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Yahweh

There is almost universal consensus among scholars today that the sacred Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is to be vocalized and pronounced Yahweh. Probably the name means literally "He is." Some argue, somewhat philosophically or metaphysically, that it presents God as the eternal self-existent One -- the absolute, unchanging God (the eternal I AM -- Exo 3:13–15; cf Joh 8:58). To them the name connotes the underived and independent existence of God.

Others correctly maintain that such an understanding does not go far enough. They point out that in the OT Yahweh is used as the personal, covenant name of God, and that name is a perpetual testimony to his faithfulness to his promises. Thus in usage it conveys the thought that God is present to save, help, deliver, redeem, bless, and keep covenant. In other words, God's active existence and presence are primarily in view, not his mere state of being or passive presence. He is the God who personally reveals himself in authoritative word and mighty act.

God himself identifies his name as Yahweh in Exo 3:15; 6:3. Strictly speaking, all other "names" are either generic terms (eg, Elohîm, "God") or appellative titles or epithets (eg, Adonai, "Lord"). But it is not sufficient to stop with the statement that Yahweh is his name, for the word "name" itself possesses far-reaching implications in Semitic usage. When God speaks of his "name" as Yahweh, he means that Yahweh is his self-disclosure -- his revealed character, nature, essence, or being.

In the Hebrew Bible the Jews wrote the consonants of the Tetragrammaton as YHWH, but out of reverence for the sacred name of God (or out of fear of violating Exo 20:7; Lev 24:16), they vocalized and pronounced it as Adonai or occasionally as Elohim. It is unfortunate, then, that the name was transliterated into German and ultimately into English as Jehovah (which is the way the name is represented in the American Standard Version of 1901), for this conflate form represents the vowels of Adonai superimposed on the consonants of Yahweh, and it was never intended by the Jews to be read as Yehowah (or Jehovah).

The meaning assigned to Yahweh above (literally "He is") reflects an understanding of the name as an earlier form of the Qal imperfect of the Hebrew verb ha¯ya¯h, sometimes written ha¯wa¯h (the actual original root was hwy). However the form has also been analyzed as the Hiphil imperfect of the same verb, meaning "He (who) causes to be," ie, "He (who) creates" or "He (who) brings into existence." Exodus 3:14 ("I AM WHO I AM") may be of some assistance in deciding between these two views. In my opinion this verse is a divine commentary on -- or exposition of -- the meaning of the name Yahweh (v 15). If this is true, it obviously favors the former view, for when God speaks of himself, he says, "I AM," and when we speak of him, we say, "He is."

A problem has been imagined in Exo 6:3 because of the words "by my name the Lord [Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them [ie, the patriarchs]." Yet there are several references to Yahweh in the patriarchal narratives and earlier (eg, Gen 2:4; 4:26; 13:4; 15:7) and in names like Jochebed (Exo 6:20), apparently meaning "The Lord [Yahweh] is glory." Kidner points the way to one solution: "In Exo 3:14 the divine exposition, 'I am... ' introduces and illuminates the name given in Exo 3:15, and this remains the context for Exo 6:3 as well... The name, in short, was first known, in any full sense of the word, at its first expounding."

Another approach is to let the emphasis fall on the personal, intimate, experiential sense in which the Hebrew verb for "know" is often used (see, eg, in Exo 6:7; 7:17; 8:10,22; 9:14,29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4,18; 16:6,8,12; 18:11). (The point being made here is valid whether the verb is to be translated "I did not make myself known" or "I was not known.") In effect God would be saying: "By my name Yahweh I was not intimately and experientially known to the patriarchs. Their experience of me was largely as El Shaddai ('God Almighty'). But now, beginning with the Exodus and deliverance from Egypt, I am about to reveal myself fully and personally in the experience of my covenant people Israel in that aspect of my character signified by Yahweh, ie, as the God who is ever present with his people to help and redeem them and to keep covenant with them." This view seems to be supported by Exo 6:4–8. In particular, the verbs in Exo 6:6 -- "bring out," "free," "redeem" -- stress the true significance of the name Yahweh, who is the Redeemer of his people.

