The Name of God

Since I have been posting pictures of my journaling Bible online, various people have asked me about my use of the name Yahweh instead of God or The Lord. I’m going to answer a compilation of those questions here. 

Where does the name Yahweh come from?

Exodus 3:13-14 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?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 

Yahweh is the Hebrew word for I Am

Why use this name?

I visited a church once that used the name Yahweh for God. I thought this was strange and imagined they thought that they had better access to God by using a different name for Him. Maybe they even thought they were holier than me. I didn’t see anything wrong with God or The Lord

Then I started working in home health care. One of the rules was that I was not ever allowed to mention the name of my client to my family, due to privacy laws. So I started saying “that lady” or SHE or HER or “that lady I work for.” It put a distance between her and I, and although I’ve been with her for over six months now, my habit of not being able to mention her name has rubbed off on the time I’m at work with her, and I think I’ve only called her by name once or twice. Even though I spend three hours a day at her house, not being able to use her name creates a formality in our relationship. 

What does that have to do with using the name of God? If you look into it, God and The Lord aren’t names. They are titles. A god is something that is worshipped. And lord is a title used in the nobility even today. Using titles and never using names puts a distance in your relationship with Yahweh that you might not have even realized was there. I wouldn’t want my best friend to never call me anything but Ma’am

Isn’t the name of God too holy to use?

I’ve heard this question a lot. In fact, it’s the reason our Bibles are translated the way they are, with Yahweh replaced by God or The Lord

I wondered the same thing, until I read a little farther on in Exodus. 

Exodus 3:15 – God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘Yahweh, 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.

So is the true name of God too holy to use? Maybe. But He didn’t tell us this was His actual name. He said it was what we should call Him. 

My kids went through a phase where they wanted to call me by my first name. Everyone else got to call me Lisa, why shouldn’t they? I still remember what I told them. “You guys are special to me. You are my kids. Of all the people in the world, there’s only two that get to call me Mommy. That’s the two of you.”

So when Yahweh gave us a name to call Him from generation to generation, it implies a relationship. Just as the names Mom, Grandma, Dad, Uncle, Son imply relationships, Yahweh has given us this name to call Him because he has a special relationship with us. I don’t believe it is His real and only name, but we are special because we get to call Him that. 

Do you use a special Bible?

No, I don’t. I usually use the ESV Bible. But wherever the name GOD or LORD is written like that, all in capital letters, that signifies that the original Hebrew text reads Yahweh. Many other versions of the Bible use the same replacement words and the same capitalization to show where the substitution occurs. 

What benefits come from paying attention to God’s name?

Besides the significance of a relationship, and the closeness that comes from using a name instead of a title, reading the Bible while paying attention to the name of God leads to new insights. I’ve loved reading the stories that I’ve known since childhood like this and discovering new things. 

One example: the story of Ahab and Naboth’s Vineyard. 

1 Kings 21:1-14

Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “Yahweh forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, You have cursed god and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed god and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

When I read this story before, I always thought it was mean of Jezebel to have false accusations brought against Naboth. However, after reading this story keeping the name of Yahweh in mind, I saw a different facet to the story. Naboth refused to sell his land because Yahweh had commanded them not to sell their inheritance. However, Jezebel was not a follower of Yahweh. Her god was Baal. So her accusations that Naboth, a follower of Yahweh, cursed a god, may well have referenced Baal. And Naboth might have done this very thing since he was loyal to Yahweh. This now becomes a story of martyrdom instead of false accusations. 

I’ve reread many other well-known stories and discovered similar nuggets. Do I think it’s necessary to do this? No, but it is fascinating. 

Have you turned into one of those weirdos that will frown on me if I say God in front of you?

Definitely not. In fact, when conversing with most other Christians I still say God. It’s more familiar to them to say that. And I truly don’t think your salvation depends on what you decide to call God – or Yahweh – or your Heavenly Father – or Jehovah – or The Lord God. But it’s added a new dimension to my spiritual life that I like. 

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God of the Unexpected

I have decided that God is the Author of the unexpected. When God tells you how to do something, you might as well do it, even if you have no idea how it will work.

The Battle of Jericho

In Joshua 6 we can read of the battle of Jericho. The Israelites had been wandering through the wilderness for 40 years, and they were psyched to finally see some action. The first big city they came to was Jericho. So the warriors started polishing their shields and sharpening their swords.

And God said, “Hold on a minute. I’ve got an idea.”

“Cool,” the Israelites said. “You got some new moves we can try out.”

