God’s Personal Name
God also said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, “Yahweh, the God of your fathers ... has sent me to you.”'Exodus 3:15
I was quietly eating my lunch with my Grade 3 class. Two girls sitting in front of me were chatting away. Something one of them said struck me as very strange.
“My opa turned 75 years old on Sunday”, she said.
I was confused. Opa wouldn’t turn seventy-five for quite a while yet. Besides, how did she know who Opa was. Had she ever met him? Did Opa maybe know her and I didn’t know it? And what did she mean by calling Opa, “My opa”? His name was just “Opa”, not “My opa.”
I don’t recall exactly how things unfolded for me, but I soon discovered that quite a few people went by the name Opa. In fact, I learned that it is a generic word that describes a relative. It turns out, “Opa” wasn’t my grandfather’s name at all. He had become an opa among many when grandchildren were born to him. I realized that if I wanted to know who that dear man really was, then I’d need to know more about him than the name “Opa” represented. Soon I learned opa’s last name, and a few years later, I even learned what his first name was.
Something along these lines has happened with our God. In prayer, we address him with many different names, but are any of these names personal ones? Every name that you use in prayer can probably be understood in a generic way. Nearly every religion calls the divine being they worship “God” or “Lord.” Many have called them by the name “Father” or “Spirit.” I don’t mean that there is a problem with using such names for God. There is an important confessional truth contained in the very notion of addressing our God with generic names. He is the Father, the Lord, the Spirit.
But the fact is, there is one name for God which He shares with no other so-called god, a name to which our God alone answers. It is a name that God delights in. It is a name He gave to the church as a special treasure at a crucial moment of time. It is the name Yahweh.
Our God called Moses on Mount Horeb to lead his people out of Egypt to freedom and prosperity in the land of Canaan. But before sending Moses off, God said to him, “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.’” It is clear from this passage that when God gave to his people his own personal name, then He gave them something exceedingly sacred, but also something very precious to encourage them for the great journey they were about to take. Immediately after giving his personal name to Moses, He added,
This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.Exodus 3:15
“Forever” has not ended yet. “From generation to generation” is the line of the covenant which continues unbroken to the present. Therefore, Yahweh remains God’s name, and He wants to be remembered as Yahweh. He has said so as directly as could be.
But this great personal name of God has been buried more than 2000 years ago by Jewish superstition (Jewish teachers decided that it was blasphemous to pronounce God’s personal name), and to our shame, the Christian church has yielded to this superstition and has left God’s personal name buried so that even in 20th Century translations like RSV, NASB, NIV and NKJV, God’s personal name makes not a single appearance in the sacred text. For us, God’s personal name lies hidden under a code: the word LORD in the Old Testament is a code that stands for Yahweh in the Hebrew text. 1
To address our God as “Lord” is comforting and beautiful. But we should understand that his name is Yahweh. It is God’s special treasure given to us. Let’s treasure it, and use it.