Friday, January 01, 2021

God's Name Jehovah: What Does It Mean?

I thought that the classical statement below on the significance of the name Jehovah in the very helpful 17th century systematic theology The Christian’s Reasonable Service by Wilhemus á Brakel, theologian of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie or Further/Second Reformation, which was comparable to English Puritanism,  was worth reprinting and thinking about.  I have reproduced it from one of the appendixes of my essay on the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points:

[I]t has pleased the Lord to give Himself a name by which He wishes to be called—a name which would indicate His essence, the manner of His existence, and the plurality of divine Persons. The name which is indicative of His essence is יְהוָֹה or Jehovah, it being abbreviated as יָהּ or Jah. The name which is indicative of the trinity of Persons is אֱלֹהִים or Elohim. Often there is a coalescence of these two words resulting in יֱהוִה or Jehovi. The consonants of this word constitute the name Jehovah, whereas the vowel marks produce the name Elohim. Very frequently these two names are placed side by side in the following manner: Jehovah Elohim, to reveal that God is one in essence and three in His Persons. 

The Jews do not pronounce the name Jehovah. This practice of not using the name Jehovah initially was perhaps an expression of reverence, but later became superstitious in nature. In its place they use the name אֲדֹנָי or Adonai, a name by which the Lord is frequently called in His Word. Its meaning is “Lord.” When this word is used in reference to men, it is written with the letter patach, which is the short “a” vowel. When it is used in reference to the Lord, however, the letter kametz is used, which is the long “a” vowel. As a result all the vowels of the name Jehovah are present. To accomplish this the vowel “e” is changed into a chatef-patach which is the shortest “a” vowel, referred to as the guttural letter aleph. Our translators, to give expression to the name Jehovah, use the name Lord, which is similar to the Greek word kurios, the latter being a translation of Adonai rather than Jehovah. In Rev 1:4 and 16:5 the apostle John translates the name Jehovah as follows: “Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” This one word has reference primarily to being or essence, while having the chronological connotation of past, present, and future. In this way this name refers to an eternal being, and therefore the translation of the name Jehovah in the French Bible is l’Eternel, that is, the Eternal One.


The name Jehovah is not to be found at all in the New Testament, which certainly would have been the case if it had been a prerequisite to preserve the name Jehovah in all languages. . . . Even though the transliteration of Hebrew words would conflict with the common elegance of the Greek language, it is nevertheless not impossible. Since they can pronounce the names Jesus, Hosanna, Levi, Abraham, and Hallelujah, they are obviously capable of pronouncing the name Jehovah. . . . Jehovah is not a common name, such as “angel” or “man”—names which can be assigned to many by virtue of being of equal status. On the contrary, it is a proper Name which uniquely belongs to God and thus to no one else, as is true of the name of every creature, each of which has his own name. (Wilhemus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout [Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992] 84-85)

May you be edified as you meditate upon Jehovah and His wonderful Name.



KJB1611 said...

Logos Bible software offers a free book each month, and with that there is also a very heavily discounted vol. 1 of Brakel's book:

That is very worth getting if you don't already have it.

David said...

Thanks for sharing. I was looking over the Rev. 1:4 and 16:5. He states that John translates the name Jehovah as the one who was, and is to come. I looked at the Greek and commentaries but could not find where he comes to the conclusion that it is translated from Jehovah. Any helpful ideas on this? Thanks!

Jon Gleason said...

Brother Ross, I think Exodus 6:3 is very important to us in understanding the significance of the name Jehovah. Passages like Genesis 15:7 (and others) show that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did know the name.

We know that God does not contradict Himself or lie. So what is the significance of what He says in Exodus 6:3? I have my own view on the matter, but I'm interested in your thoughts.

KJB1611 said...

Hi David,

The idea of "I AM" and "I AM WHO I AM" is that He is the eternal God, He who was, and is, and is to come; the Revelation texts are not necessarily a translation, but they explain what Jehovah means.

