What’s In A Name?
There are many names (or designations) of God throughout the Scriptures, and especially in the Scriptures of the old covenant. In this course, we explore those names, and seek not only to establish their meanings, but also their application to us living as disciples of Jesus today.
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME
Names are something that we barely think about or take too seriously in our western culture. We tend to give our children the name or names that we like the most, or perhaps we give them the names that are most in fashion at the time. A name can be just a simple tag that parents give to a baby for any number of reasons…
There are many different thoughts and ideas about names and why names are given and received. But the Hebrew concept of ‘name’ is completely different from any idea of ‘name’ that we have – heavily influenced as we are by a Greek mindset. Therefore, we need to explore something of the Hebrew concept of ‘name’ if we are to discover the significance of what’s in a name.
LOST BE YOUR NAME
Throughout history and from ancient days, YHWH’s people have struggled with the specific call of YHWH that was upon their lives. Their reluctance was often met with a name of God that spoke to the person of the character, the nature, and the love of God. The names of God spoke of intimacy with God – a knowing of him. Yet, throughout the ages, that intimacy was eroded to the point where it just became at best a theory.
YHWH’s heart must have been deeply wounded as he was the one true and living God with a people of his own, and yet that people were relationally far away from him. Israel – and therefore the world – lost its closeness to the God who was named throughout their history. But there was still hope.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
The name – identity – of the one God YHWH was hallmarked all the way through human history, and one day that hallmark would be clearly seen in one human being who walked among humankind – because the one God YHWH had actually become humankind. When that day arrived, and the one God YHWH who had been born on the earth and who was now walking among his own creation, the identity of that man-God was a source of endless speculation.
The people of God – Israel – sensed someone special in Jesus, and so they glorified their God YHWH who must have sent this person because he could not have come from out of their religious system. The people’s delight in Jesus showed that their own religious leaders had a complete lack of authority (from known identity), but Jesus showed the kind of total authority (from known identity) that they had never before seen in one person.
Jesus’ own disciples were asking exactly the same question that the crowds were asking: ‘Who is this man?’ Because this man was doing things that they had never seen before. In whose name, in whose authority and on whose behalf, was Jesus doing these things?
We look at Jesus’ own disciples, and we see how easily and how quickly human beings can develop a hardened heart that does not accept the words or deeds of the Living God. A hardened heart has consequences that are known through its outworking, and we need to be on our guard against our own hearts being hardened against YHWH.
WHAT IS OUR NAME?
YHWH’s call to each of us is at the heart of our identity in YHWH, but that has nothing to do with status, nothing to do with position, and nothing to do with superiority. We are not so much called out of something – although we are – but rather we are called to someone. We are called to be children – true offspring – of the living YHWH by a supernatural birth. The new birth into a new family gives us a new name that is no mere tag of convenience.
Furthermore, in Christ, everything that belongs to Christ is ours in him. If we are Christ’s and he is in us – then everything that belongs to us is ours in him. But all of this is in the name – identity – of Christ Jesus; it is not for ourselves. Nothing that is ours in Christ is given to us that we might spend it on ourselves.
If we are daily growing in Christ-likeness, then Christ’s DNA is changing, renewing and transforming us daily. Christ’s DNA transforming us will determine how we live, what we say and we do – as long as we are consistently growing in Christ. Christ’s DNA will shape us and grow us into his likeness; our co-operation is required. Just as Christ was the image of the invisible YHWH here on earth, so we are the image of the invisible Christ here on earth – that is what the incarnation is all about. That is what it means to have the name of YHWH upon us.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Are we so determined to hold fast to Jesus and his name that we would give our lives? Actually, holding fast to Jesus does cost us our lives. Probably not in one self-sacrificial act – but in a daily sacrificial act of choosing to be Christ-centred rather than self-centred.
Christianity is not a passive receptivity of doctrine or ‘truth’; it is a love relationship with YHWH through Christ – and love relationships need to be worked at. We need to grasp the love of YHWH, we need to hold onto him, and we must not let go of him.
In the English Scriptures, the word in the full capital form LORD is the (unspoken) Hebrew four letter word YHWH (YAHWEH), which appears over 6,800 times in the old covenant Scriptures. The best English language translation is probably I AM, although this does not do the Hebrew justice by a long way:
YHWH is who he is. He is what he is. He does what he does. He answers to no-one. He is self-existent. He causes things to be(come)…
YHWH is the most common designation for God in the Pentateuch. YHWH is the most common Hebrew noun in the Scriptures. YHWH is a proper noun comprised of a third-person masculine singular prefix verb from the Hebrew root hwh/hyh “be, happen, become”.
