WHAT’S GOD’S NAME? Have you ever asked yourself that question. There are so many who are going around arguing this question, such as “the Sacred Name Movement” or “the Assembly of Yahweh,” and there are some within these groups and others who have made it into a salvation issue. Although I don’t God’s Word presents the exact spelling and pronunciation of God’s name as a salvation issue, but because of the teachings of these cults who are creating names that are NOT in the Bible and, therefore, are creating false names (i.e., “false gods”) in place of the God of the Bible, it has become a salvation issue. But not only is it now a salvation issue, but it’s also an educational issue, and since they are attempting to divide the body through their teaching, it’s also become a unity issue.
But let me say up front that the “Messianic Jewish Movement” and the “Sacred Name Movement” are TWO DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS; they are not the same. They have two different beliefs and agendas. However, those who are in the “Sacred Name Movement” tend to hang out or attend Messianic groups. So although they may appear together, they are really not. And since most mainstream pastors, teachers and evangelists aren’t that familiar with either group, they really don’t know the difference between the two groups.
Again, I believe what is more important than the exact spelling and pronunciation of the name is the God behind the name. What we should be seeking to know is the character and nature of God. What is He like? What are His values? His beliefs? What does He like and what doesn’t He like? What kind of things does He think about? Have you ever tried to view and understand God as an individual? What is His heart like? In essence, this is what Moses is trying to understand when he meets God at the burning bush. So rather than focus on all the false names that are out there, let’s see what the Bible actually teaches since it’s supposed to be our standard of truth.
MOSES AT THE BURNING BUSH
In Exodus 3, Moses (Heb. Mosheh) discovers a bush that appears to be burning, but there’s something odd about this one. It’s burning, but it’s not being consumed. So he goes to investigate this odd sight. As he approaches the bush, God begins to speak to him from the midst of the bush:
Moses, Moses…take off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Exodus 3:4-5)
Moses discovers that God has used the burning bush to gain his attention, and unlike the gods of Egypt, this God actually speaks. And He identifies Himself as “the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” During this conversation, God has told him that He was going to send him back to the land of Egypt to lead His people, Israel, out of bondage back to this mountain. After several failed attempts to get out of this, Moses then says to God,
Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” Now they may say to me, “What is His name?” What shall I say to them? (Exodus 3:13)
It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? However, the word translated “name” doesn’t really focus so much on what to call Him, but its focus is more on learning about His character, His nature.
ABOUT THE MEANING OF THE WORD “NAME”
In addition, according to the ancient Hebrew mindset, only what we can experience has a name; therefore, in asking this question, Moses is really saying here that since the Israelites have not experienced God for 215 years, they no longer know or understand who He is, or what His character or nature is like. Consequently, Moses is wondering what do I tell them?
THE FIRST NAME OF GOD
God then gives Him the following response:
“I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)
In this verse, the phrase “I AM WHO I AM” is the English translation of the Hebrew ‘Ehyeh asher ‘Ehyeh. And then He says, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM (or ‘Ehyeh) has sent me to you.” Consequently, the first name that God gives to Moses in response to his question, is the name ‘Ehyeh (“I AM” or Aleph-Hey-Yodh-Hey).
Many people assume or mistakenly think that when God said, “I AM,” that it is the name YHVH (Heb. “yodh=hey-vahv-hey”), but it’s not. “I AM” is the Hebrew name ‘EHYEH. And in the Gospels, this is the name that Jesus used to identify Himself. For example, in John 8:58, Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM.” In Hebrew, He was identifying Himself as ‘Ehyeh (“I AM“). The same ‘ehyeh (“I AM“) that spoke to Moses out of the burning bush.
Since this was God’s first response to the question, this seems to imply that this is how God views Himself. It is His character and nature. He is ‘Ehyeh (“I AM“), the Eternal One who is ever present. To help to understand this, I often think of those display boards kids buy for school for their presentations that have three sides: the left, the middle and the right. Think of the left side of the board as eternity past, the middle as the present, and the right as eternity future. God is standing outside of Time, Space and Matter, also represented by this board, and He is able to see the past, present, and future all at the same time, so as a result, He is the eternal “I AM” (or ‘Ehyeh).
