Pronouncing YHVH: Calling on the Name of the Lord
In the Hebrew Bible, God reveals His name to Israel as YHVH over 6,700 times. Wouldn’t it seem then that He wants His people to address Him by His name? Can we really know how to pronounce His name or does He want His name to remain a mystery? Did God give His name to Moses but intend it to be too holy to utter as the rabbis say it is? If so, why would He tell us over and over to call upon His name? When God repeatedly identifies Himself by His name of YHVH, didn’t He mean for us to know Him by that name?
Yeshua said, “Whatever you ask in My name….” (John 14:13). We consider His name the key to approaching His Father, to any authority He gave to us in many capacities, including prayer and intercession, and banishing demons or evil forces. We ourselves have no power on our own. The authority and power is in Yeshua’s name. Pretty much everything we do in Christianity is “in His name.” If Yeshua’s name is so important, could using His Father’s name be any less important? A big question makes itself known here: How much have we as believers, or as Israel, not availed ourselves of from Him because we’ve been deceived into thinking the Name of YHVH was off limits and too holy to be spoken? How can you call upon His name if you’ve rendered it unspeakable? If His name was not to be used, why would Scripture promise, “As for me, I shall call upon God (Elohim) and the LORD (YHVH) will save me” (Psalm 55:16).
He is not a tease. He means for His people to know His name. We have been robbed of this very significant aspect of our relationship with the Almighty through not having access to His name. There can be only one despot behind that, the one who distorted the Word of God to Eve in the Garden of Eden, robbing her and Adam of the security and perfection God created them for. Anywhere there is a loss of trusting in God’s goodness or holiness to His people, it is because of a distortion or misunderstanding of His Word and just as surely, satan is behind it! Certainly God didn’t do that. But now, God seems to be rectifying this situation as His name is being restored to His people — perhaps in preparation for Yeshua’s return.
I was recently given a wonderful gift of a Bible in English and Hebrew on facing pages. I know just enough Hebrew to have found more places than I am comfortable with where the English seems to be saying something the Hebrew does not. The most significant is the use of YHVH, which in English is translated as LORD, in all capital letters. In Hebrew it never says LORD at all, only YHVH. In another translation, the name of God follows the Jewish tradition, out of fear of violating the sacred name of God, and never even uses the four letters indicating God’s name, but always refers to YHVH as HaShem, which means The Name. Religious Jews never speak the name of God or even use the letters, but say The Name or HaShem instead. (Ha means the in Hebrew.) The only person through the generations who supposedly knew how to say His name was the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who would utter it ten times on only one day of the year on Yom Kippur. When Orthodox Jews write the word “God” in English, for the same reason of fear of breaking the third commandment and violating The Name, it is written as G-d. In my Hebrew-English Bible, in one instance, the English says, “Call on the name of the LORD” but the Hebrew says “Call on the name of YHVH”. If it were to use The Name in place of YHVH as many Jews do, it would say, “Call on the name of The Name” which makes no sense whatsoever and leaves one wondering what name we should call upon. Surely He didn’t intend all this confusion.
|…they all call Him YeHoVah, pronounced more like Y’HoVAH…|
All this put me on a search. To begin with, the following two statements by the Almighty are pretty clear: “I am YHVH that is my name” (Isaiah 42:8) and “I am YHVH I do not change” (Malachi 3:6) Note: The Hebrew does not use commas, or capital letters either, for that matter. Having established His name is unchangeably YHVH, I did some study in Hebrew which I will not go into here because you probably don’t want a grammar lesson in Hebrew, but from the construction of the root consonants, vowel placement would make the letters YHVH say, YeHoVaH. I checked with some Israeli believers and found that they all call Him YeHoVah, pronounced more like Y’HoVAH, in such a way that the Ho is slid over so quickly making it almost a whisper with the accent on the last syllable. It really isn’t the mystery it has been made out to be. Hebrew grammar and word construction makes it very clear. Since vowels in Hebrew are generally points or marks rather than actually letters, Hebrew is often written without the vowels and one knows what the word is from the context. So it is still written in Hebrew as YHVH but said as Yehovah. In writing here, I will use them interchangeably.
When I’m reading Scripture and I come across LORD, I now read it as Yehovah, just as when I come across J-e-s-u-s I usually read it as Yeshua. Note: Yehovah is not related to Jehovah because there is no “J” in Hebrew, it can’t be Yahweh as there is no “w” in Hebrew, and it can’t be Yahveh because Hebrew word structure requires a vowel between the middle consonants.
