Insight into Hebrew: The Divine Name

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by in Ancient Hebrew, Grammar, Judaism, Torah

In the King James translation of the Old Testament, the name of God appears only four times – Psalm 83:18, Exodus 6:3, Isaiah 12:2 and Isaiah 26:4. It is also used three times as a part of a name of an altar or place (Genesis 22:14, Exodus 17:15 and Judges 6:24). Otherwise, the name of God does not appear in the King James translation at all. Yet, the Hebrew Bible has the name of God over 6,800 times! The only other translations that keep the Divine Name intact is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures and the Divine Name King James Bible.

In modern English, the name of God is spelled Jehovah. I’ve come across many people telling me it’s not a correct/accurate pronunciation or translation – to which I agree, it is not. And there are dozens and dozens of theories online along with videos on YouTube of people trying to say they discovered the true pronunciation of Jehovah,
or they have an idea of how it was originally pronounced. But it’s what it is today because of superstition and centuries of change in language over the years.

The Superstition

So, why is Jehovah not used more often in the King James translation? This is due to the translators allowing themselves to be influenced by an ancient Jewish custom of not pronouncing the Divine Name יהוה because of a misunderstanding of the commandment at Exodus 20:6 “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” So instead of saying God’s name aloud, a title had to be placed in the Biblical text when reading.

When Masorite scribes invented the Hebrew vowel system, they wanted to be sure when anyone saw the name יהוה they would pronounce it ‘adonai’ by placing the vowels for ‘adonai’ (ְ וֹ ָ) with the consonants in God’s personal name, therefore writing it יְהֹוָה. This altered pronunciation is the ye-ho-va that is now used in Modern Hebrew and Jehovah in English. This development contributed to the eventual loss of the original pronunciation of יהוה.

This substitution is shown in English translations every time the Divine Name is printed as LORD (note: it’s in all caps to distinguish it from the substition of the Divine Name with the addressing of human rulers as ‘lord’). This practice is evident throughout the King James translation, such as 1 Kings 1:36 and Exodus 4:13–14.

Spelling and Pronunciation

 

In the English spelling of Jehovah, the consonants J-h-v-h are derived directly from the Hebrew letters (originally, it was I-h-v-h in English, but the Hebrew letter “yod” י eventually came to be written “j” due to the French influence on English). The vowels in “Jehovah” come from the vowels in the title ‘adonai’. Thus, the name Jehovah, which is very familiar to us in English, is a transliteration of the hybrid form used in Hebrew. As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t know how it was originally pronounced before 537 B.C. Yet, the shortened form of יהוה appears in Hebrew personal names and in the Hebrew Bible (for example, JAH in Psalm 68:4, and the last syllable in “Hallelujah” – הַלְּלוּיָהּ), it is evident the first syllable of the Divine Name is pronounced “yah”, thus the popular thought of “Yahweh” being the correct pronunciation.

The Meaning of the Name

The meaning of the Divine Name? I’ve had many discussions about it, maybe a few arguments, all the way from students of Hebrew all the way up to Rabbi’s.

The name Jehovah is a verb and is related to the Hebrew verb “to be.” It is usually associated with the form of the name Moses was told at the burning bush: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (Exodus 3:14). It is usually translated “I am what I am”. When understood this way, it’s a pretty vague description of who he really is, easily bringing up the question “What is he?” thus causing more confusion about his name.

Looking deeper into grammar, Jehovah is in the causative form, the imperfect state, of the Hebrew verb הוה (ha·wah′, “to become”). Therefore, does not mean “I am”, or “He is . . . (something, like love or mercy),” but rather “He Causes to Become.” the more accurate translation of the Divine Name is “I shall prove to be what I shall prove to be”. This reveals Jehovah as the One who, with progressive action, causes himself to become the Fulfiller of promises, the One who always brings his purposes to realization. In order to accomplish his purpose for mankind, he can become whatever he pleases, filling whatever role is needed.

As an example: Think of a parent caring for their child. If the child gets hurt in some way, the parent acts as a nurse. If the child is hungry, the parent becomes a cook, when it comes to learning, a teacher. The parent becomes what he or she needs to be according to the need that arises.

Where Else Is Jehovah Used?

The name Jehovah is not limited to the Bible. It occurs twice in the Book of Mormon, it can be seen in many churches as יהוה, and in many famous paintings and writings.

 

 

About Sean Young

Learning languages since 1978 and studying over 50 (achieving fluency in 10). Sean L. Young loves giving tips, advice and the secrets you need to learn a language successfully no matter what language you're learning. Currently studying Hindi and blogging his progress right here at Transparent Language - http://blogs.transparent.com/language-news.

3 Responses to “Insight into Hebrew: The Divine Name”

  1. Larry Orth 23 May 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Dear Sean,
    You sound like one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am a witness of Jehovah serving as a full time pioneer. In my work I find some who are reluctant to learn about Jehovah because they do not want witnesses to come to their door. I am trying to put together a web site where I can teach and perhaps get a few online studies started through word of mouth. All of my children are unbelievers and through them I have many contacts that could possibly learn online. I plan on buying the Divine Name King James Bible and also I have found another site where a group is writing a conservative Bible–http://conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible_Project. I am frantically searching many avenues to share the Good News about God’s Kingdom. I think that by letter writing and email as well as a blog one can reach people with this good news. I am going to place a link to this article on my blog. I like it because it is secular in nature and although some of the materials sound like it is right out of our literature, it is well said. Thank you.


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