Seven Prime Names: 1. YHWH (Yahweh)
The first name for the LORD can cause a bit of confusion, because there are different versions and to us today, they seem so hard to pronounce.
Certainly, when I first encountered ‘YHWH’ and ‘JHVH’ I presumed them to be abbreviations, and wondered what the full name was – Your Highest Worshipful Holiness, or something?
But no: when we see YHWH, this is the original Hebrew; a language that does not have any vowels and which uses dots and other symbols to assist with pronunciation. It is a tetragrammaton – four letters – and those four letters in Canaanite-Hebrew are Yodh – Heh – Waw – Heh.
More than that, ancient Hebrew does not have a ‘w’ sound – ‘wind’ would be pronounced ‘vind.’
It means ‘self-Existent or Eternal; the Existing One.’ It was a recognition that God was, is and will be; He is eternal, always existing.
In time, under the direction of the Roman Empire, the name was translated into Latin. But the Romans were faced with a problem for the name was considered so sacred that the Jews did not actually speak it, so there was no standardised set of vowels or sounds that could assist in its pronunciation. The Romans were also challenged by the fact that they did not, at the time, have the letter ‘Y.’ (When they did introduce it, to help spell foreign words, they assimilated it from the Greek and called it ‘i graeca” – Greek I. That continued in languages that had their roots in Latin and, for example ‘Y’ is today pronounced in French as “i grec.’)
So, in Latin, the four written Hebrew letters ‘YHWH’ were rendered ‘JHVH’ and the pronunciation of those four Hebrew letters “Yodh Heh Waw Heh” (or Yood Hay Vav Hay) became the nearest Latin equivalent of “Jeh-Hoh-Vah.” It was then a simple matter to write in the vowels that Hebrew lacked, and thus JHVH became written and spoken as ‘Jehovah.’
It is interesting to note that the name continued to be written YHWH in Hebrew, and was first reported as Yahweh only in 1869.
In English translations of the Bible, YHWH or Jehovah tends to be written as LORD (all upper case letters). We will come to the differences of LORD, Lord and lord later in this series.
So when we say Jehovah or Yahweh, we are saying the ‘self-existent One.’ Or as God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “I AM who I AM.”
Jehovah or Yahweh is a name of power; not any power that we can create or ascribe, but the immense, magisterial power of the LORD God who has always existed thus, and who chooses to be involved with us, present in our lives; not only knowing of us, but actually knowing us. It is a name to be used reverentially, devotedly, in worship.
Yahweh, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:9)
[from Timothy Pitt]