We do live in the period of restoration which is proof that we are living in a time of Yeshua’s return based on Peter’s prophetic words at Pentecost: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Yeshua the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:19-21, my emphasis). That more Jewish people are repenting and coming to know Yeshua than in the last 1900 years is a sign of His coming, as is the restoration of the Hebrew roots of our faith, a respect for Torah, the Feasts, the Shabbat and probably most of all, the name of the Mighty One of Israel, Yehovah. Now that is Good News!!
I continued my search by studying the word “name” which in Hebrew is the word Shem. Yahovah not only told us His own name, He gave names to His creation and He had Adam name the animals which appears to have been in categories and species, indicating that names reveal identity and characteristics and in the case of Adam naming Eve, her purpose and destiny of being the “mother” of all who would come after her. Names come from God and names are significant to the order of the universe and to relationships and purpose. That most assuredly would begin with His own name as the foundation to all other names. Perhaps this is the reason for making this statement about names: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:14-16, my emphasis).
The first scriptural account of calling on the name of the Lord can be found as early as Genesis 3, with the third generation of mankind. “And to Seth, to him (Adam) also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). When you see “Lord” in lower case letters like this, the word it is translating is Adonai, which in Hebrew does mean Lord. LORD in caps, as said above, is the translation of YHVH. But Adonai or Lord is a title, not a name. It would appear that they knew the name of Adonai because they called upon His name though what that name is, was not said in the verse. Furthermore, when you see the word “God” in our English translations, the Hebrew is Elohim which means “mighty ones” and can refer to angels and judges as well as God. That during the days of Seth’s son Enosh men began to call upon the name of Adonai indicates that it was unique to look to Him for help. But these men in particular seemed to realize their need for Adonai where others did not.
In Hebrew, the name which Seth named his son, “Enosh,” is quite meaningful. It means “frail” or “mortal.” Perhaps, other than Abel dying at Cain’s hand, they were beginning to see men die and realized they would not live forever, that there was a limit to their life span. They may not have realized that before as people lived up to 900+ years in those days. Long time! Then, for whatever reason, they realized they were in fact mortal. This could have been a shocking reality to them. In realizing their inherent weakness, men begin to call upon the name of Adonai and Seth named his son Enosh in acknowledgement that man are weak, frail, and mortal. Contrary to the ways of the world which is to seek success and strength within yourself, it is often the first step to wisdom to know your own weakness, mortality and need for God. It is Seth’s lineage that the entire story of the Bible unfolds.
Let’s fast forward to one of Noah’s sons, whom he named Shem. All Hebrew names, as we know, have meaning to them which relate to the person’s character or destiny, which is why God sometimes changed the name of a person when He was altering their lives, such as with Abram becoming Abraham, and Jacob becoming Israel. Without going into the events that went on between Noah and his three sons subsequent to the flood (see Genesis 9:18-28), Noah blessed Shem above his brothers, spoke a destiny over Japeth (Yaafet in Hebrew) that he would dwell in the tents of Shem, but cursed Canaan, the son of Ham for what Ham did to dishonor his father, Noah. It was one of those ‘reap what you sow’ situations: Ham dishonored his father (Noah) so Ham would know what it is to have his own son be a dishonor to him.
When we get to Genesis 11, to the tower of Babel incident, the motivation of those people was to “build a tower whose top is in the heavens.” Was that to get to God or to become as gods with power of their own? Their next statement gives us some clue: “…let us make a name (a shem!) for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (:11:4). It sounds like two things to me: 1) They feared the vulnerability of being scattered on the earth as Cain was when God made him a fugitive on the earth for killing his brother (Genesis 4:10-15); 2) They want a name for themselves thinking it would protect them and take them out from under the curse of Ham. It’s as if they are saying, “We want the same blessings as Shem; we want to be the most favored; we want to make ourselves like Shem, to out-do the blessings Noah gave to Shem. Why? Because all descendants of Ham, which they were, were to serve the descendants of Shem and they resented it. So we see that names are very significant to convey not only the person’s identity but names often represent destiny, as well as relationship with others, and character and moral integrity. It may be meaningful to you to find out what your name means, including in Hebrew if possible. Now, on to more on the name of God.
Jewish sages say the four letters YHVH represent, “Hayah Hoveh Yiyeh – He was, He is, He will be.” We are more familiar with what God told Moses when he asked His name: “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (EX. 3:13, 14). Yahovah answered, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – I am that I am” which also carries the sense of “ I will be what I will be,” These words indicate a connection between the name YHVH and being itself and convey that He is the source of all being. Everything that exists is contingent upon its existence from Him. The name represents the absolute transcendence of Yehovah above all else. He is the source and foundation of all that was, is, and will be. The Jewish sages say that where He is called YHVH, He is extending mercy to His creation.
