Saturday, July 21, 2007

Compound names of Jehovah. . .

I want to do a little series, a little study on the names that God has taken for Himself. These names from the Old Testament describe roles that God has taken and wants in our lives. In the New Testament, in the new covenant, in the new contract He took on flesh and the name of Jesus, which the angel said meant, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23) In the Old Testament, in the original contract with the Hebrew people, God gave Himself a dozen different names (I speak here of JEHOVAH and the compound names of JEHOVAH), each one describing a role that he wanted to have in our lives.

Over the next few weeks, I would like to look at each one of these names, figure out what they mean and what are the implications for God's presence in our lives in this role.


This word 'Jehovah' is an English language creation. It is not found anywhere in the original Hebrew. The Hebrew word that we translate as Jehovah comes from " " [apparently Google doesn't allow Hebrew characters]. Hebrew reads from right to left, the opposite of English. In ancient Hebrew only the consonants were written. Vowels were understood from speaking. So the letters from the Hebrew , [same here] would be transliterated into English as YHWH. This is called the tetragrammaton. No one knows for sure what the vowels were. The name of God was considered to be too sacred to speak. The chance of misusing the name of God, thereby breaking the third commandment (Exodus 20:7) was too great to speak it, so the original name, from non-use, has been lost. This name was held in such reverence that it is said that the the scribes when making copies of the Scriptures, would get up and wash and cleanse themselves before writing this name. Different sources vary in the count, but this name appears some 6,000 times in the Old Testament. That's a lot of washing for the scribes.

Moses first asked God, "What is your name? What will I say when they ask me?" (Exodus 3:13) God had just appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Now you can imagine trying to go and tell people (People who probably do not remember you. Moses had been gone from Egypt for 40 years) that you just saw God in a burning bush, "Who are you old man? You're crazy. You saw what?". . . Moses was asking for something that he could give people as proof that he had actually spoken with God.

God replied:

Exodus 3:14-15

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (15) And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

In this case God did not call Himself YHWH. Ancient Hebrew does not have tenses of time as a part of the verb structure of the language. So when God says, "I am that I am" He is also saying, "I was that I was" and "I will be that I will be." He is outside of time. He has always existed in the past. He exists right now and He will always exist in the future. God had already revealed Himself to mankind, but this is a personal encounter with Moses. Moses was seperated from the rest of his people and most likely from the earlier traditions and writings. In this revelation of Himself to Moses, there is no reference to anything else but His existence. His existence is not based upon anything else. Everything is based upon Him. He is not defined by anything else. He defines everything. He is the starting point for it all.

Meditate on that. I am almost overcome as I write this, with the implications of those words. He is the starting point for everything. Nothing is defined outside of him. Nothing means anything without a scale, and a reference point. He is the reference point for everything. If I give you a map, it is useless without a scale (how many miles does one inch represent), longitude, latitude lines and knowing which way is north. God is the scale, the compass, and the lines of reference for everything. Your life, your day, each hour, each thought. . . everything!!! must be measured, they are measured in relation to Him. No sense of anything can be made without His baseline. It is nonsense to try.

The Hebrew language is so rich. It is so richly connected with similar sounding words that give unstated implications to things said. I do not read or speak Hebrew, but it is said that "YHWH" sounds like "I AM THAT I AM" Several chapters after this encounter at the burning bush is the first time that the King James Version uses the word Jehovah alone:

Exodus 6:1-3

Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. (2) And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: (3) And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

In some ways Hebrew is very rich. In other ways it seems rather sparse. As we have noted already no vowels were written in ancient, Hebrew. It also contained no tenses of time for its verbs and it used no punctuation. On the first reading the last part of verse three above seems to make no sense. It is saying that God was not known by the name JEHOVAH to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, but that clearly cannot be. The KJV doesn't use JEHOVAH alone until this verse, but in Genesis 2:4:

Genesis 2:4

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

The word translated 'Lord' here is the same YHWH used so often in the Bible. Given these huge differences between Hebrew and English translation is a terribly difficult task. It is possible that Exodus 6:3 should be translated as: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH, was I not [also] known to them. [?]
Note the comma that I added, the implied 'also' and the question mark.

JEHOVAH, from the Hebrew meaning self-existent and eternal (Strong's Hebrew Dictionary). Self-existent, not depending upon anything else, always existing and never-ending. Ancient peoples believed that an elephant carried the flat plate of the world. The elephant stood on the back of a turtle. When the turtle would shift, an earthquake would occur. We smile, so superior to them. What did the turtle stand on? No matter what your belief system, you eventually have to ask that question, "What does the turtle stand on?" Do you believe in the big bang theory? What happened before the big bang? Where did that first primordial pip of energy come from? What does the turtle stand on?

Science doesn't have a clue. . . . In the beginning God said let there be light. . . He is allowing the light. The light is dependant for its existence upon Him. The turtle stands on Him. Everything stands on God. You cannot jump off. There's no place else to go. . . .
Thank you my God. Thank you my baseline. Thank you my reference point. I measure everything by You. . . .

Dave Stokely

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