Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Yahweh

The LORD is my shepherd

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The words are so familiar that we give them little thought. Why don’t we pause a moment and do that? Who is this LORD who is mentioned 6,828 times in the Old Testament? Have you noticed that his name is always written in small caps? Other lords are mentioned in the Old Testament, but this LORD must be someone of special significance.

Well, we all know that LORD refers to God. Why didn’t David just write God then? Hold on to your hats, because the answer takes us on quite a journey.

You see, what David actually wrote was YHWH is my shepherd. The Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet, but it consisted of only 21 characters, all of them consonants. A few of them did double duty to represent vowel sounds, but YHWH contains no indication of what vowels sounds to use in pronouncing it. YHWH is the name of God and that four letter combination is referred to as the tetragrammaton, a Greek word meaning four letters.

Apparently the Hebrew prophets, priests, kings and just ordinary people knew how to pronounce it until the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the Babylonian captivity. Then a teaching appeared that to pronounce the name of God was to take His name in vain. So when someone read the Old Testament Scriptures aloud and came to one of the 6,828 instances of the tetragrammaton, he would substitute some other word that was descriptive of God. The most common such word was Adonai, which means lord.

Some years later small diacritical marks were added to Hebrew, placed above the letters, to show the vowel sounds. When the Old Testament text was written with these vowel marks, the vowels of Adonai were added to the tetragrammeton, producing Yahowah, which later was translated into English as Jehovah.

Jehovah is an artificial word having no root or meaning in Hebrew. The consensus of Bible scholars is that the name of God should be spelled Yahweh. When Moses asked God to tell him His name, God’s answer was “I am.” That is the root and meaning of Yahweh.

French Bible translators have taken an approach that differs from their English counterparts. They translate all 6,828 instances of YHWH as “l’Éternel,” – the Eternal.

I believe that is what David was saying: The Eternal is my shepherd: the eternal, uncreated omnipotent, omniscient, creator is aware of me and all my needs and He is taking care of me and will take care of me forever.

We are significant in the eyes of Yahweh, He wants us to know Him personally and trust Him for all our needs. It is a wonderful thing to have the assurance that He is doing just that, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and there seems to be danger on every hand. If we trust Him and follow where He leads, He has us covered.

Who is our Lord?

We are told in 1 Kings chapter 17 that the people of Samaria “feared the LORD, and served their own gods.” In reading the whole account, we find that the people understood that they needed to reverence Yahweh to save their lives from the lions. But when it came to the mundane affairs of life, they sacrificed to other gods for the fertility of their fields, their flocks and their homes.

Well, we may say, that was a long time ago, and maybe those people didn’t really know any better. What’s my excuse? and yours?

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Of course not, we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. We are very punctilious in our worship of Yahweh. But what influences our choices in clothing, vehicles, homes, lifestyles? I don’t believe that we have to deliberately strive to be different, but what motivates our choices from the many options available to us? Some Christians seem to be trying to prove that a Christian can live and party just like anybody else. What motivates that desire? Jesus said:  “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Who, or what, has power over our choices?

Unless we allow Yahweh to be Lord over every aspect and every activity of our life, we are going to be very much like those people back in Samaria.

Freedom of religion

From the time that mankind began to form separate nation states it was the custom of each to have its own gods and for each to believe that their gods were superior to the gods of other nations. Thus, if any individual or family in a nation would choose to worship another god, that was treason and was usually punished by death. When one nation conquered another, that was taken as evidence of the superiority of its gods and the conquered people were required to abandon their old gods and worship the gods of those who had conquered them.

In theory, Israel and Judah were no different in this than other nations, except that their God commanded them not to make any visual representations of Him. But it was difficult for people to grasp how Yahweh, the unseen God, could be more powerful than a god that they could see. For hundreds of years they often succumbed to the desire make themselves gods that they could see, to the point of offering hideous sacrifices to these gods, even their own children.

