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No one knows how to pronounce the covenant name of God. The form used by the majority of evangelicals today, “Yahweh”, is by no means certain, for a number of reasons. People can make their scholarly guesses, but knowing how ancient Israel pronounced the name is likely impossible, unless some archaeological find settles the debate. In fact, the disagreement or agnosticism on the exact Hebrew pronunciation is probably a good thing. Fixation on the sound of a name distracts us from the meaning of the name. It is the meaning of God’s name that is meant to be the centre of our meditations.

English-speakers have become used to naming their children with names borrowed from other languages. They like the sound of the names John, Michael, Ruth, Jennifer, or Richard, but have to look up their meanings. Many other languages still name their children with words native to their languages, words like Love, Blessing, God’s Gift, Leader, Wisdom, and so on. English-speakers still have a few names like this (Prudence, Rose, Christian), but most are words foreign to our ears. Perhaps this is one reason why we become fixated on whether God’s name sounds like Yehovah, Yahweh, Yahuwah, or some other form, instead of thinking deeply on the meaning of His name.

Biblically speaking, names were often given to summarise a person: his or her character, or nature, or destiny. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel to capture the idea of “a prince who wrestles with God”. Abram became Abraham to predict that he would father many nations. Simon was given the name Peter to remind us that he and his confession of Jesus as Messiah would be the rock-hard foundation upon which the New Testament church would grow.

The name of God appears to be a form of the simplest sentence in human language, certainly the shortest sentence in the English language: I AM. We know this because of God’s pronouncements to Moses, when Moses specifically asks for God’s name. “Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:13–14) 

I AM WHO I AM is hayeh asher hayeh in the Hebrew, and the Hebrew name of God appears to be a construction of hayeh. Some have suggested that the Name is the verb “He is” (the third person form of “I am”) in three forms: Hayah, Hoveh, and Yihyeh, meaning “He was,” “He is,” and “He will be.” This sounds very similar to the language of Revelation 4:8:  “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8).

It is fitting that the God of all being should use the simplest expression in human language to communicate: I AM. I exist. I am Reality. All that is is of Me. In fact, a thoughtful meditation on this simplest of expressions, I AM, reveals much of who this God is. We may find, that the attributes of aseity, eternality, immutability, simplicity, trinity and others are at least implicitly revealed in the meaning of the Sacred Name. We’ll attempt to do so in this series.

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  1. Avatar David

    Joel Watson

    Glad you dealt with the issue of pronouncing God’s name. I’ve long suspected that those who insist on “Yahweh” vs “Jehovah” were standing on shaky ground.

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