“Sure do,” said God. “For starters, you can get your swords and shields ready, but don’t worry about getting them messy because you’ll just be carrying them for decoration.”

“What? That’s insane! Are you just gonna zap them from the sky?”

“No, you are going to conquer the city. And this is how you’re gonna do it. For six days you are going to march around the city. Don’t say a word, just march. On the seventh day you are going to march seven times. Then you are going to yell really, really loud and the walls will fall down.”

“That’s not possible. And we will look silly just wearing all our armor and walking around the city every day.”

“Do you want to conquer this city or not?”

“Well, yes.”

“Then do it the way I told you to. And after the walls finally fall down, you’ll get to use your swords to kill the people inside.”

So the Israelites did as God told them, and the city of Jericho was demolished. They may have felt a bit stupid all dressed up and doing nothing but marching around, but they got what they desired in the end.

The Blind Man

In John 9 we read another interesting story, this time about a man that had been blind from birth. Jesus was walking along the road with his disciples, who started talking about the poor man like he wasn’t even there.

“Hey, Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents?” they asked. “Somebody had to have done something for him to be born blind.”

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, sparing them the lecture on the impossibility of the man sinning before he was even born. “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

“Huh?”

Jesus didn’t say anything else. Instead, he bent down and spit on the dust.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked the disciples.

“Hold on,” Jesus said. “I’ve got an idea.”

The blind man sat nearby and silently listened.

Jesus started stirring up the spit, and spitting some more, until he had a good bit of mud. Unexpectedly the blind man felt a warm wet ickyness spread across his eyelids. Inwardly cringing, the man lifted up the sleeve of his robe to wipe off his face. Just another joke at the expense of a blind man. He ought to be used to them by now, he’d been living with them all his life.

“Wait,” Jesus said, and there was such power in his voice that the blind man froze, his arm suspended in the air. “You need to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash that off.”

Maybe because of the tone of voice Jesus used, maybe because of the rumors he had heard about this man called Jesus, and maybe because he couldn’t wait to get away from the disciples which were now snickering in the background, the man turned and ran toward the pool. As he ran, avoiding obstacles along the way, he tried not to let himself hope. But at this point any chance was worth taking.

As he dipped his hand into the pool and wiped the mud away from his eyes, new sensations began to flood his body. How do you explain colors to someone who has lived their life in darkness? How do you explain the dimension of sight to someone who has used their fingertips for eyes? The blind man was flooded with light, and discovered that vision was way better than he had ever imagined.

It was well worth the humiliation of the spit, the snickering disciples, and the foolishness of the errand to wash at a certain pool.

Peter and the Fish

The last example I’m going to use is found in Matthew 17. There was a knock at the door. Peter went to answer it.

“Yes,” Peter said, surveying the well dressed men waiting outside.

“We are collecting the temple tax,” they informed him. “Doesn’t your Master pay it?”

“He sure does,” Peter said quickly, not wanting anything to tarnish Jesus’ reputation. “Be right back.”

Peter ran back into the house. “Hey, Jesus,” he called, “some men are here collecting the temple tax.You got it?”

“What do you think, Peter?” Jesus asked. “Do kings collect duty and taxes from their children or from others?”

“From others,” Peter replied, a bit confused at what this had to do with the men waiting outside.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said. “But we don’t want to offend these tax collectors. I don’t have any money now, though. Judas has taken the bag and gone to the market for food.”

“What am I going to tell them, then?”

“Hold on, I’ve got an idea. Go get your fishing pole.”

“You expect me to catch enough fish to sell to pay that tax? I don’t have all day.”

“No, just run over to the lake and catch one fish. It will have a coin in its mouth, enough to pay both our taxes.”

“Alrighty then,” Peter replied, always ready to jump feet first into whatever Jesus suggested. “I’ll be right back.”

Peter had forgotten about the men waiting outside. As he ran by with his fishing pole slung over his shoulder, he called to them, “Oh, hold on, we’ve got an idea.”

The men looked at each other, sure that Peter had gone insane. But he caught just one fish, and that fish had the promised money right in its mouth.

You, Me, and the Guy Next Door

So what does this have to do with us? If you find yourself in a fix, or boxed in a corner with no more options, or simply looking for something better in life, you need to take it up with God.

You may very well hear Him say, “Hold on, I’ve got an idea.” It may make no sense, and you might not want to go along, but believe me, it will be the adventure of your life. And the results will be more than you could ever have imagined.