I can't look through lots of commentaries right now, but this connection is definitely present and I didn't just think of it now, nor did Brakel when he wrote.

Dear Bro Gleason,

Knowing God's name does not necessarily mean knowing just what the letters sound like. Jehovah revealed His character, His name, who He was in a greater way through the redemption of Israel from Egypt. The patriarchs did not have that greater revelation, but they did know Jehovah's name to a certain extent from what He had revealed to them, and they certainly know the actual Tetragrammaton, pronounced, and called upon Jehovah.


Tenrin Grey said...

Any idea why the vowels of Elohim would sometimes be used with the Tetragrammaton?

Also, you said: "When it is used in reference to the Lord, however, the letter kametz is used, which is the long “a” vowel. As a result all the vowels of the name Jehovah are present." I don't think you are promoting the view that the vowels of Jehovah come from Adonai, but that sentence confuses me as to what you mean... Would you please elaborate?

KJB1611 said...

Hello Tenrin, thanks for the question.

Usually when the word "Lord" in the KJV is used for God, it is Adonai, slightly different than "lord" for men, usually "Adoni." That is what Brakel is referring to.

I believe that as Brakel points out: "Often there is a coalescence of these two words resulting in יֱהוִה or Jehovi. The consonants of this word constitute the name Jehovah, whereas the vowel marks produce the name Elohim." This is because the Triune God in covenant with His people is the one Creator God--the two terms Elohim and Jehovah both refer to the one and the same God.

I hope that helps.

Jon Gleason said...

Brother Thomas, I think you've got the root of the matter. The patriarchs knew the name but did not know or fully appreciate the meaning of it. I'd like to elaborate on that because I think that Exodus 6 therefore gives us important evidence as to the core emphasis / meaning of the name.

The contrast between the patriarchs and the way God is revealing Himself in Exodus 6 is that they've not seen the covenant fulfilled, but God is about to fulfil it. All they've had is a promise, dwelling in tabernacles as heirs of the promise (Heb. 11:9), but they were not in receipt of the promise (Heb. 11:13-15).

The name Jehovah was used in making those covenant promises to each of them, but now God says He is going to really reveal Himself as Jehovah. They knew Him as powerful, God Almighty, but now He is going to fulfil the covenant, so He will be known as Jehovah.

My preliminary conclusion, therefore, is that a primary force of the name, if not the sole focus, is that it emphasises His nature as a covenant-keeping God. And when I then look at how the name is used in Scripture, it seems to bear that out. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew Him as a covenant-making God, but only in a limited way as a covenant-keeping God. When God gives a son to Abraham, He is again Jehovah. When He promises the covenant to Jacob, again, He uses Jehovah. When He sends Jacob back from Padanaram to the promised land, He again identifies Himself as Jehovah. And so on.

Very, very frequently Jehovah is used when there is an emphasis on God's covenant faithfulness. If you study it out, you may not entirely agree with the way I've expressed it but I think you'll find there's something to what I'm saying.

Andrew said...

Jon, agree with you because like you said his holy name Jehovah was already known. It seems since Genesis 4:1. The importance of saying this here in Exodus 6:3 can seem to be that in the past they had known him by His mighty hand before, as the Almighty, but that from this point they would know Him for His attribute of being the absolute unchanging, since He had a way to make His promises turn to reality, and with God all things are possible. So He would be known for the mighty works He was about to do by the name of Jehovah, in that He undoubtedly made these things become reality.

There really isn't left any other explanation except the eternal, or constant or immutable nature of God's word, as it was given from the beginning. And He could be known as Jehovah, as what God spoke and said was given from long, long before these things came to pass, but could rightly be regarded as an eternal fact or immutable truth by the hearers right away.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Gleason and Andrew,

Thanks, good points.

Andrew said...

Thanks, and good article, Thomas. I knew you would like them.