What’s in a Name?

Paleo Hebrew and Modern Hebrew
YHVH (the personal name of God) in Paleo Hebrew and Modern Hebrew

Here in America, we talk about ‘God’ a lot.  When we speak of ‘God’, most of us envision the Supreme Being, the Creator of the Universe, the Father of all.  And most of us do not realize that He has a NAME!

He tells us His name over 6,800 times in His Word!  (Our Bibles have replaced His Name with ‘The LORD.’) 

His name is YHVH!

YHVH??  I can hear you asking, ‘What kind of name is THAT??  How do you even pronounce that??”  Good questions!

What kind of name is it?  It means ‘I AM’ and includes the idea of continued, uninterrupted existence – ‘The One Who Was and Is and Who Will Be’ – the Eternal One.  It is the Name that He gave Himself, so it has no ‘nationality’ in the way we think of nationality or ethnicity.   It is not a ‘Hebrew’ name.

However, YHVH did first reveal His Name to Hebrews, whose written language has no vowels.  When they first wrote the name, they wrote it in pictographs –

hey-pictograoph 2vav-pictograph 2hey-pictograoph 2Yud-pictograph 2

Later it it was written in Paleo-Hebrew.

TheName

Today it is written in modern Hebrew as

YHWH 5

and appears in English as ‘YHVH.’

YHVH-ELOHIM

Many times in scripture, the Father commands those who love and trust Him to use His name, and long ago the name was regularly used in public.  For example, in the Book of Ruth, Boaz and his workers greet one another ‘in the name of YHVH‘ (Ruth 2:4) , the equivalent of our modern American “Hi!”

King David and harp
King David sang Psalms to YHVH while accompanying himself on the harp. He included the Name YHVH in many of his psalms. A few times he used a poetic version of the Name, “Yah”, which we still see in our modern Bibles. (Ex – Psalm 68:4)

There is plenty of scriptural indication that the Name was freely said (and sung) aloud in the time of David and other biblical heroes.  Other scriptural and extra-scriptural manuscripts indicate that the Name was still pronounced aloud even during the time of Y’shua.   (For example, there is no question that it was pronounced aloud during Temple ceremonies as part of the blessing over the people.)

There is strong evidence that during Y’shua’s time, the Name was still pronounced aloud by Torah teachers, and Y’shua was recognized as a respected Torah teacher.  (That’s why the Pharisees addressed him as “Rabbi.”)

So 2,000 years ago, every Jew knew how to correctly pronounce ‘YHVH,’ but it is kind of puzzling for folks like us, who don’t speak Hebrew and who are used to having vowel sounds spelled out for us!

Why was the pronunciation forgotten?

Hadrian_Santa_Bibiana_Massimo
Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117-138 AD (CE)

In 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were dispersed all over the Roman Empire by Roman decree. No more hearing the Name pronounced during worship…. Then, around 125 CE, several generations after Y’shua’s ministry, Emperor Hadrian [1] wanted to eradicate the Jews (a constant source of upheaval in the Empire) and Judaism (which the Romans viewed as a ‘godless religion’).  Amongst other horrendously anti-Semitic actions, he passed a law making it a capital offense to pronounce ‘the name of the Jewish god’ aloud!  (Obviously it WAS being said aloud, or he would not have had to pass such a law!)   At least ten men, including rabbi Haninah ben Teradion, suffered very cruel deaths for breaking Hadrian’s law .

 This symbol says: The Name of YHVH is BANNED!  Is this offensive to you?  IT SHOULD BE!
This symbol says: YHVH is BANNED! Is this offensive to you? IT SHOULD BE! People can talk about “Allah” or “Buddha” or “God” – which is merely a title that can be used for ANY deity – but we are not allowed to proclaim the Name of The True Creator even though He COMMANDS us to call on His Name!! What is wrong with this picture???

Out of concern for the welfare of their people, the rabbis responded by instructing the Jews to abide by Hadrian’s law.  They expected Messiah to come momentarily – He would defeat the Romans and they could say the Name again!  However, the Romans remained in power for several hundred more years.

