Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: YHWH

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.

The name of God

LORD, in upper case letters, appears 6,510 times in the English Old Testament. This is not a translation of some Hebrew word meaning Lord, but of YHWH, the name of God.

This name was first revealed to Moses in the account of the burning bush Exodus chapter 3. God tells Moses that His name is I AM. When this was written out in the Scripture it was written YHWH in Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is only 22 letters, all consonants. Apparently this is not as much of a problem in Hebrew as it would be in English or French, due to a lesser number of vowel sounds.

Hundreds of years later vowel points were added to Hebrew, but in the meantime the pronunciation of YHWH was lost as it was thought to be a sin to pronounce the name of God. This came from the desire to avoid violating the commandment which says “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”

Rather than pronounce YHWH the Hebrew people would substitue another word, most often Adonai, which means Lord. Whe vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet the voels of Adonai were inserted in YHWH, which gave Yahovah. This is undoubtedly the wrong pronunciation. To be true to the origin of YHWH in the Hebrew word for I AM, the name needs to be pronounced Yahweh (or Yahveh).

I think many readers of the Bible misunderstand the meaning of LORD in the Old Testament. It does not mean that the name of God means Lord, but simpply follows the Jewish practice of substituting Lord for the name of God. Many Jews today will not pronounce God in English and write it as G-D, omitting the vowel.

In French Bibles YHWH is translated as l’Éternel (the Eternal) which nicely captures the meaning of I AM as the name of God. But then in the New Testament French Bibles use Seigneur (Lord) just like English Bibles use Lord. The substitution of Lord for YHWH was so thoroughly entrenched by that time that New Testament writers used kurios, the Greek word for Lord to refer to God.

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