Who is YHWH?

We are beginning at the end, with the reign of the King in view. “The LORD shall be King over all the earth and His name one” (Zech. 14:9). Who is “the LORD” that is to be king? There are three major names for God used in the Old Testament. Elohim, the one who puts for power, is found in Genesis 1:1. Adonai, master or owner, is found in Genesis 15:2. What about the name in our passage? In order to know, it we must go to Exodus 3:4-15 to the very place that this name is first appeared.

Moses saw a bush burning but not being consumed. Strange! He went up the mountain to investigate. God spoke from the flames and told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground (Ex. 3:2). God explained to Moses that His people, the Jews, had been enslaved by the Egyptians for a time and now they will be free. He wanted Moses to lead them out. Moses was obviously shaken. God told Moses that He would go with Him. Moses asked God for His name. God’s name?  God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” You shall tell the people “I AM” has sent you to them. Moses was obviously puzzled!

“I AM” in the Hebrew is YHWH (the Tetragrammaton, meaning four letters). The name is a Hebrew being verb simply meaning I exist. Explained further, it means I always was who I am now and shall forever continue to be. Wow! God was saying, “I live.”  He had no beginning, and He will have no end. He is a self-existent being. He did not come to be! No one or nothing created Him. He was here before there was time. He created time, but He is not subject to it. He was here before there was a universe with its billions of galaxies. He exists outside of all that He has created. There never was a moment that He did not or will not exist. He is from eternity past to eternity future. In Psalm 90:2 David said that God is from everlasting to everlasting. How far back does everlasting go? Forever! How far forward does to everlasting go? Forever! This name reveals that God is an everlasting God. This is the awesome mystery surrounding the name YHWH.

The name YHWH can be written but not spoken. The reason? There are no vowels. How does one pronounce YHWH? Answer, you don’t. It came to be pronounced in early history as Jehovah and later as Yahweh. It may have been that vowels were added from the other names in order to allow this name to be pronounced. But the truth is, no one really knows how YHWH is to be pronounced. What is known is that the early Jews highly revered the name. It was beyond awesome and above incomprehensible. It is a very holy (set apart) name.  

Every family or clan among the early Jewish people had a scribe – usually someone with sufficient intelligence and who could write plainly. They were appointed to copy the Old Testament writings in order to preserve them for future generations. The copies had to be done with special care. Every Hebrew letter was assigned a number. As the letters were copied from the original, the scribe would add the numbers as he wrote.  When he got to the end of a sentence, he would record the added numbers. The line of the copy had to add up exactly with the line of the original. If there was one mistake, it was to be found and corrected. If there were two mistakes, they would be found and corrected. But if there were more than two mistakes, the entire line had to be started again. Such was the care that was taken to preserve accuracy of the Bible that we have today.

When the scribe came across the name Adonai, he would carefully pronounce the name, change pens, and then write it. When he came across Elohim, he did the same. But when he came across the word YHWH, he could not pronounce it. It held a certain mystery – an awe. This is God! This is God who spoke all of creation into existence at a moment of time (Gen. 1:1). God created time but He is not subject to it.  This is God who is in absolute control of everything that is (Dan. 4:34-35). This is God who is eternal life (Ps. 90:2).  This is God who is love (1Jn. 4:8).  This is God who righteousness (1Jn. 1:5). This is God who is just (Deut. 32:4).  This is God whose knowledge is infinite (no bounds) (Psa. 147:5).  This is God who is everywhere present (Psa. 139:7-12). This is God who is all powerful (Psa. 33:6-9). This is God who never changes (Mal. 3:6). The scribe would put down his pen and leave the document – go and take a bath and change clothes – then return, prayerfully approach the document, and after getting a new pen – he would carefully write the name – YHWH. This is a picture of the incredible weight that the name carried with the Jews. This is also one reason we know that when we hold in our hand the Bible, we are actually holding the very word of God. Amazing! Our passage says YHWH shall be king over all the earth and His name one. Who is YHWH? Stay safe and stay tuned.