The name YHWH occurs outside Scripture in the ninth-century Moabite Stone, in some controversial eighth-century texts from Kuntillet, on some seventh-century potsherds from Arad, and in sixth-century texts from Khirbet Beit Lei. There are also various shortened forms of the name both within and outside Scripture.
The very name itself makes very clear that YHWH is not some impersonal cosmic force, but the one true and living YHWH who wants to enjoy intimate relationship with his people.
YAHWEH TSIDKENU – I AM RIGHTEOUSNESS
YHWH TSIDKENU literally translates as I AM RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness here is a noun about essence and nature – it is not a descriptive adjective. Righteousness is what YHWH is, not merely what YHWH is like. Righteousness is first and foremost about who and what YHWH is – and then about what he is like and then about what he does…
[The Hebrew for Righteousness is usually represented as sdq, though, for the sake of pronunciation, we are using Tsidkenu.]
The root word of Tsidkenu means ‘Stiff, straight, upright, just’. [To tell if a stick is bent or not, put it next to a stick that is known to be straight …] This meaning denotes right relationship, right standing and consequently right behaviour in community: “The days are coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will raise up to David a Righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and DO WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT IN THE LAND”. In short, Righteousness is a relationship word. The one who is righteous does what is righteous.
YAHWEH YIREH – I AM PROVIDER
The context of YAHWEH YIREH could, and probably should, easily offend us today. The context of YAHWEH YIREH is not the provision of food and clothing for daily living, though YHWH certainly knows that we need these things. Nor is it about YHWH’s guidance about which job to do or which church to go to (and so on). YAHWEH YIREH is certainly not a blanket commitment by YHWH to supply everything we want. The context of YAHWEH YIREH is very costly personal sacrifice.
YAHWEH ROPHE – I AM HEALER
As we study these names of YHWH, we need to be careful not to always isolate them and understand them in isolation, but rather we need to view them together and in harmony. This is important for all of the names of God, but it is especially important for this name.
What is healing? In the last few decades, and especially through the charismatic movement, a (physical) healing movement has seen many individuals apparently taking on a personal (physical) healing ministry – and they operated individually in and around the body of Christ and outside the body.
But YHWH alone is the healer. This name of YHWH is far bigger and much more significant than any individual’s possible (physical) healing ministry.
Being unwell does not mean that I have lost the way – that I have somehow gone wrong or done wrong. Therein lies the mistakes that many individuals who have healing ministries have made:
- In believing that we must always be healed every time we pray.
- That we should never be (or remain) sick…
YAHWEH ROHI – I AM SHEPHERD
Often, (thanks to ‘One Man and His Dog’ and so on) we have a very romantic and flowery concept of sheep and shepherds. We also have a very British concept of shepherds driving sheep, but it was not so in old covenant Jewish culture.
In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. In Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, Jeremias notes: “The rabbis ask with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, one can explain why YHWH was called ‘my shepherd’ in Psalm 23.
One important fact of old covenant Jewish culture is that the shepherd led the sheep – he did not drive them from behind. Another important fact of old covenant Jewish culture is that the sheep knew both the face and the voice of the shepherd that led them.
YAHWEH M’KADDESH – I AM HOLINESS
M’kaddesh: Means to set apart for divine use and it is often translated by including the verb ‘makes (you holy)’, but there is no such verb as ‘makes’ in the Hebrew. YAHWEH M’KADDESH means ‘I AM Holiness’, but it is often translated ‘I am the Lord your holiness’ but the holiness is personal to YHWH himself – not to you and I. And the word translated ‘holy’ here is not an adjective – but it is a noun: Holiness.
YAHWEH M’KADDESH is a common ‘name’ for YHWH in the old covenant, and it appears around seven hundred times, but it is a hard name to truly understand – to grasp the concept of. M’Kaddesh – set apart, holy, different, other, unusual, odd, weird, bizarre. YHWH is like no other – he is M’Kaddesh. If we translate M’KADDESH as ‘holy’, then we must understand what it does mean, but also what it does not mean…
YAHWEH EL SHADDAI – I AM ALMIGHTY
Occurs 48 times in the old covenant Scriptures, and is usually translated into English as ‘God Almighty’ giving the impression of being a lofty and majestic God of power. This name speaks of the universal God who holds creation in his hand, who answers to no-one…
If we consider this name as ‘YHWH Almighty’, what does ‘Almighty’ mean? Does it mean that YHWH is able to change someone’s name? [Remember from the beginning of this series about the significance of names]
Does YHWH have all possible power? Does ‘YHWH Almighty’ mean that YHWH can do anything? If it means that YHWH can do anything, we will quickly run into trouble…
- If YHWH is YHWH of order, can YHWH make a square circle?
