Knowing God By His Personal Name YHWH (LORD)
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.
In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this third lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about “Knowing God as YHWH (LORD).”
In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:
- Explain why Moses asked God to give him his name
- Describe God’s three names he revealed to Moses
- Define the meaning of God’s personal name YHWH
- Recognize the Bible’s use of God’s name as LORD
- Illustrate God’s new personal name given by Jesus
- Explain the Scripture’s confession “Jesus is LORD”
Knowing God as LORD
By Steve Childers and John Frame
1. God’s Personal Name is YHWH (LORD)
When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, he reveals more about himself than being the Redeemer and Holy God of Israel. God continues his self- revelation by also telling Moses his names, including his personal name.
God told Moses earlier that his plan to deliver Israel was going to be through him. Moses responded by asking God what seems to be an odd question: In Exodus 3:13 we read, “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
Why would Moses ask God for his name? In the ancient Near East, the names people called their gods always had meaning. A god’s name revealed what their god was like. They needed to know their god’s name in order to understand him, pray to him, worship him, and serve him. By asking for God’s name, Moses is asking God who he is and what he is like. God answers Moses, saying:
“…I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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.’ (Exod 3:14- 15).”
This can be a very confusing answer. One reason is because God refers to himself in the third person voice, as he often does throughout Scripture. Another reason is because God is using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be” for his names. This answer can also be confusing because God reveals three of his names in three difficult Hebrew forms:
The first name of God is in a long Hebrew form in the first part of Exod 3:14 ( “eh- yeh a-ser eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM WHO I AM.”1 The second name of God is a shorter Hebrew form taken from the first (“eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM” at the end of Exod 3:14. And the last name God gives himself is in a very short Hebrew form in verse 15, (YHWH,) often pronounced “Yahweh,” and translated here as “LORD” in all capital letters.
Throughout Scripture, one of the most significant ways God chooses to reveal what he is like is by revealing his many names. Theologians suggest many distinctions between a host of God’s names. But almost all agree that God’s name YHWH, or LORD, is the greatest revelation of God’s name in the Old Testament. This mysterious, personal name of God is meant to point us to God’s very being by using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be.”
Insights into the meaning of YHWH are not found primarily by studying the etymology of the Hebrew term, but more by understanding the historic contexts in which God reveals his personal name. Although Israel’s forefathers knew the name YHWH for God, they could not understand it’s full meaning because Israel had not yet been in captivity to Egypt in need of YHWH’s deliverance as a display of his faithfulness to keep his covenant promises.
Bavinck writes: “From this point on the name YHWH is the description and guarantee of the fact that God is and remains the God of his people, unchanging in his grace and faithfulness.” From this time on God gives a whole new meaning to his ancient name as describing the God who keeps his covenant promises and delivers his people from their captivity (Hos 12:9, 13:4).
God concludes his answer to Moses’ question regarding his name saying, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Exod 3:15). So we should not be surprised to learn that the English name for God, LORD, another Hebrew name, Adon, and the Greek name, Kurios, occur more than 7000 times in the Bible referring to God. Throughout all of history recorded in Scripture, we learn that God acts in the lives of his people so they will know that he is LORD (Exod 6:7).”
2. YHWH (LORD) is Personal
Prior to God’s revelation to Moses of the fullness of his name as YHWH, God was known by more simple, general Hebrew names, like El, Elohim, and El Shaddai. These names emphasized God’s power and might, and that he is high and lifted up. But as YHWH God reveals himself as a personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power. Bavinck writes, “YHWH is the highest revelation of God in the Old Testament. YHWH is God’s real, personal name.”
In the New Testament we learn that God retains many of these names and translates his personal name YHWH as Lord (kurios). But there is a new personal name for God added by Jesus Christ. It is the name “Father,” that indicates God’s astonishing familial relationship with his people. According to Bavinck, “Father” is thus the supreme revelation of God, and since the Father is made known to us by Jesus through the Spirit, the full, abundant revelation of God’s name is now Trinitarian: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
By giving himself a personal name, God is reveals to us that he is a person and not an impersonal force or higher power. The world God created consists of personal and impersonal beings. Humans are personal beings with names. Impersonal beings include things like matter, space, time, motion, energy, the law of gravity, thunderstorms, oranges, and bicycles.
Many today believe that humans are ultimately just impersonal matter that has come into being through a mysterious and random convergence of mass and energy over billions of years, for no apparent reason and for no purpose. But the bible teaches that all matter, space, time, motion, and energy are designed by God to bring glory to his name by revealing his rule as a holy, personal God over the universe he created and sustains to accomplish his purposes.
3. YHWH (LORD) is One
God’s name as LORD also reveals the oneness of His being. Unlike the nature of pagan idols portrayed as multiple beings, the LORD’S personal nature consists of one being. Theologians refer to the oneness of God’s personal being as one substance or one essence.
The affirmation of the LORD’s oneness is at the heart of the ancient confession of God’s people, Jewish and Christian, throughout every generation since the time of Moses:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5).
4. Jesus is LORD!
This fundamental confession of God’s Lordship is a succinct summary of the main message of the whole Bible. The confession of God’s people in the Old Testament was that “God is LORD!” And the good news is that this same fundamental confession of God’s people continues in the New Testament as “Jesus is LORD!”
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