Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh

Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh

Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh.

Yahweh, the unspeakably holy Name of God; the personal Name God offered to Moses at the Burning Bush in 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 even “I Will Be What I Will Be.” Moses asked God for His Name, and Moses got a real doozy. This Name is too holy to be sullied by human speech. Also, the Jewish reader didn’t want to risk taking His holy Name in vain. So faithful Jews refuse to pronounce it for any reason. Yahweh is often shortened to The Great I AM.

In Scripture, every time the reader sees LORD in all caps, that signifies Yahweh. This Name is used about 6,800 times in the Hebrew Bible, and 700 times in Psalms alone. The first time we seen Yahweh in the Bible is in Genesis 2:4 = “In the day that Yahweh-Elohim made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for Yahweh-Elohim had not caused it to rain upon the earth…”  The shortened form of Yahweh is Yah, or Jah, which is found over 40 times in the Psalms, including “Hallelujah,” which literally means “Praise Yah.”

The word Yahweh is connected with the Hebrew verb “hayah,” to be, to become, to happen. Martin Buber thinks the verb could also partly mean “to be actively present.” So Buber, and many other 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.” In other words, “I live an uncreated existence, and yet I will be ready, willing, 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.

“What is the Name’s mystery? First, it has no vowels. Without vowels it is impossible to pronounce a word. But YHWH 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. YHWH is not a God you can grab hold of and be sure you’ve got it in your mental grasp.” (Rabbi Arthur Green, These Are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life).

YHWH, or Yahweh, so basic, so mysterious, so elusive. A personal Name, yet somehow impersonal. It is God’s self-revealed Name, alluding to His uncreated existence, His eternal Personhood, His quality of Being, His basic self-sufficiency. It is perhaps a spiritual version of an “act of being” verb. Yahweh, faithfully relational, a keeper of covenants, unchangeable complete, infinite and everlasting. God is the LORD, He will not give His glory to another. Yahweh, set apart from everything else in His holiness.

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 and self-description when using that Name, God certainly cleared a lot of that up in His amazing self-revelation in Exodus 34“And Yahweh descended in a cloud, and stood with Moses and pronounced the Name Yahweh. Then Yahweh passed before Moses and called out, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining His mercy to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin…” (Exodus 34:5-7, NJB).

Gospel Fulfillment of the Name. Jesus comes to our rescue by embodying the name of Yahweh. He uses an I AM formula seven times in the Gospel of JohnI AM the Bread of Life (6:35); the Light of the World (8:12); the Door (10:7,9); the Good Shepherd (10:14); the Resurrection and the Life (11:25); the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6); and the True Vine (15:1). In these statements, every time Jesus says “I AM” to the people, He is referring to His equality to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, of Moses, of Creation. It’s fascinating that Jesus loved using these simple, commonplace metaphors to unpack who He is and what He is here to do. Nothing fancy, abstract, erudite. It’s almost as if He is saying to the people, “Okay, okay, I know the I AM Name is a bit obscure and mysterious. You could be forgiven for wondering… I AM what? God, fill in the blanks, please. You are what, exactly?” Jesus is continuing the revelation of God by fleshing out the Name Yahweh, so God’s Name is not quite so elusive or open-ended. The simple I AM metaphors are helpful in that way, and the humility of Jesus in using these simple ideas did much to encourage the view that Jesus was indeed on equal footing with the Great I AM. The truth is that Jesus identified with Yahweh and yet kept His role as the Son in the mystery of the Trinity.

A Prayer to Yahweh (ya’-way) that honors Jesus:

We humbly revere you, Yahweh, LORD Eternal, the Great I AM. For you are who you are, and you will be who you will be. You are infinitely righteous and intimately personal. You are the Name above all names, who was, who is, and who is to come. You are great in counsel and mighty in deed. Yet in your power, you show steadfast love to thousands of thousands. You deeply love us with an everlasting love, for you are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. You are the LORD, you will not give your glory to another. Nothing is too hard for you, for you are the same yesterday, today and forever. We thank you for your Son Jesus, who revealed to everyone your nature and your character. We bow before you, Yahweh, and glorify your sacred Name. Amen.