Elohim is the Hebrew word translated as God and refers to the creator of the universe (Gen. 1:1ff). The compound name YHVH Elohim is translated into English as LORD God. Elohim reveals His strength and power in the ultimate sense, YHVH relationship. It is YHVH Elohim who breathes life into Adam as both the all powerful Creator and the One who would relate to Adam personally. The name also has to do with justice. The name Yehovah is used by God only for those in relationship with Him. Never does He reveal Himself as YHVH to his enemies. Satan never calls Him Lord in our English translations or YHVH in the Hebrew as he has no personal relationship with Him – he is in fact Yehovah’s enemy. The use of YHVH indicates His closeness to His people and satan is certainly exempt from that.
|Translating from English to Hebrew: LORD = Yehovah (YHVH),
Lord = Adonai,
and God = Elohim.
It is the third commandment that the Jewish sages and rabbis feared violating that resulted in His name being hidden. In the third commandment that Yehovah gave to Moses our English bibles say, “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Ex. 20:3). At least their intentions were honorable – a case of zeal without knowledge perhaps. Well, what does “in vain” mean to you? Don’t use it as a curse? That’s what I’ve always thought it meant. And how do you “take” a name in vain? Let’s look at it in the Hebrew and see what it really says. “In vain” is taken from the Hebrew word l’shav which means false, in vain, useless, followed by no good result, without result or success. For example, “Unless the LORD (Yehovah) builds the house, They labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1); “You shall not raise a false report” (Ex. 23:1); “Neither shall you bear a false witness (Deut. 5:20). We can see that any of these things would result in no good or any success.
The word “take” is translated from tisah which is the verb to do or to make, as in make a sacrifice, make peace, make war, to execute justice. It has many meanings but the translators have chosen “take” as in “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” The sentence in Hebrew says: “Lo tisah et Shem YHVH Eloheicha l’shav,” which in English literally says, Don’t make the name (of) YHVH your God false or useless, or so that it results in no good or success.” If using His name brings true success and good, then not having access to it, would make it as good as useless. What is false is that the name is not available to us. It has been rendered as false, therefore, to us, because we cannot use it as it was meant to be used to reach Him. It makes me wonder are there whole new dimensions to relationship with the Father we’ve yet to experience through speaking His name back to Him?
Psalm 139:20 says, “…Your enemies take Your name in vain.” The name YHVH isn’t a matter of correct pronunciation, but of being true followers who speak His name from their hearts as they would someone they love dearly and greatly respect, like how we believers speak the name of Yeshua or Jesus that is so precious to us. To speak Yehovah’s name back to Him is to have good results and success in what we are looking to Him for. But having His name hidden from us, rendered it useless or of no value to us. If we don’t know something, it is useless to us, right? So also with the name of YHVH. Consider if we did not have the name of Yeshua, of Jesus, what a profound difference it would make in our lives as believers. Would we be relatively powerless without His name? We can say “the Lord” but the Hindus call Krishna lord also. The Beatles even wrote a song to that effect. Remember “My Sweet Lord”? That was Krishna they were singing about. Lord is a title that can apply to other ‘lords’ than ours. But there is only one Yehovah!
In the days we are living in, many of us are praying for revival in our countries. We are seeking God for Him to turn our nations back to Him. Perhaps we have a key here to revival for YHVH has said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron 2:20). Beseeching someone for something very significant, to the degree you know them personally, your petition to them is likely to be granted. Speaking to Yehovah by the name He has given to us of Himself is likely to bring the results we seek, as well as in knowing Him beyond what we have known of Him till now, for He said, “’…Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made…. You are My witnesses,’ declares the Yehovah, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no Elohim formed, and there will be none after Me.” (Isaiah 43:7, 10).
While you’re reading through your Bible, look for places which has LORD in caps for a new insight. See of it doesn’t give a greater meaning to the verses and a greater sense of Him personally, and His involvement and caring for you personally as well. For instance, “Then Yehovah said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, ‘Thus says Yehovah, the Elohim of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex. 9:1). And an end time prophesy such as this one is perhaps being made a reality even today: “My holy name I will make known in the midst of My people Israel; and I will not let My holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations will know that I am the Yehovah, the Holy One in Israel” (Ezekiel 39:7), to which I say a hearty, Amen!
I will end this study with the Aaronic Benediction, said correctly: “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: Yehovah (will) bless you, and keep you; Yehovah (will) make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; Yehovah (will) lift up His countenance on you, and give you shalom.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them” (Numbers 6:23-27 my emphasis). (Shalom means well-being in every aspect of our life.) To this blessing we say, Amen and Amen.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2016.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.