] And Moses said to God, Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say to them? [14] And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.
American King James Version×
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 Isaiah 42:8I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
American King James Version×
). 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 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
American King James Version×
)—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 Isaiah 48:9-11 [9] For my name’s sake will I defer my anger, and for my praise will I refrain for you, that I cut you not off. [10] Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction. [11] For my own sake, even for my own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory to another.
American King James Version×
).

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 John 17:21That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ clearly said that no person had ever seen God the Father and nobody had heard His voice (John 5:37 John 5:37And the Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
American King James Version×
). Yet, Jacob declared that he saw God “face to face” (Genesis 32:30 Genesis 32:30And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
American King James Version×
). 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 Exodus 20:5You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
American King James Version×
). 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 Exodus 33:18-23 [18] And he said, I beseech you, show me your glory. [19] And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20] And he said, You can not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. [21] And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand on a rock: [22] And it shall come to pass, while my glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with my hand while I pass by: [23] And I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
American King James Version×
. Moses was allowed to see God’s back, but not His face. God said He talked with Moses “face to face” (Exodus 33:11 Exodus 33:11And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
American King James Version×
), 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 John 1:18No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.
American King James Version×
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 John 1:1-4 [1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
American King James Version×
).

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 John 16:25These things have I spoken to you in proverbs: but the time comes, when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father.
American King James Version×
), but His plain talk was still often confusing because of the inner barriers we (and the disciples) have.

In John 17:5 John 17:5And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.
American King James Version×
, 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 John 14:9Jesus said to him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? he that has seen me has seen the Father; and how say you then, Show us the Father?
American King James Version×
).

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 John 1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
American King James Version×
, 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 1 Corinthians 2:8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
American King James Version×
). 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 Revelation 3:12Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write on him my new name.
American King James Version×
). 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.

Further reading

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?”

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