I remember in somewhere around day 2 of our Hebrew class our instructor had us take out our main text book & we all read this statement together:
“Another type of deliberate change in the reading due in this case to reverence, is the Divine name (Yahweh). The Divine name was considered too sacred to be pronounced; so the consonants of this word were written in the text (Kethibh), but the word read (Qere) was adonai.
A PRACTICAL GRAMMER FOR CLASSICAL HEBREW by J. Weingreen.
He had us all get out our pens & cross out the word “reverence” and replace it with the word “superstition”. He went on a passionate rant / digression saying (weird that I can still recall this), “God has a NAME & He wants us to know it & call Him by name.” He would usually begin our classes with prayer. One day for example praying Psalm 8:1 prayed, O Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth (Yahweh adonainu ma ‘adir shemka vacla ha-aretz).
Back to the present. We at Journey are in a series on the life of Elijah (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2). One of the main themes of the life of Elijah is that Yahweh, not Ba’al is the true god of Israel & really of the whole earth.
GETTING US UP TO SPEED
For those of you that are totally lost let me give you a little background. When you read your Bible and are in the Old Testament, you frequently see the word “LORD”. It seems so normal to us that you are probably saying, “Duh! It’s the Bible, of course it talks about the LORD! This is all fine & makes sense until you get to passages like Genesis 4:26… “then men began to call on the name of the LORD.” What kind of name is “LORD”. So here’s the deal. When you read in most English Bibles the all-capital word “LORD” it is translating the Hebrew word “YaHWeH. Hebrew has no vowels, so pronunciation indicators, called “vowel points” are put in many Bibles to help us know how to say it (they are not in most texts read in synagogues). Somewhere along the line it was decided that the name of God was too Holy to pronounce. So in Hebrew you SAY adonai (Lord, master, think of English royalty, yes, my Lord) even through anyone can read Yahweh. Pretty much every English translation that any of you own follows this notion. Some of my Jewish friends not only won’t say the Y word, but even when they type they will refer to God as G_d or Ha Shem (the NAME).
But when you come to a section of Scripture like we are in now, in which the whole thing is a battle of the two very specific deities.,both of which have names. What do you do? In most of our minds the word “LORD” and the word “GOD” is interchangeable. But here one God is getting in the face of the other & at every turn essentially calling him a punk. In fact the main character, Elijah (Eliyyahu) means Yahweh is my / our God. So, I find myself referring to Yahweh in these messages. The question is this: is that o.k.? Further, are our English translations right in not translating what is plainly & repeatedly right in front of them?
REASONS FOR NOT USING THE Y WORD
It is nice to fall in line with a long tradition if possible. In matters of faith & theology, innovation is not exactly a cardinal virtue. The practice of not translating the name is ancient. For us protestants of course we have a long history of saying “who cares”. We point to places like Mark 7 in which Jesus blew off tradition warning about it getting in the way of real faith. Allow me to throw a speed-bump in our road through the neighborhood of faith we’ve recently (in historical terms) been invited to move into. This particular tradition pre-dates Jesus. The Septuagint (shorthand LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures c.200 b.c.e. ) did not translate “the name.” They used “KURIOS” the Greek word for Lord. All of the New Testament writers followed the LXX in this practice. Often when you see OT quotes in the NT they are quoting the LXX. (I know this is lot of letters to keep track of… pretend we’re texting LOL, OMG, OT, NT, LXX)
To me this is the strongest argument for adhering to our practice of LORD for YHWH.
ON THE OTHER HAND
But the name is used over 6800 times by itself not counting where it occurs in names (like Elijah) and places. There is THAT! In the Bible that is next to my laptop, the Old Testament is 816 pages. Do the math. That’s a lot of occurrences of a word that we aren’t supposed to say. Then there are the places where it just doesn’t make sense if you don’t use a proper name.
The KaBoom for me is that essentially the name of Jesus is this name. Yashuah (the non-greekized / gringo-ized name of Jesus, what his mom called him) means YHWH is Salvation!
So here’s what my practice looks like. I sometimes pray to Yahweh. I often read it YHWH when I’m reading the text in my own Bible reading or when I’m memorizing verses. When I teach, I use it when the text calls for it, especially when it won’t make sense without it. I try to pray the Shema of Jesus (Deut 6:4-5 with Lev 19:18) in the morning & at night every day. I have memorized them in Hebrew. When I say v.4 I say Yahweh. When I say v5 I say adonai. Don’t know why, I just do.
As for me, I pray the prayer of Solomon when he dedicated he temple
1Kings 8:43 hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that 2this house which I have built is called by Your name.
And that name would be…