Interestingly, to also help to understand His initial response, many times, when people ask me my name, I will respond with my nickname “Chris,” rather than with my proper or legal name “Christopher.” Why? I simply prefer the name “Chris.” And in the past three years, when the Lord has spoken to my wife or I, He uses the name “I AM.” Perhaps, like many of us, God has a “nickname” that He prefers and uses with His friends, just a thought.
THE SECOND NAME OF GOD
The name that many people tend to think about, YHWH (Heb. “yodh-hey-vahv-hey”), doesn’t actually appear until the next verse, verse 15, and I believe that in the same verse, there’s perhaps a third name given as well.
And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons 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 this is My memorial-name to all generations. (Exodus 3:15)
In this verse, the English phrase “The LORD” in all capitals is the Hebrew YHWH (Heb. Yodh-Hey-Vahv-Hey or “Yeh-wah”) . I transliterated the Hebrew as Yehwah, rather than Yahweh, which is how it is usually transliterated into English, for the following reasons:
- The consonant letters are the same in both, my transliteration and the traditional transliteration: YHWH. But the real difference is in the two vowels.
- In the Hebrew text, there is a vocal shewa (it looks like a small colon) under the first letter yodh (“Y”; the letter yodh in Hebrew looks like an apostrophe in English, and it’s the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet). According to Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar,
The Vocal Shewa maintains a hurried pronunciation and sounds like the a in amuse. It is transliterated either as an upside down e (bǝ) or as a superscript e (be ). (11)
In either case, the vowel sound is an “uh” sound. In my English classes, I use to explain to my students that the English schewa, just like the Hebrew vocal schewa, makes the “uh” sound. I told them, “It’s the sound you make when you don’t know what to say. Uhhh.” Consequently, I’ve chosen to use the superscript e since that transliteration format is used in many Jewish publications.
- The other vowel in question is the qamats (it looks like a small capital T in English) located under the vahv (the “w”) in the original Hebrew text. According to the same Hebrew grammar book, it is pronounced like the “a as in father” (Pratico and Van Pelt 10). I have not found anything that explains why it is often transliterated with an “e,” when the letter there is clearly a qamats (or “a”).
Therefore, based on the Hebrew text there in Exodus 3:15, it should be transliterated as Yehwah (pron. “Yuh-wah”). There are some who argue that the vahv should be seen as a vowel rather than a consonant, and should be transliterated as Yahuah. However, this violates one of the basic syllabication rules in Hebrew. The rule states, “Every syllable must begin with one consonant and have only one vowel” (Pratico and Van Pelt 17). In the word “Yahuah,” there are three syllables: “Ya-hu-ah.” The last syllable does not begin with a consonant; therefore, this transliteration and pronunciation must be wrong.
Consequently, then, we see that in His response to Moses’s question, God here has given to Moses two inter=related names: ‘Ehyeh and YHWH, and both names are derived from the infinitive verb, “To be.” And what the exact relationship is between these two names is the great theological mystery of the ages. KJ Cronin, in his website, “The Name of God as Revealed in Exodus 3:14: An Explanation of Its Meaning,” does a really good job in diving into this complex topic and trying to explore it.
So let’s think about this, if God Himself has given to Moses two interrelated names for Himself in response to Moses’ one question, then how could He only have “ONE CORRECT FORM” of His name, as some people try to argue? Also, the one form they try to argue, I can’t find in the biblical text, so how can it be correct? But it just doesn’t stop there.
A MEMORIAL NAME?
In addition to these two names, I believe that there’s also a third name given here: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” I do not believe that this series of phrases is just an added identifier. When my wife and I got married (a type of covenant), she took my last name to be her’s. And in the biblical period, when God entered into covenant with Abram (Actually “Avram” in Hebrew), Abram and Sarai each got an “H” from God’s name, changing their names to Abraham (lit. Avraham) and Sarah. But God got also got a name change, Abraham’s name became a part of His name forever: “the God of Abraham.”
