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Why Are There Different Names for God in the Old Testament?

Why the Biblical Word, “YHWH” is a Big Deal

For thousands of years, God’s people have prayed a prayer of confession called the Shema. Among its well-known lines is this one: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Dt 6:4-5).

You may have seen these lines in writing and wondered why “LORD” is written in all capital letters. The following video seeks to answer this question.

That name is God’s personal name; this is how God introduced Himself to Moses in the third chapter of Exodus. God is wanting to free His people from Egyptian enslavement and Moses asks God what name he should use when people ask who is doing this miraculous rescue. God commands Moses to tell them that “EHYEH” has sent him. EHYEH means “I will be” and connotes the idea that God is self-sufficient and lacking in nothing. It would be pretty weird, though, for Moses to go to people and say, “I will be” so God also tells Moses to use the name of “YAHWEH”, which communicates that this is the God of their ancestors and means “He will be”.

YAHWEH appears over 6,500 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Over time as the people of God read Scripture, they took to using the name
“Adonai” instead of “YAHWEH.” Adonai simply means “Lord” (not the lower case letters) and the use of this term has been used for centuries right up to our modern time. Ancient scribes were so concerned about not spelling out YAHWEH, that they developed a unique scribal reminder to ensure that this would not happen. They would take out the vowels within YAHWEH and insert the vowels from ADONAI thereby producing the name YAHOWAH. This is how the term JEHOVAH became prominent in our English versions of scripture. Watch the video to learn more interesting facts about the name of God.

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for churchleaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.