As is customary in Judaism, any practice that is adhered to for any length of time becomes true law to the Jewish public [2],  and that is what happened in this case: before long it was considered blasphemy to say the Name aloud.  (According to some sources, the only way that the Name was preserved at all was that knowledgeable rabbis whispered the Name once every seven years to their top disciples!)

No more Temple ceremonies, no more saying the Name out loud….  People who knew how to pronounce the name died off, and the new folks didn’t get to hear it spoken aloud.  That’s a problem.

But fortunately it is not an insurmountable problem.  Why?

In the Last Days, knowledge shall increase…. (Dan 12:4)

The Name has been shrouded in mystery and kept a rabbinic secret for over 1800 years.  Naturally people with a variety of agendas have sought to discover the correct pronunciation of the Name, so there are many theories on the subject.  Some have been proposed by people with little knowledge of ancient Hebrew and no training in its translation.  Their intent is admirable, but their knowledge is lacking.  Scholarly theories are diverse but are rarely based on scriptural considerations, instead depending largely on extra-scriptural references made by Gentile writers.

Ancient Scrolls 3
Thousands of ancient manuscripts have been discovered in the last few decades, so many that scholars have not even had time to study most of them. We are learning more all the time about the original meaning of our scriptures.

Fortunately, Hebrew scholar Nehemiah (Neh-HEM-ee-yah) Gordon [3] has presented research accumulated over at least ten years from a wide variety of ancient Hebrew manuscripts – manuscripts that became available only within the last few decades – that give the correct vowels to be used with the Name.  He has produced a number of videos explaining his discoveries and showing photographs of the pertinent manuscripts – they can be viewed at YouTube.  (I encourage you to take the time to watch a few of them.  He has also made many other very interesting and enlightening discoveries pertaining to the scriptures, though admittedly not all of them are as well-documented as the Name.)

YHVH with circleAccording to what Mr. Gordon has learned, we should spell God’s Name in English as YEHOVAH and pronounce it in Hebrew as ‘Yeh-hoe-VAH.”

The Blessing in the Name

Even if we do not agree on the pronunciation (and there is no ‘law’ that says we must all use the same exact pronunciation!), we can still be blessed by studying the Tetragrammaton (that’s what scholars call ‘the four letters,’ YHVH). For that, we need a little information concerning the Hebrew alphabet.

Ayin - eyeEach letter of the Hebrew alphabet derives from what was originally a pictographic alphabet.  Each pictograph had not only a sound associated with it, but also an associated meaning.  For example, the pictographic letter called ayin looked like an eye, because its associated meaning was literally ‘the human eye’ and activities related to seeing.  (Our English word ‘eye’ is directly descended from this Hebrew letter and word!)  The letter called Mem - watermem looked like waves because it was associated with water, the concept of flowing, etc., and the Hebrew word for water is mem [4] 

As the pictographs evolved into letters, they retained their associated meanings, so that to this day one can still pick a Hebrew word apart and find (in its letters) all kinds of associated meanings which are pertinent to the root meaning of the word itself.  Fascinating!

We can do this with the letters Y-H-V-H (aka the Tetragrammaton).

This is what the Name looks like in the ancient pictographic Hebrew alphabet:

Paleo Hebrew YHWH

Yud pictographIn Hebrew, words are read from right to left, so the first letter of the word is the pictograph of the arm and hand, which is the YUD.   It carries the ‘Y’ sound.  It pictures the “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” of YHVH! [5]  (Ex 32:11, Jer 27:5, etc)  The meaning of the YUD can be: arm, arm and hand, work, throw, worship.

Hey pictograohThe second letter is the HEY, which carries the ‘H’ sound.  It tells us to pay attention; to behold!  It also pictures a man – a living soul.  The various meanings of this letter are: Look!, Behold!, reveal, breathe (as in a breathing soul).

Vav pictographThe third letter is the VAV.  The VAV pictures a tent peg or a nail.  The meaning of the letter is: peg, nail, add, secure, hook.

