by Dan Bergman
It was an amazing sight to behold. The flames licked the leaves of this flourishing bush – and, yet, it remained unharmed by the raging fire engulfing it. A voice calls to Moses out of this bush. It was the God of his people – the Creator of all! He tells Moses that He will send him to Pharaoh with a demand to release His people (the Hebrews) from slavery.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. Exodus 3:13-15
ORIGIN AND MEANING OF THE NAME
“אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (Ehyeh asher ehyeh)” is the phrase translated “I AM THAT I AM.” It literally means “I will be that I will be.” This is the meaning behind the name יהוה loosely transliterated into English as “Jehovah.” It should be noted that God then tells Moses to tell the Hebrews that “…I AM hath sent me unto you… Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord (יהוה Jehovah) God of your fathers… hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
This passage tells us from God’s own mouth that “Jehovah” is equal to “I AM (or, I will be).” He says that this is His name forever! The rabbis of old noted that the four letters of this name (YHVH) are used to form the phrase “היה הוה יהיה” (Hayah hoveh yi’yeh) “He was, He is, He will be.” In simple English, the proper name of God is given the meaning “the Self-Existing One.” This name is used over 8,000 times in the Hebrew Bible.
PRONOUNCIATION OF THE NAME
This four letter personal name of God is known as “the Ineffable” or “the Unutterable Name.” The name of God is not pronounced within a large portion of the Jewish community. There are a few factors that contribute to this tradition:
- The system of Hebrew vowel points (to aid in pronunciation) were not introduced until sometime between 500 – 900 A.D. This makes an exact pronunciation of God’s name nearly impossible to verify.
- The third commandment prohibits taking the name of the LORD in vain.1
Out of reverence for the name of God, and the sincere desire not to mispronounce it, the Jewish community by and large has come to substitute the pronunciation of this name with “Adonai” (Lord), or “Ha Shem” (the Name).
Within Christian circles, we have come to pronounce God’s name (based on the four Hebrew letters) as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” This is partially a result of the Masorites (those who invented the vowel system) treatment of יהוה. They inserted the vowels from Adonai to ensure that the name wouldn’t be taken in vain. There is no “J” in Biblical Hebrew. In older English, “J” was pronounced with a “Y” sound. Some thought that the vowels of God’s name had been intentionally reversed by the Masorites. This is where “Yahweh” comes from. The now outdated European Hebrew pronunciation pronounces the Hebrew letter “ו” (v) with a “w” sound. This is incorrect according to current day, mainstream Hebrew, although this pronunciation is still favored in some seminaries. It should also be noted that “Yah” is almost certainly the first part of God’s name, as it is mentioned in Psalm 68:4 and Isaiah 26:4.
MESSIANIC APLICATION OF THE NAME
There are a number of passages that apply this very special name to the Messiah. One of these is Jeremiah 23:5,6:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, …and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (יְהוָ֥ה׀ צִדְקֵֽנוּ Jehovah Tzidkenu).
The Messiah is Jehovah – in human flesh. In Zechariah 14:1-4, we see a passage referencing the 2nd coming. It is complementary to the Acts 1:11 passage where the disciples are told that Jesus would return just as he ascended – from the Mount of Olives. Zechariah 14:4 tells us that in that day, Jehovah’s own feet will stand on that mountain. This is why Jesus could tell Phillip “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.”2
This is also why he told the Jews in John 8:58, “…before Abraham was, I AM.”
The God who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, took on flesh when He was born in a manger. He lived a sinless life and died on a Roman cross for your sin and mine. He rose from the dead on the third day, proving that the penalty was paid in full! If you haven’t done so, trust Him today for your salvation!
- Exodus 20:7 This passage in context is referring to taking an oath, or swearing by the name of the LORD – and doing so falsely.
- John 14:9