Yahweh (Yah-way) is the name most frequently used for God in the Old Testament occurring 6,823 times. It is first used in Gen. 2:4 attached to the name Elohim (El-oh-heem). In this passage Yahweh creates man from the earth which He has also created. Since the name Yahweh is derived from the Hebrew verb “havah”, meaning “to be or being”, it seems particularly appropriate to use this name to designate the One who brought man into being. Chavah, another word with the same root consonants as havah, can also be associated with this name. It means “to live” or “life” and it is easy to see the deep connection between the two words and how they apply to Yahweh.
While the name Yahweh appears in Scripture throughout Genesis, it is first introduced as God’s personal name in Exodus 3 when Yahweh reveals His plan to save the people of Israel to a frightened and awestruck Moses. Knowing he will need proof that Someone actually sent him to deliver them, Moses asks God for a calling card- His Name. The Lord responds with the classic response, “Tell them ‘I AM Who I AM’ sent you” (Ex. 3:14). In this way the name Yahweh has become synonymous with the God who enjoys revealing Himself to mankind. He wants us to know Him and tells us His name. But when looking over all the Scriptures which contain this name, we learn it carries more weight than simply getting to know God. The name Yahweh is significant in that the passages associated with it also reveal God’s moral and spiritual attributes. These more intimate parts of God’s nature demand a response from us.
Two of God’s greatest attributes are also associated with this name. First His righteousness and second His holiness. Concerning His righteousness, it is Yahweh who places humankind under moral obligation with the warning of punishment if they disobey (Gen. 2:15-17). And in terms of His holiness, it is Yahweh who commands the sacrificial system in order that He might eventually restore the fellowship He once had with us in the Garden (Lev. 1-7 etc.). Pivotal to this concept is Yahweh’s demand that His people should demonstrate the same attributes. Righteousness is achieved through faith (Gen, 15:1-6; Rom. 4:3-5); holiness through keeping the commandments (Lev. 18:4-5; 19:1-2). It is no surprise then that this name is considered to be God’s most sacred name. The penalty of death was issued for profaning it (Lev. 24:16) so to this day it is never read aloud (even in synagogues) nor spoken in conversation. The name Adonai is often substituted for it or “The Name” spoken in its place and when it was written in manuscripts the vowels for Adonai are placed under the consonants for Yahweh, thus the original pronunciation of it has been lost. All this points to the unique and exquisite value of this name yet is one we often toss off our lips without any regard.
It is the righteousness of Yahweh against which we sin and whose holiness is violated when we do. So it is Yahweh who both pronounces and metes out judgment. He expels Adam and Eve from the Garden, sends the flood to eradicate the stench of sin from the earth while rescuing Noah and his family, judges Sodom and Gomorah for their disgusting way of life, dictates the moral code to Moses on Mount Sinai and while it is not spelled out directly, we know it is Yahweh who places the sin of humankind upon His Son on the cross ( ). While it is culturally more acceptable to dwell on how “God is love”, and recognize His grief and sorrow over our fallen condition (Hos. 11:1, 8-9), how often do we remember the essence of this name and the great attributes it signifies? Is it possible for us to fully understand it? I’m not sure. We are finite; Yahweh is infinite. But knowing how this name is attached to His unique character should compel us to treat it as a great treasure.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 8/7/2016