- If YHWH is love, can he act without love?
- If YHWH is love, can he force me to do his will?
- If YHWH gives us free will, how can he move against our free will?
- Can an ‘Almighty YHWH’ do evil?
- Can YHWH really do anything?
To believe that YHWH is Almighty because he can do anything, doesn’t really help us…
YAHWEH SHALOM – I AM INTEGRITY
SHALOM is usually translated as ‘peace’ – but the word ‘peace’ is really quite inadequate to express the Hebrew. The word SHALOM means harmony, wholeness, integration. Hence I have used the word ‘integrity’ in its fullest meanings of: “The condition of having no part or element taken away or lacking; undivided state; completeness; of not being marred or violated; unimpaired or uncorrupted condition; original state; soundness.”
YHWH is working daily to move us down the road towards integrity – though completeness will have to wait for the life to come. The important thing to understand here is that this is personal. YHWH is the person who is integrity and I am the person who is journeying towards integrity by living and growing with him…
YAHWEH SHAMMAH – I AM THERE
The manifest presence of YHWH turns Earth into heaven while that presence is manifest. Where does YHWH live? Where does YHWH make his home?
YAHWEH NISSI – I AM BANNER (OF VICTORY)
What is victory?
YAHWEH TSABBAOTH – I AM HOSTS
Is bargaining with YHWH a good idea…? Perhaps, from a human point of view, it is sometimes all we can do. If you are going to bargain with YHWH – know YHWH you are bargaining with! The Lord of Hosts – YAHWEH TSABBAOTH – is the commander of vast armies, vast hosts, vast beings. But NOT the understanding of armies that we have in our earthly experience.
ELOHIM – ONE GREAT, MIGHTY, AND DREADFUL
Appears over 2,700 times in the Scriptures, and over 30 times in GENESIS 1 alone. EL is the generic Semitic name for “God” or “deity.” EL is one of the oldest designations for deity in the ancient world. The word is found in several Semitic languages such as Akkadian, Phoenician, and South Arabic. Even though the derivation of the word is uncertain, the root meaning is “power and authority”
ELOHIM Is the plural form of EL. When used of YHWH in the old covenant Scriptures, the plural form is singular in meaning. There is one YHWH who is one, yet who is more than one. This does not mean that YHWH is divided – rather it means that YHWH is community.
In the ancient world a name was not merely a label of convenience, but the meaning of the name was often closely related in some way to the one who bore the name. Giving a name to anything or anyone was tantamount to owning or controlling that which was named. Changing a name could signify a promotion to a higher status or a demotion in status. Blotting out or cutting off the name of a person or thing meant that that person or thing was destroyed. The names and the being of YHWH are often used in parallelism with each other, which stresses their essential identity…
ADONAI – ONE REIGNS
About 300 times in the Old Covenant Scriptures. Almost always plural. Refers to YHWH’s ownership and rulership. ADONAI is a title for YHWH that emphasizes his sovereignty; that is “Lord.” ADONAI is basically a title of honour.
Out of respect one might address a superior with this title in the same way that we would say “sir” or “your honour.” It would be used by a subject addressing a king, a wife to her husband, a daughter or son to their father, a slave to his master, a subordinate to his leader. It therefore refers to the one’s position of authority and prestige. But there is a problem…
Old covenant history comes into focus through Jesus. History itself has always pointed to him and his coming into the world. All the names of YHWH have their clearest revealing in Jesus. Jesus is the fulfilment of every name of YHWH…
But, because we are Gentiles looking backwards over two thousand years of new covenant history, we don’t realise how radical Jesus was to the Jews of his day. Because we are Gentiles looking backwards over two thousand years of history, we don’t realise how absolutely astonishing – and indeed how blasphemous – his claims were to the religious leaders of his day.
I am occasionally asked why I refer to God as YHWH and not as ‘Lord’. I answer this question here, and I answer it in depth.
As with all the courses that are detailed on this website, contact me if you want further information.