Exo 6:3, then, does not necessarily mean that the patriarchs were totally ignorant of the name Yahweh ("the Lord") but it indicates that they did not understand its full implications as the name of the One who would redeem his people... That fact could be comprehended only by the Israelites who were to experience the exodus, and by their descendants.

Although Motyer's interpretation of Exo 6:3 is somewhat different, his conclusion is similar: "The place of the verse in the scheme of revelation, as we see it, is this: not that now for the first time the name as a sound is declared, but that now for the first time the essential significance of the name is to be made known. The patriarchs called God Yahweh, but knew Him as El Shaddai; their descendants will both call him and know him by His name Yahweh. This is certainly the burden of Exo 6:6,9.

To understand how "Lord" came to be used as a translation of YHWH (Yahweh), we must give some attention to the Greek word kyrios. The latter is properly a Greek adjective meaning "having power or authority"; used as a noun, it means "lord, sovereign, master, owner." This is the standard word for "Lord" in the LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the OT) and in the NT. Essentially it was the semantic equivalent of the Hebrew Adonai (and to some extent also of the Hebrew ba'al) and was used in the LXX to translate Yahweh because the rabbis read Adonai in place of the personal, divine name. (NT writers applied kyrios to Jesus as a divine title.) English Bible translators have traditionally followed the convention of rendering YHWH (Yahweh) as "Lord" in capital letters to distinguish it from Adonai, for which small letters are used ("Lord"). The NIV translators adopted the same device.

Finally it is instructive to observe that an abbreviated form of Yahweh is preserved in the Hebrew name Joshua and in the Greek name Jesus, both meaning "The Lord [Yahweh] saves."

YHWH Sabaoth

Another problem faced by the NIV translators was how to render the title "Sabaoth" when applied to Yahweh ("the Lord").

The Preface to the NIV explains:

Because for most readers today the phrases "the Lord of hosts" and "God of hosts" have little meaning, this version renders them "the Lord Almighty" and "God Almighty." These renderings convey the sense of the Hebrew, namely, "he who is sovereign over all the 'hosts' (powers) in heaven and on earth, especially over the 'hosts' (armies) of Israel." For readers unacquainted with Hebrew this does not make clear the distinction between Sabaoth ("hosts" or "Almighty") and Shaddai (which can also be translated "Almighty"), but the latter occurs infrequently and is always footnoted.

Similarly, Eichrodt concludes that Sabaoth "does not refer to any particular 'hosts,' but to all bodies, multitudes, masses in general, the content of all that exists in heaven and in earth... [a] name expressive of the divine sovereignty." As "the Lord Almighty," Yahweh is the controller of history who musters all the powers of heaven and earth to accomplish his will.

Miller considers this epithet as part of the OT divine warrior motif. He isolates the activities of the divine warrior as salvation, judgment, and kingship. The messianic King was also to be a divine warrior or strong ruler ("Mighty God" in Isa 9:6; cf Isa 10:21).

In the same vein, The NIV Study Bible comments on the first occurrence of "Yahweh Sabaoth" in Scripture (1Sa 1:3):

This is the first time in the Bible that God is designated by this title. The Hebrew for "hosts(s)" can refer to (1) human armies (Exo 7:4; Psa 44:9); (2) the celestial bodies such as the sun, moon and stars (Gen 2:1; Deu 4:19; Isa 40:26); or (3) the heavenly creatures such as angels (Jos 5:14; 1Ki 22:19; Psa 148:2). The title, "the Lord of hosts," is perhaps best understood as a general reference to the sovereignty of God over all powers in the universe (hence the NIV rendering "the Lord Almighty"). In the account of the establishment of kingship in Israel it became particularly appropriate as a reference to God as the God of armies -- both of the heavenly army (Deu 33:2; Jos 5:14; Psa 68:17; Hab 3:8) and of the army of Israel (1Sa 17:45).

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