The Sacred Name of God (Week 13, Part 6/7) Exodus 1–6 | Mar 21 – Mar 27 – powered by Happy Scribe
The name of God is treated differently from all other words in the Hebrew Bible because the name of God is extremely sacred. In Exodus Six, the Lord dramatically revealed his name to Moses. He said, I am the Lord, and I appeared unto Abraham them unto Isaac and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty. But by my name Jehovah was I not known to them. In this passage, the word Lord and Jehovah are both represented by the same Hebrew word.
The four Hebrew characters yodhevhe represent the sacred name of Israel’s God. These characters are sometimes pronounced as Yahweh, it’s sometimes Anglocized as Jehovah, and it’s often represented in our English Scriptures by the word Lord in all capitals. This name is not only treated differently on paper, but it’s also treated differently in practice. The Ten Commandments forbade taking this name in vain, and it’s led Jews over the years to avoid pronouncing this name out of respect. When Jews today come across this sacred word in scripture, they’ll often skip over it and verbally replace it with the word Adonai, which means Lord.
According to later Jewish traditions, one of the most sacred moments of ancient Israel was when the high priest pronounced God’s Holy name on the day of Atonement. Now we’re not 100% sure what the original meaning of the Hebrew word Yahweh is, but in Exodus Three, the Lord connected his name with being or existing. And God said unto Moses, I am that I am. And he said, Thou shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am hath sent me unto you. And God, Moreover, said unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God Yahweh Elohim of your father’s, 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 Hebrew, the Hebrew verb Haiya means to exist, become be, or come to pass. So it’s possible that the word Yahweh is connected to the word to be as a way of expressing how God is the one who is he’s eternal existence and lifegiving. The name of God is sacred partly because God’s name has power. In antiquity, it was believed that some gods had hidden or secret names apart from their given names.
Knowing someone’s hidden name could grant certain power over that individual. A famous example comes from the Egyptian myth of ISIS and RA. In this myth, the God RA was bitten by a snake, and in his intense pain he called the gods together to seek help. The goddess Isaac offered to heal RA of the poisonous bite, but she can only do it if RA gave her his true name. Isa said to RA, Tell me your name, my divine father.
A man lives when called by his name. Ra explained, My father and my mother told me my name, and I hid it from my children and my body to prevent it happening that a male or female magician strike against me. After some negotiating, Raw relented and gave his true hidden name to Isaac, who was then able to rebuke the poison and heal Raw of his fatal ailment. While the gods of the Egyptian pantheon were very protective of their names and never gave them out to anyone, the God of Israel is a little different. He freely offered his true name to the children of Israel, but under very strict conditions they were to reference it, keep it sacred, and not take the name in vain.
God gave his name to Moses at a critical moment in the Exodus story. At the burning Bush in existence three God gave his name to reassure Moses of his insecurities. And then again in Exodus six. After Moses once more expressed doubt and uncertainty about his ability to accomplish the mission, the Lord strengthened Moses by revealing his name. It was a symbol of God’s power and confidence in Moses.
God giving his name to Israel was also a sign of the Covenant that he would make with them. He promised that he would be Israel’s God and they would be his people. I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God. And Ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Knowing God’s name brings his children into a closer relationship with him.
God’s children can become like him as they take upon themselves His Holy name and sacred ordinances. In the new Testament, during the last supper, Jesus revealed God’s sacred name to the disciples to bring them into full unity with God. I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me out of the world. And I have declared unto them thy name and will declare it that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them. The sacred knowledge of God’s name can strengthen us and give us power through hard times.
It brings us into a closer relationship with God, and it can ultimately help us to become more like him.