This is God’s most sacred name, and it appears more than 6,800 times in the Old Testament. It first appears in Genesis 2:4 together with Elohim.
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”
You can see “LORD” is the translation of Yahweh and “God” is the translation for Elohim. While it is easily seen throughout Genesis, God reveals His special, personal name in a unique way to His people in Exodus.
Ancient Hebrew was written without the vowels. This special name for God was written in Hebrew with the consonants YHWH, or in German translations JHVH. For this reason, older translations of the Hebrew text translate this name as Jehovah, but I will use the translation Yahweh. For more on why, check out Yahweh or Jehovah?
The Name Revealed
This was the special name of God revealed to the greatest prophet of the Old Testament as he wandered deep in the wilderness. As he wandered, he came to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God and was perplexed by the strange sight of a bush on fire but not burning up. He decided to go and see why this was, and He was met by God speaking to him. God revealed “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” and Moses hid his face in fear (Exodus 3:6). God revealed his love and concern for His people and His amazing plan of deliverance. He called Moses to his vital role in that process and promised His presence and Moses’ success. And in that moment, Moses asked,
“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?
In this moment, God reveals His name to Moses. You might remember from that names reveal the core of one’s being- their very nature.
“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob- has sent me to you.’
‘This is my name forever,
The name you shall call me
From generation to generation”
You can see the importance of this name from this passage alone.
Why is the name Yahweh so special?
Did you catch it?
Yahweh is God’s personal name
It uniquely expresses His personality and Person. Speakers of Hebrew may use the word “the” with Elohim, calling God “the true Supreme,” “the only God,” and contrasting Him with other false gods. However, they would never say, “the Yahweh,” just as no one would call me, “the Angela.” Angela is my name, so depending on what time in my life you might have met me, you may address me as Angela or Angie, but never with “the” in front, unless you were being outlandishly silly.
You could say He is “the Elohim of Israel” or “the Elohim of the Church,” for He is “the God of Israel,” “the God of the Church.” But, you would never say He is “the Yahweh of Israel” or “the Yahweh of the Church.”
Yahweh is His name.
What Does Yahweh mean?
Eternal, Unchangeable, Self-Existant
God’s special name calls to mind the reality that He is the only eternal, unchangeable self-existent One. He is the only Being that in and of Himself possesses life- permanent life. This can be seen in the words it is derived from/related to.
The word Yahweh is related to the verbs:
- Havah- “to be” or “being”
- Chavah- to live” or “life”
He is the One who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:8).
While the name was used as early as Genesis 2, we see God revealing Himself to Moses in Exodus with a deeper sense of this special name. Here, the personal, ever-living, unchanging God is showing up faithful. He is a covenant-keeping God, remaining true to His promises throughout the generations of God’s covenant people.
God of Revelation
The name Yahweh carries the significance that He is the One who personally reveals Himself to His people. Nathan Stone speaks of this in Names of God,
“Elohim is the general name of God concerned with the creation and preservation of the world, that is, His works. As Jehovah (Yahweh), He is the God of revelation in the expression of Himself in His essential moral and spiritual aspects.” p.37
Relating, Righteous, Holy, Loving, Redeeming
Elohim and Yahweh are used for different purposes throughout the Old Testament. After speaking of Elohim throughout the creation narrative, we see in Genesis 2:4, the first use of Yahweh. Until then, the creation and preservation of the world in general was being spoken of. Here in Genesis 2:4-7, we see Yahweh creating man in His own image. Yahweh shows His special relationship, His special communion with His image-bearers.
He created man in His image, “…created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). Throughout Scripture, Yahweh is used in revelation of God as holy and righteous and the One who will punish sin.
Also throughout Scripture, Yahweh is the name used in revelation of God’s love and desire to restore fellowship with man. For example, when God outlines the sacrificial system as a means of restoring fellowship with Himself (Leviticus 1-7), Yahweh is used 86 times, while Elohim is only used once in conjunction with the name Yahweh. In the account of Noah, Elohim is used when speaking of the animals that came two by two for preservation, but Yahweh is used to account for the animals that came in seven pairs- the ones used for sacrifice.
You can see in Exodus 34:5-7 covenant-keeping, righteous Yahweh revealing Himself to Moses as just to punish sin yet bent on love and restoration of His people.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
The name Yahweh is rich and deep, carrying with it the history of God’s covenant-keeping, holy and just, redemption-bent relationship with His image-bearers. He is the eternal, unchangeable One who is and was and is to come. The One who reveals Himself to His people, whose holiness reveals their need of Him, and who personally makes it possible for them to come to Him.
Jesus Calls Himself I AM
Later, when the prophet like Moses spoken of in Deuteronomy 34:10 and longed for throughout the Old Testament, finally arrived, He referred to Himself as ‘I AM’ By this special name to clearly show who He was. As you might recall, when Jesus did this, people were so angry that He was assuming God’s special name that they picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:56-59)
How Can I Recognize When Yahweh is Used in the Bible?
Most translations will write Yahweh with the word LORD in all capital letters. If you see Lord in sentence case, then, you know it is a translation of Adonai or Elohim.
The Strong’s Reference for Yahweh is H3068
For a complete list of the use of this name in the Bible, click here.
Reflect on Yahweh
As you spend time with God this week, consider the reality that He is:
- Righteous and Holy
- Just to punish sin
- Loving to make a way for us to be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with Him
Search through the places in the Bible where this name is found, and consider the depth of this name in the context of the verses.
Pray to and Praise Yahweh
You are. You always have been. You always will be. You never change. You created people in your image and in relationship with You, and you have given the ultimate sacrifice to make a way for that relationship to be restored.
You are holy. You are righteous. You punish all sin.
You are love. You bore your own punishment for all who would put their confidence in You for forgiveness.
I delight in Your desire for a real, personal relationship with me. I fear your holiness and hate my sin that separates me from You. Forgive all my sin. Enable me to walk in Your holiness, in Your righteousness, and in communion with You each day.
May Psalm 89:15-16 be true of me,
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
16 They rejoice in your name all day long;
they celebrate your righteousness.
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