Finally Yahweh allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to conquer Judah and remove many of the people to Babylon. At first he took this as evidence that his god was greater than Yahweh. Then strange things began to happen; Nebuchadnezzar had a succession of vivid dreams, with dramatic consequences.

After the first dream was revealed and interpreted by Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s response was: “Of a truth that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of lords.” After the dramatic results following the second dream, the king said: “Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall ne made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

Thus Yahweh intervened in the affairs of a pagan nation to establish freedom of religion for His people. But He still wasn’t finished with the king of Babylon: after a third dream and a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar went beyond acknowledging Yahweh as the God of Daniel and his friends and said:”I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought towards me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Most of the Jewish captives in Babylon eventually returned to their homeland. They rebuilt the temple and seemed to have no more desire for visible gods. But they were never again a fully independent nation. There were pockets of Jews who stayed in Babylon, Egypt and other nations and were granted freedom of worship.

Christianity was never intended to be a religion confined to a single nation. The faith first spread among the people of the Jewish diaspora, but soon went far beyond them to include Gentiles of all description. The Christians were never a rival to the political power of nations, yet there was often persecution as nations struggled to maintain the primacy of their national gods.

It was not a step forward when Christianity was made the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire: it was a return to the bad old days. People who would not worship in the prescribed form in the prescribed places became enemies of the state. This included Christians who believed that state Christianity was no Christianity at all, plus Jews and later Muslims.

Someone who is forced to worship a state sponsored religion is not a true believer. Freedom of religion must include the freedom to change your religion. None of us want to see one of our own forsake our religion for something else. But forcing him to stay does not make him a believer. And if their is no freedom to leave, is there truly freedom for someone else to choose to unite with us?

This freedom is the cornerstone of all other freedoms, but it is under threat today from within and without.  Many people in our society feel pressured to acquiesce to the beliefs that are seen to be politically correct. Universities were supposed to be places for the free exchange of ideas; today it seems there is only one right way to think on most campuses.

Islam has never had a theology of freedom of religion. The fierce conflicts that are happening in Islamic nations are largely attempts by different Islamic factions to eliminate other factions that they deem heretical. We are inviting refugees from these horrors to come and settle in our country. Most of them simply want to escape the violence and live in peace. Yet it’s still not likely that the majority really get the concept of freedom of religion. It needs to be impressed upon them that Canada is a land of freedom in all ways, and that we will not look kindly on those who deem it necessary to kill someone who leaves their faith. Can Islam really adapt to living in such freedom?

For I am the Eternal, I change not

The title is taken from Malachi 3:6 as it reads in French Bibles. This use of Eternal for the name of God is found throughout French translations of the Old Testament in places where one would find LORD in the English AV (KJV).

The Hebrew language was first written without vowels and the name of God was spelled YHVH. It is commonly accepted today that the original pronunciation was Yahweh and that the name had its origin in the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM. However, there developed a superstition among the Jews that a person who spoke this name aloud would be cursed. From then on another word was subsituted when the Scriptures were read aloud, most often Adonai, meaning Lord. In the course of time, the vowels of Adonai were inserted into YHVH, producing Yahovah, which became Jehovah in English.

The English translators of 1611 continued the Jewish practice of substituting LORD for the name of God, setting it in all upper case letters to distinguish God the Lord from other lords. French translators continued the practice of not using the name of God, but opted for a word that reflected the meaning of I AM.

I wonder if the use of LORD for the name of God doesn’t confuse some people.  Who is this Lord? Many people today don’t  understand the significance of the uppercase letters.

Here are a few more examples of how the Scripture sounds when Eternal is used for the name of God:

And the Eternal God formed man of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).

The Eternal is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1).

The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).

But they that put their trust in the Eternal shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

There can be no confusion here, there is only one Eternal. To my ears and my mind at least, it lends a greater weight of meaning to read the verses this way. The main thing is to understand that however we spell and pronounce the name of God, we are referring to the self-existing, unchanging Creator and Master of all that exists.

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