Why is it that we feel like we must call our God by his title and not by the name that He gave us to call Him by? I don’t remember growing up and asking my dad questions, “Hey Mr. Daddy Sir, can I go ride the snowmachine?” It just feels weird. Why then do we say things like, “dear LORD, please help us with this test.”? It’s like we are calling him Mr. without even bothering to tag a name on the end.
Well the obvious answer to this question is that is what we read in our bibles. “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’” So then the question becomes, why does the bible translate the name of God into his title when all the other names such as Moses, Joseph, Abraham are all transliterated. (spelled out with English letters to make roughly the same sounds as the Hebrew) and God’s name is translated from the Hebrew word that sounds something like YHWH to LORD. Last I checked those don’t sound anything alike.
First of all, where did YHWH come from and why doesn’t it have any vowels? Well it was the name given in Exodus 3 when God introduced himself to his people through Moses at the burning bush. He wanted to establish a relationship with his people and so Moses asked him, “what are we supposed to call you?” (Andrew Paraphrased Version) to which God responded I AM WHO I AM. Which, in Hebrew, is written YHWH. (they didn’t believe in writing vowels but we typically pronounce it Yahweh)
Now why is it translated LORD? Well apparently, at some point, some Jews became really paranoid about taking the name of YHWH in vain so they stopped pronouncing it out loud and instead substituted Adoni (Lord in Hebrew) so they wouldn’t be hit by any smitening bolts if they accidentally messed up the pronunciation.
So the text still said YHWH but it was pronounced Adoni. Well when the translators got to work changing the Hebrew to English, they carried on the tradition of changing it from the personal name YHWH to the title, lord. Well thankfully, they gave us a way of telling when it is really YHWH that is meant by putting it in small caps “LORD”. So in reality, when you are reading the Bible, unless you are worried about smitening bolts, you can, if you like, read “LORD” as YHWH because it is the name that he gave us to use in our relationship and that the authors wrote down.
Now some might ask, “haven’t you lost all your reverence for the holy God by calling him by his first name?” to which I would respond, well yes, we here in our western evangelical Christianity may have wandered toward a little too much of a “buddy buddy Jesus” at times and forgotten just how great, immeasurable and transcendent he is. But that can be avoided if we take this seriously. Just realize that when you use the name YHWH you are really using the name that means Existing One, or I am that I am. You are addressing not just the creator of the universe, but the one who was before the universe, who is acting in and beyond the universe and who will be for all time, that same God who gave us his name to call him by because he wanted to know us. He wanted to know us so much that he was willing to descend to our level and become man, to die at our hands in our place.
That is YHWH… Blessed be his name.