Yahweh: God’s Personal Name

Usually when I read a book, it is pretty good. I like a lot of things that are said and learn a few new things and disagree with a couple of things. Very few books dramatically change the way I think. Currently I am reading Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams. The book traces the theme of covenant relationship between God and His people throughout the story of redemption, from creation to the fall to the cross to the New Earth. The idea that has really stuck out to me so far, is the significance of God’s name, Yahweh.

Williams writes:

“What is in a name? Nowadays not so much. My wife and I named our son, Peter, after a close pastor friend, and we gave our younger son the name Sawyer simply because we liked the name. But in ancient Israel people attached great importance to names. A name said something about the person who bore it. It captured something about the person;s status, reputation and character. For Israel the name by which God identifies himself is quite important. While God throughout the Old Testament reveals his character to Israel in a number of ways, the divine disclosure of his name Yahweh, in order that Moses can call upon him is one of his most significant.”

Throughout history, we have largely replaced the personal name Yahweh with the title “master” or “lord.” This transition largely occurred during the intertestamental period due to Assyrian and Babylonian influences, who thought “that to know the specific name of a deity was to posses a certain kind of power over it.” The great theologian Thomas Aquinas did help things any with his assertion that the name Yahweh was simply a philosophical statement. Williams argues, however that God is not making a philosophical when he refers to Himself as Yahweh, but is rather making a very personal, covenantal statement based upon His promises to His people.

Williams writes:

“Yahweh is thus the covenant name for God: I am the one who keeps promises. O am the one who is always faithful. I am the one who is there for my people. I am the one who is here for you. I am the one who acts in your behalf. IN giving his name, God promises covenant presence to his people. He might be saying ‘Call me Dad. I am the one you can count on.'”

The idea that there was a God that desired to relate to people was an earth shattering revelation for the people of Israel. No ancient gods were depicted in this light.

Williams writes:

“That a people would enter into a personal relationship with their god would have been a startling new concept in the ancient Near East. It is as if this God gives his people his business card, but in doing so, he turns it over and writes on the back of it an additional number: ‘Here’s my private line’

This God cannot be known coldly, speculatively, or abstractly. Knowing God, for Israel in the exodus, and for God’s people in every age, is not a question of philosophical definitions of essence or being. He can only be known as all persons are known: in the existentially relevant warp and woof of historical existence, and only as he gives himself to be known.”

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