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The name of God in Hebrew

Let’s say that you are reading the Old Testament and come to Psalms 95:1: “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” Notice anything odd about that verse? The word “LORD” is in all capitals. In fact, “LORD” in all capital letters appears more than 6000 times in the Old Testament. But why?

To find the beginning of the answer we have to travel back to Moses and the Burning Bush. (Exodus 3:1-4:17) Moses sees a light on the side of a mountain and goes to investigate. Once there, God speaks to Moses. God tells Moses he is to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Then—and this is the key to knowing about LORD—Moses asks God for God’s name: God says he should be called “I am.” In Hebrew this is “Yahweh.”

The Israelites had been worshipping God for 500 years (since Abraham) and the whole time that they have been slaves (400 of those years) without knowing God’s name. Finally one of them, Moses, gets to ask God His name. And what does He say? God says: “I am.” Moses was probably thinking, “I am what?” Moses might have been waiting on God to finish the sentence just like you would expect a friend to give you his name. But that was it, "I am." Yet what was God trying to show with that name? Let me give you an example: try to make a sentence with action but do not use the verb “to be.” Examples: I am running, we are eating, they are reading. The verb “to be” is foundational to language. Therefore, in these Bible verses God was showing that He was foundational to existence. [Technically, Yahweh was not a name, but a title that explained the character of God.]

Fast forward to Jesus’ time. By then, the Jews had developed the idea that God’s name was so holy that it could not be uttered. When Jews read from the Tanak (which Christians call the Old Testament) and got to the name of God, “Yahweh,” they would not pronounce “Yahweh” but would instead say “Adonai,” which means “Lord.” This name or title was so special that it was given a technical name: Tetragrammaton.

When the Old Testament was translated into English, the translators continued to signify the holiness of God’s name: when they got to "Yahweh" in the Old Testament Hebrew, they wrote LORD instead. If you look through the Old Testament you will see lots of LORDs, over 6000. In each case, the original Hebrew says “Yahweh” but it is translated “LORD.”

You can actually write Yahweh in Hebrew by using your Bible. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it is also divided into sections of eight verses per section. And each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. [Not every Bible is divided in this way. If yours is not, check a different translation. The NIV and King James are divided this way.] I can spell out the name of God in Hebrew, “Yahweh,” using Psalm 119. This is how it works. I will give the verse and you can look right above that verse and see a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Before we get started let me say these two things: In Hebrew, “Yahweh” only uses four letters, and Hebrew is written from right-to-left (English is from left-to-right). Here we go: look above verse 73 and you will see a Yodh, look over verse 33 and you will see a He, look over verse 41 and you will see a Waw, look over verse 33 again and see the He. So from right-to-left write those letters: Yodh, He, Waw, He. That is Yahweh in Hebrew.

©2007, 2014 Mark Nickens