I have a hard time remembering names.
Not like, in the sense that I have to sift through a list of the names of everyone I know before I can put the right one to the face in front of me, but in the sense that if I am introduced to you and your name isn’t somehow striking at the moment, or I don’t intentionally repeat it back to myself a few times, I may not remember it later. And let me tell you something; if you want to speak directly to one specific person in a group, or get their attention, it can be a little difficult and a lot embarrassing if you can’t remember their name! And let me ask you something: how well would you feel I knew you if I couldn’t remember your name?
A while back I had an indirect encounter with someone. It was this lady packing a 1911 King James Bible who, while ranting about how much the Bible has been changed, added the statement that God’s name isn’t LORD God–that this is only his title–but his name is Elohim. Since it wasn’t really my conversation I just smiled from the sidelines because I was pretty sure the Hebrew didn’t check out on that statement.
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
This is Genesis 1:1 – אֱלֹהִים is the word ‘elohiym (transliterated) which of course we derive to Elohim. This word is literally the plural form of אֱלוֹהַּ (elowahh) which is simply defined by Strongs (H433) as a deity. God. Or god. Elohim is our first introduction to “God”, but while this title can tell us some interesting things about the being that is elohim–the plural use for instance hinting to the triune Father, Son and Spirit–the original word itself is not a proper noun – elohim is not God’s name.
Interestingly, the entire first chapter of Genesis uses only Elohim to denote God; this title is of course where we get our translation “God” and it is used frequently in the Bible in the same way, but in Genesis 2 we see a word added to the title: Jehovah.
Genesis 2:4 begins a new narrative – it’s almost like an alternative creation story to Genesis 1:
אֵלֶּה תֹולְדֹות הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָם בְּיֹום עֲשֹׂות יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם׃
“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”
יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים Yĕhovah ‘elohiym, or Jehovah Elohim. From this point on in the chapter he is Jehovah, “the existing One”, the “self-Existent or Eternal”. The root which Jehovah is derived from is a being verb; simply, to be; to exist, but it is also used in the creation account every time God creates–to come into existence.
“I am.” Jehovah. The living, eternal present God.
“But wait a minute,” you might say, “I thought ‘LORD God’ was just a title?”
According to the entry in Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, here’s what would happen when a Hebrew would encounter the name Yĕhovah; below it would be written אֲדֹנָי ‘Adonay, which simply means ‘lord’ (but plural in reference to God):
“The Later Hebrews, for some centuries before the time of Christ, either misled by a false interpretation of certain laws (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 24:11), or else following some old superstition, regarded this name as so very holy, that it might not even be pronounced”
-Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, יְהוָה
Therefore they would write ‘Jehovah’, but they would read the inserted ‘Adonai’, and when the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Bible) was being written the translators carried on the trend, translating ‘Jehovah’ to the Greek-equivalent of ‘Adonai’. This apparently carried down then to our English versions where you see ‘Jehovah’ translated ‘LORD’ even though ‘Jehovah’ is considered God’s proper name.
Now before the torches and pitchforks come out, let me make a note on pronunciation: ‘Jehovah’ and ‘Yahweh’ are alternative pronunciations of the four letters transliterated as YHWH–God’s proper name. In actuality the pronunciation isn’t known for certain any more because of that period of time which the Jews stopped saying the actual name itself, substituting Adonai.
And then there’s Jesus.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Jesus is a totally new story because his name was Hebrew but the gospels where we find it were translated from Greek, which means that the name Jesus was only the Greek equivalent to the originally-Hebrew name Joshua–or rather Yĕhowshuwa` in the original language. Yeah; you didn’t know you were saying all these names wrong, did you? But there are actually many differences–some quite extreme–in our English pronunciations of Hebrew names.
Yehowshuwa means “Jehovah is salvation”.
Another encounter I found myself in the near vicinity of was a discussion on the name of Jesus and the statement was that Yeshua is Jesus’ proper Hebrew name, but it is interesting to note that Yeshua is a contracted form of the Yehowshua which is actually its root–not the other way around. But further, Yeshua means “he is saved” and is translated into English as Jeshua–also referring to Joshua son of Nun. So in actuality not even Yeshua is proper to the name Jehovah gave his son, but rather, Yehowshua.
I grew up thinking that people who used “God” or “Jesus” as a flippant exclamatory were so bad; I mean how dare you use the ‘name’ of God as a swear word? But the reality is I’ve come to this place where every time I say ‘God’ it just feels so weird to refer to Papa by such a generic title, you know? I mean, yes he’s God–the God–but that’s only what he is, not who.
He is Jehovah (Yahweh) the Living God, “I Am;” El Shaddai, God Almighty; El Elyon, the Most High God; YHWH-Nissi, Jehovah My Banner; YHWH-Raah, Jehovah My Shepherd; YHWH Rapha, Jehovah Who Heals; YHWH Shammah, Jehovah is There (in reference to Jerusalem); YHWH Tsidkenu, Jehovah Our Righteousness; YHWH Mekoddishkem, Jehovah Who Sanctifies You; El Olam, the Everlasting God; Qanna, Jealous; YHWH Jireh, Jehovah will Provide; YHWH Shalom, Jehovah is Peace; YHWH Sabaoth, Jehovah of Hosts. (And by the way, this is by no means an exhaustive list.)
And He is my Father–Papa–even ‘Father’ begins to sound too withheld.
So let me ask you something. Do you call him Abba–Papa? Or do you call him ‘God’? Because how you answer that question will tell you something about who your God is, and who you are to him, and it could be a real conversation-changer if you get to know Him by name. The gospel is all about the personality of God in community with us – Emmanuel, God with Us – He’s personal. So before you get caught up in the name controversy I’m sure could spring from my brief word study here, just ask him. Ask him what his name is. Ask him what would overwhelm his heart with joy to hear you call him. And then, call his name.