Hey pictograohThe Name ends in the HEY, again picturing a man trying to get our attention.  [6]

If we put these letters with their meanings together, it is amazing what we get!

 I of the mighty outstretched arm, worthy of worship, I say

‘Behold the man with the nail! Behold!’

Some render the pictographic meaning of the Name more simply as:

 Behold the Hand!  Behold the Nail!

Is there any question as to whom this name is referring???  Who is the Man with the nail in His hand?  Here, in the very Name of YHVH, we have the prophecy of our Savior, Y’shua!!  Just as Yehoshua’s (Y’shua’s) name refers us to the Father, Yehovah, so the Father’s name refers us to the Son!

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?  Prov 30:4

 © John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire (from 117 to 138 CE) during the time of the Bar Kochba uprising in Israel, which was the Jewish response to the many tremendously offensive laws and actions that Hadrian had imposed on them.  He was responsible for the first Jewish Holocaust, resulting in the deaths of over 600,000 Jews!

[2] Traditions of this type are called minhaggim.  “A minhag is a custom that evolved for worthy religious reasons and has continued long enough to become a binding religious practice. …It is important to note that these “customs” are a binding part of halakhah, just like a mitzvah, a takkanah, or a gezeirah.” (Halakhah: Jewish Law, accessed 13 Aug 2014)

[3] Nehemiah Gordon, a Karaite Jew, has at least two websites that I am aware of: Nehemiah’s Wall and The Karaite Korner.  He has produced a number of videos, available at Nehemiah’s Wall and on YouTube, explaining and documenting his discoveries pertaining to the Hebrew scriptures.  He is neither a Christian nor a Messianic Jew, so he does not acknowledge Y’shua as Messiah.  However, his studies are scholarly, not religious, and he appears to be quite knowledgeable in Ancient Hebrew, having been, among other things,  part of the Dead Sea Scrolls team.

[4] For those interested in learning more about the fascinating meanings of Hebrew letters and how they combine to create words with multidimensional spiritual meaning, a couple of interesting sites are The Ancient Hebrew Research Center and Hebrew for Christians.

[5] The outstretched arm also reminds us of Y’shua, whose outstretched arms on the cross purchased our redemption.

[6] Benner Book 1For the pictograph illustrations and the meanings associated with the pictographs, I am indebted to Jeff Benner, creator of the web site, The Ancient Hebrew Research Center, and his book, The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet, published 2004, virtualbookworm.com.  I have absolutely no financial or other ulterior interest in his site or publications – they are simply excellent resource materials.

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11 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure
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    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could
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    Like

    1. Thanks for the excellent suggestions, Jessie. I am really working hard to figure out what will make my articles more readable and enjoyable. Your suggestions are very useful.
      Blessings and shalom,
      Sue

      Like

  2. Thanks, Lenei, and I hope you will – even just a little bit of knowledge of Hebrew really opens up the scriptures. SO MUCH has been lost in translation! My hubby and I are taking an online course through Hebrew University – I am amazed that in just two lessons we are already beginning to be able to read words! Didn’t expect that! (Of course we have no idea what the words mean….LOL!) That Ancient Hebrew Research Center site is really interesting – also Hebrew for Christians. Have fun! 🙂

    Like

  3. Wonderful blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
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    Liked by 1 person

    1. I, too, am a new blogger – welcome to the club!! I elected to use a free platform (WordPress) until I learn a little more about the whole blogging thing. Google has a neat little program where you pay something like a penny any time someone links to your site from another site – you tell Google the total amount you’re willing to spend on a daily basis, so you won’t go over your budget. I am considering using their service, since my ‘ads’ would appear only on pages that have similar interest appeal. My only other hint is to NOT write like me!!! I am way too wordy and my articles are much too long. I’m trying to correct those issues!!! Seems like folks like lots of color and pictures, too. Have fun!!!

      Like

  4. Hey there would you mind letting me know wich web host you’re using?
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    Liked by 1 person

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