THE PARITY COVENANT
This covenant that God made with Abraham is called a PARITY COVENANT: “A covenant made between two equal parties.” Now sometimes the word “friend” in the Bible has the meaning that we give to it today, and there’s other times when it’s being used for one’s covenant partner. For example, both of these uses is seen in Proverbs 18:24,
A man that has FRIENDS must show himself friendly: and there is a FRIEND that sticks closer than a brother.
Even though the word “FRIENDS” and “FRIEND” appear to be the same in English, in Hebrew they are actually two very different words that are being used. The word “FRIENDS” is the English translation of rea or reya (Strong’s #7453), and it has the meaning of “friend” like we typically use it today. But the second word “FRIEND” is the English translation of the word ‘ahav (Strong’s #157), and it’s the term that’s used for one’s covenant partner, or “one who sticks closer than a brother.”
Throughout the Scriptures, Abraham is called “the FRIEND of God,” because God entered into a parity covenant with him. For example, in Isaiah 41:8, we read,
But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham MY FRIEND.
We can also see this in 2 Chronicles 20,
Are not You our God, who did drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and He’s given it to Abraham Your FRIEND forever. (2 Chronicles 20:7)
Again, the word “friend” in each of these passages is the Hebrew word ‘ahav, the parity covenant term for one’s covenant partner. And this identification as Abraham being “the friend [or parity covenant partner] of God” is also seen in the New Testament. For example,
And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the FRIEND of God. (James 2:23; Emphasis Mine)
Another type of parity covenant is marriage. For example, in Song of Solomon, the Shulamite woman says about her husband:
His mouth is most sweet: yes, he is altogether lovely. This is MY BELOVED, and is MY FRIEND, O daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Solomon 5:16; Emphasis Mine)
He is her “friend” because he’s her marriage or parity covenant partner. Most parity covenants were non-sexual, but marriage is the one exception to this.
This same parity covenant was then passed down to Isaac and then Jacob, so that God became the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” or sometimes it’s expressed as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” This is His “memorial name,” because it recounts the original relationship covenant (or PARITY COVENANT) that God established with Abraham, and then it was passed down to his son, Isaac, and then his grandson, Jacob.
THE SUZZERAIN OR VASSAL COVENANT
However, the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 19 – Deuteronomy 34) is not a PARITY COVENANT, but a SUZZERAIN OR VASSAL COVENANT: “a one-sided disposition imposed by a superior party upon an inferior party.” This type of covenant was used when a King would conquer a nation of people or would rescue them from trouble. This type of covenant would benefit the nation, but it’s NOT a relationship covenant, not like the PARITY COVENANT. And the covenant terms for the Suzzerain or Vassal covenant is “Lord/Master” for the King and “slave/servant” for those in the nation.
Did you know, for instance, that God is never called in the Bible “the God of Moses”? Nor is Moses ever referred to in the Bible as “the FRIEND of God”, not even once? Abraham, on the other hand, is called “the friend of God,” but not Moses. Instead, Moses is called “the servant of God,” as is appropriate for the type of Suzzerain or vassal covenant that God entered into with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.
And because most Christians don’t know the difference in the four types of covenants that are used in the Bible (yes, we’ve just discussed two of them here), they have traditionally misidentified the correct relationship covenant. For centuries, they have identified the Mosaic Covenant as the relationship covenant when, in truth, the great relationship covenant of the Old Testament is the Abrahamic Covenant.
THE NAMES OF THE PATRIARCHS – A PART OF GOD’S CHARACTER AND NATURE?
By saying that names “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” are an intricate part of His “memorial-name,” I believe God is saying that a central part of who He is, His character and nature, is that He is a God who remembers His Covenants, not just the parity covenant, but all covenants that God has made. This is so much the case, that He made their names a part of His name: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
But He also remembers all His covenants, since He specifically says in Deuteronomy that He KEEPS HIS COVENANT AND HIS LOVINGKINDNESS to a THOUSAND generations.
Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, WHO KEEPS HIS COVENANT and His lovingkindness to a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9; Emphasis Mine)
A generation is about 40-45 years, so a “THOUSAND generations” would be 40,000 – 45, 000 years. Obviously, since it’s only been more than 3, 500 years, it’s not even been 10% of the time God says He keeps His covenants. In fact, God has not only promised to keep His covenants to them, the Jews and non-Jews who were standing there at Mt. Sinai, but He also states that His covenant to them is so He can keep His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB. (Deuteronomy 29:12-13; Emphasis Mine)
God here clearly connects His covenant with Moses, the children of Israel, and the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles (non-Jews; see Exodus 12:38) as a fulfillment of the promise of what He swore to the fathers: ABRAHAM, ISAAC, and JACOB. But His promise to them that day at Mt. Sinai, as well as the connection to the fathers, was not just for those who were there, but also for all those who were not there:
Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with THOSE WHO ARE NOT WITH US HERE TODAY. (Deuteronomy 29:14-15; Emphasis Mine)
Moses is saying here that this covenant was being made with not only the people who were there (Jews and non-Jews alike), but it was also being made for all people (Jew and non-Jew alike) who were not there at that time. This would be for all people from that time forward, including people today. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant is the result of the Abrahamic Covenant (or the relationship covenant).
This promise, then, would not only include all future Jewish people into the promise, but it would also include all non-Jews as well:
For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16, NASB)
And if you belong to Christ [Messiah], then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
Note in the Galatians passage, Paul did not say “if you are in Christ [Messiah], then you are heirs according to the promise.” Instead, by us “belonging to Christ [Messiah],” then we are “Abraham’s seed,” and then, therefore, “heirs according to the promise.” But why did God set this up this way? Why is it important that we are to be a part of “Abraham’s seed”? Why couldn’t we just “belong to Christ [Messiah]?” Why is it necessary to connect the two? He did it this way, so that He could open the way for all people of all nations to become a part of His promise to Abraham: “And in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).
So if we are in Messiah, we are part of Abraham’s seed, and therefore, a part of Abraham and Abraham’s family, so that we, together with the Jewish people, can enjoy not only the promises of the Abrahamic covenant but also get to experience the blessings and the responsibilities of Mt. Sinai as well. One God, One Call, One Family, One Mission, and One Destiny for all.
THE GOD WHO IS MORE THAN ENOUGH
But not only did God share these three names with Moses, but He shared a fourth name with Him as well, the name ‘El Shaddai.
God spoke further to Moses and said to him, I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty [Heb. ‘El Shaddai], but by My name, LORD [YHVH], I did not make myself known to them. And I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. (Exodus 6:2-4)
In this verse, God makes it quite clear that even though He did enter into covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He did not reveal His name YHVH or Yehwah to them; instead, they knew Him by the name of ‘El Shaddai. By revealing Himself to Moses and the children of Israel as ‘Ehyeh and YHVH at Mt. Sinai, He was revealing something new about Himself to them that the Patriarchs never got to experience.
So why do we see the name “YHWH” (“LORD”) in the book of Genesis, if the patriarchs did not know Him by that name? Because Moses wrote the book of Genesis, and God had revealed to Him the name YHWH to him at the burning bush. Therefore, Moses used the name that God revealed to him when writing the events of the book of Genesis. It doesn’t mean that the people at that time knew this name, since God Himself said that they didn’t. Moses wanted to merely identify which God was at work during creation and during the lives of all those mentioned in this first book of the Bible. It’s not that hard to understand.
Obviously, if God has these four names that He gave to Moses in the Scriptures, then how could He have only ONE CORRECT FORM? But I am praying that by reading this article, you will realize that there are deeper truths and realities than what we read in the English translations of our Bible, and why it is important to study the Scriptures, so that we can discern the truth from deception, half-truths, and lies, as well as discern the different covenants that we see at work within the Bible.