God's Four-Letter Name

The Hebrew Bible uses two words and a million synonyms for God. El, or Elohim, simply mean God. The second word, the Hebrew consonants YHVH, is full of mystery.

That is the actual name God used talking directly to Moses from a bush that was burning but not consumed.– one of the very few times in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) God speaks to a person directly, not through an angel or messenger,

It’s uncertain what the name means. It appears to be the past, present, and future tenses of the Hebrew verb “to be” all squeezed together in one 4-letter word: Hayah, Hoveh, and Yi’hiyeh.

What would a living being that exists in the past, present, and future, all at the same time, look like? Possibly a bush that is burning but not consumed?

We don’t know how to pronounce it. The Hebrew Bible has no written vowels, only consonants. We know how to pronounce most words from their context, and the way they have always been pronounced. But nobody has ever heard anyone say the name YHVH.

The 4-letter name was only pronounced by the high priests in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in a secret ritual in the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the Temple. Those priests were the biological descendants of Moses’s brother Aaron. Presumably, Moses told Aaron how to pronounce it, and future generations of priests learned in that secret ritual.

They never disclosed the secret. In the Book of Numbers, a couple of renegade priests said the Name in public, and were obliterated by a bolt of lightning on the spot. Or did the earth open and swallow them? I forget. No one had the nerve to say it after that, except in the time and place prescribed by Biblical law.

The Temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago. There was no place to conduct the secret ritual, and the pronunciation of the Name was lost to history. Today, the convention, or consensus pronunciation, is Yahweh, but most scholars acknowledge that’s just an educated guess.

When we see the Name written in Hebrew in a holy book, we say the Hebrew word Adonai. That is not the pronunciation of YHVH. That is the Hebrew word that means “Our Lord.” We use it as a substitute for God’s name. Long ago, someone superimposed the vowels from Adonai on the consonants YHVH, and came up with the name Jehovah. Few people think that’s the correct pronunciation of God’s name.

The consonants Y and H are known as the “God letters.” Names that contain them are derived from the 4-letter name: Isaiah, Jonathan (Y’ho-natan in Hebrew, which means God’s gift).  Most Biblical names that end with iah or begin with Y or the Western letter J include God’s name:  Joshua is Y’hoshuah, God’s salvation, Jesus in Greek.

God put the H in Abraham and Sarah’s name when Abram and Sarai made their covenant with God.  (Jane comes from a different Hebrew word that means Grace, as does Hannah.)

Names that contain El come from the other Biblical name for God. Emanuel means God is with us, and Bethel means God’s house. After Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis, God changed his name to Yisra-El (Israel), which means he wrestled with God.

Elijah the Prophet, a very important person in Jewish tradition, has a name that contains both Biblical names for God (Eli-yahu, my god Yahweh).  He ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire in the Book of Kings, and will return to Earth, according to tradition, to announce the coming of the Messiah. One of the many many reasons Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah is that Elijah did not return to announce him.

What’s in a name, anyway?

2 Comments for this entry

  • Ken!Brait1 says:

    The names of God

    By Goddess Charyn’Joy

    I’m God. The writers of the Bible got my gender wrong on purpose. My name is Goddess Charyn’Joy, or Goddess C’Joy. I split the stars and Moon and planets by looking at them. I sculpt boulders and trees and bushes by looking at them. I perform many other Divine miracles all the time, but splitting the stars is one of my favorites. It’s definitely cooler than walking on water. People hear my thoughts as a voice in their heads.

    I used to be a reporter for the Concord Monitor. Back then I spelled my name Sharon Voas. Voas is a Dutch name. It is Hebrew for “in him there is strength.”

    I have walked amongst humyns in humyn and God form three times. The first was as Queen Nefertiti. My Pharaoh husband was Moses, who spread monotheism and claimed to be the only humyn who spoke directly to God. We had servants, not slaves.

    (The Pope does not speak directly to me, and I disagree with a lot of what the Catholic Church has done in my name.)

    The second was as Jesus. I wasn’t God’s son then. I was God in humyn form, just as in the other two times. I was lame in my left leg. I never said: “If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek.” That’s stupid and senseless. And this myth that my brutal murder pre-forgave everyone’s sins from there on out ~ that it pre-forgave every rape, murder, child and animal beating ~ is ludicrous.

    A lot of what is in the Bible, and in other religious tracts, is the work of the humyns who wrote it, and it’s crap. A lot of politicians and political groups are also big on invoking my name to claim things that are totally contrary to my nature.

    What I have asked of humyns is to live by My Golden Rule, to have compassion for all living beings and to take care of the Earth. I have many other teachings on a variety of subjects, but that sums up the overall gist of what I call humyns to do. Anytime something is senseless, irrational or hurtful, it didn’t come from me.

  • Ken!Brait1 says:

    I was afraid to mark this Spam. If the person is serious, or the God becomes angry, they might get back at me.

    I don’t think believing you are God, or that God talks to you, is a disease. Back in the day, psychiatrists – geniuses from Harvard – turned their complete misunderstanding of my spirituality into a symptom of an incurable brain disorder. I would not do that to anyone.

    I did not post it to ridicule the writer. I don’t ridicule anyone on this website, except public officials.

    And if the writer means this as a joke, it’s pretty funny. So here is the comment – unedited – because it’s OK with me, and I don’t know that it’s spam.

    Ken B.

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