A Whimsical Dictionary: Y is for Yahweh

A Whimsical Dictionary: Y is for Yahweh

A Whimsical Dictionary of Surprising Influences.

Y is for Yahweh –

The unspeakably holy Name of God; the personal Name God offered to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3); the indecipherable Name with no vowels, YHWH; the Name could mean “I Am Who I Am,” or “I Am He Who Is,” or “I Am the One Who Exists,” and most likely even “I Will Be What I Will Be.” Moses asked God for His Name, and he got a real doozy. This Name is too holy to be sullied by human speech, and so faithful Jews refuse to pronounce it for any reason.

In Scripture, every time you see LORD in all caps, that’s where you’ll find Yahweh. This Name is used about 6,800 times in the O.T., and 700 times in Psalms alone.

The Name is connected with the Hebrew verb “hayah,” to be, to become, to happen. Martin Buber thinks the verb could also mean partly “to be actively present.” So Buber, and most Jewish scholars, think the Name could mean something like “I will be there as I will be there,” or “I will be what I will be”… ready, willing and able to be present in whatever situation you are in. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks believes that early Christian translations omitted that future tense altogether. He says that in this Name, the Lord claims to be “the God of the future tense.” In this important future tense, Sacks believes that He is a God of surprises, that we will have to learn to trust Him, and that we will only know Him through His moral commitments and His acts, not just His abstract essence.

YHWH, so basic, so mysterious. A personal Name, yet somehow impersonal. It is God’s self-revealed Name, alluding perhaps to His uncreated existence, His eternal personhood, His quality of being, His basic self-sufficiency, and is perhaps a spiritual version of an “act of being” verb. Yahweh, faithfully relational, unchangeably complete, infinite and everlasting. God is the LORD, He will not give His glory to another. There is Yahweh, and there’s everything else.

“What is (the name’s) mystery? First, it has no vowels. Without vowels it is impossible to pronounce a word. But Y-H-W-H also has no real consonants! Y, H and W really are blowing sounds, rushings of air through the mouth. The point is one of elusiveness or abstraction. The name of God is so subtle it could slip away from you. Y-H-W-H is not a God you can grab hold of and be sure you’ve got it in your mental grasp.” (Arthur Green, These Are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life)

“When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn’t have before. If you call it out, I stop, look and listen whether I want to or not. In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that His name is Yahweh, and God hasn’t had a peaceful moment since.”  (Frederick Buechner)

The Great I AM revelation seems to leave a lot of blanks. I AM what, exactly? If there was any doubt as to His character, God certainly cleared a lot of that up in His great and central self-revelation in Exodus 34. But what does He look like in daily, practical terms? Sure enough, here comes Jesus to fill in some of the details, explaining some of the holy Name with metaphors: I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the Good Shepherd, I AM the Light of the World, I AM the Gate for the Sheep; I AM the Resurrection and the Life; I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life; I AM the True Vine. Perhaps one good way to unpack something as expansive and unreachable as YHWH is through metaphor like that. Another way is to flesh it out, to fill in the blanks of Yahweh by showing us the very nature of the Great I AM in daily life. And Jesus did just that. Now we know a little more, a lot more, of what I AM looks like, through the Person of Christ.