What is the meaning of Yahweh? What does Jehovah mean?

When Moses asked God how to answer people if they were to ask Moses the name of the God who sent him, "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."' God also said to Moses, '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.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exodus 3:14–15). The Hebrew word rendered "LORD" in this passage consists of the four Hebrew letters Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh, transliterated into English as YHWH and spelled Yahweh. It comes from the same Hebrew root as "I AM." Thus, Yahweh is the name God gave to Himself and how He wanted to be known throughout all generations. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Latin; when the first English versions used the Latin translation, they chose the corresponding letters JHVH and spelled the name as Jehovah. Thus Jehovah is simply a different way to spell and pronounce God's Hebrew name Yahweh.

Yahweh comes from the verb that means "to exist, to be, or to breathe." It was not a likely choice as a name for a god. With the name Yahweh, God was setting Himself apart from the gods of the surrounding societies. He did not have a human name because He was not made by human hands. This verb of being shows that God is self-existent (John 5:26), self-sufficient (Acts 17:25), eternally unchanging (Psalm 102:26–27; Revelation 4:8), self-directed (Job 36:22–23), and continually present with His people (Genesis 28:15; Isaiah 41:10; Hebrews 13:5).

The words "I AM" could be understood to mean: "As I have been since eternity past, I ever shall be the same that I am today." This phrase points to God's eternal, unchanging existence that is not dependent on anyone else. Thus, to know who God has been and will be forever, one could look at who God is in that moment in Exodus chapter 3. God said to Moses, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people… and have heard their cry… I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them" (Exodus 3:7–8a). Thus, God is all-knowing, compassionate toward His people, intimately present, and ready to intervene in order to bring about deliverance. These character traits continue to define God's work throughout the biblical account coming to a climax with the deliverance He accomplished through Jesus' work on the cross when He literally came down to save us (John 6:51; 8:23, 58).

In the very act of informing Moses of a proper first name by which to call Him and by asking that it be a name to be remembered throughout the generations, God revealed Himself as a god who desires to be known and to be in an on-going relationship with His people. Yahweh is not a title like Master, Creator, or Teacher, but rather it is God's personal name, unique to Him. While other deities claimed the title Lord or God, no other gods had the name Yahweh. This unique quality led people to think of the name Yahweh as too holy to speak out loud. Thus it is sometimes referred to as The Name (HaShem), The Unutterable Name, or the Ineffable Name. It is also known as the Tetragrammaton because it consists of four Hebrew letters. When reading Scripture out loud, people would say Adonai (meaning Lord or Master) instead of speaking the name Yahweh. This practice carried over into English Bibles which tend to render the name Yahweh as LORD and the name Adonai Yahweh as Lord GOD. Thus LORD and GOD in all capital letters in English Bibles are God's unique personal name Yahweh.

Appreciating the implications of God revealing a proper first name for Moses to share with the people helps us understand the type of God we serve. Furthermore, by using the verb of existence as His name, God encapsulated so much of who He is and how He wants to be experienced by His people. The name Yahweh is worthy of study and contemplation for anyone who wants to know God better.

Related Truth:

What are the names of God? What do the names of God mean?

What are some of the key things to know about the nature of God?

The attributes of God, what are they?

What is the meaning of "I AM WHO I AM" in Exodus 3:14?

How can I be saved?

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