Word’s Mean Something (or What’s in a Name?)

When my kids were young, I read to them bedtime stories, like the “Redwall” series; the “Narnian Chronicles” and “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Afterwards I would ask them “So, what did you think of the book?” More often than not, the answer was a simple “Good.” I told them that the word “good” was banned. The book could be funny, boring, interesting, scary, lovely, awful, delightful, or a combination of terms. Anything but good. It was time to gave the old and tired words “good” and “bad” a well-deserved rest. (Just a note, after the movie Jurassic Park came out, we read the book the movie was based on, from Michael Crichton. Afterward, I had them write a paper describing how the movie differed from the book. Oh, I was such a tough dad).

Anyway, I think the same applies to people. Oh, not that the “old and tired” need to be put to rest but that people are rarely just good or bad. Somebody could be ebullient, which means Bubbling with enthusiasm or excitement, or they could be tremulous if they are timid or nervous. Some people are pavid which means that they are exhibiting or experiencing fear, or timid. Someone who is a clever or an unscrupulous person, they are snollygosters.

I feel the same way about many other words. I argue that the word “awesome” only applies to Yehoveh. Think of it. Awesome means: amazing: inspiring awe or admiration or wonder. That seems to describe Yehoveh quite well, don’t you think? I may appreciate Chicago, but I wouldn’t say Chicago was “awesome.”

Yehoveh (YHVH- יהוה , Yod Heh Vau Heh) is the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the name that Moses was told to use when referring to the God of the Exodus. Some people will argue that the Hebrew word, “El” means “God,” as in El Shaddai, and that is true in the general sense, but it is a word denoting a title, a position— it is the title of many entities. It would be similar to saying “President.” Well, to which president are you referring? Is it President Bush? Or President Clinton? Or President Washington?

If you use the Hebrew word, “El” in referring to God, which “god” are you addressing? Is it Ba’al? Is it Ashtaroth; or maybe you are referring to Allah? Each name identifies the entity being referred to. Islam and many within the Church want you to believe that Allah and Yehoveh are two names of the same God. After all, Muslims will tell you that Allah means “God;” and, most are aware that our Bibles invariably call the God of the Bible “God.”  I have news for you: the Egyptians also referred to many of their gods simply as “god,” particularly when one of their gods was the family god.

We (Jews and Christians), have brought this problem on ourselves. We should have never replaced YHVH with the generic word “God” or even, “Adonai” (which is simply Hebrew for lord). That way, we would not have a problem recognizing that Allah (which is the formal name of the god of Islam), cannot possibly be the same god as Yehoveh (which is the formal name of the God of the Bible). They are two entirely different names.

As one writer echoed:

If there is one thing that has been abundantly clear in my study of comparative religions it is this: all the major religions have different concepts of deity. Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu and Buddha are absolutely not the same. In other words, all religions do not worship the same God, only under different names. That is why the use of the word “God” in describing deity is so inadequate and why we must return to the names of these deities to discover what they actually mean in terms of personality and attributes.

I wonder if my sons would like to be referred to as “Son of Nickolas #1 or #2, or #3,” instead of by Jonathan, or Christopher or Robert. I realize that if someone is talking to George W. Bush, they will call him “Mr. President,” but that isn’t his name. God, like the word President, is the title of an office: it is not the name of the person who holds that office. As of this writing, our current president is named “George W. Bush;” his name isn’t “president.” God’s name is YHVH, not “God“-and certainly not Allah.

I have no idea why the Bible translators consistently chose to use the word God or Lord whenever the word Yehoveh appeared. So, when we look at the original language texts, we see that the same people and nations who knew about the events in Egypt concerning Israel also knew the name of Israel’s God—Yehoveh. In that era knowing a god’s name was important. It was important because they believed that if you knew the name of the god who lorded over some area of responsibility (like the weather, or fertility, or prosperity, or battle), then, you could call on that god’s name, they were obligated to do what you requested.

Obviously, Muslims refuse to accept that Allah was already being worshiped at the Ka’ba in Mecca by Arab pagans before Muhammad was even born. Most Muslims will become angry when they are confronted with this fact. But history isn’t on their side. Pre-Islamic literature has proved this. In his book, “The Muslim Doctrine of God,” Samuel M. Zwemer wrote:

“But history establishes beyond the shadow of doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Muhammad’s time, knew their chief god by the name of Allah and even, in a sense, proclaimed his unity. Among the pagan Arabs, this term denoted the chief god of their pantheon, the Kaaba, with its three hundred and sixty idols.”

In fact, at first Mohammad never intended to establish a new religion, but rather to reform the belief in Allah that already existed, and to show what this belief truly signified and rightfully demanded.

What we need to understand is that Yehoveh has continually sought to reveal Himself. He began by making His essence known to the Patriarchs in a little different way than He revealed Himself to, for instance, Moses. What’s the difference? Well, one difference is in the level of intimacy — it is similar to addressing me less personally as “Mr. Hiemstra,” than the more personal “Nickolas.”

Over time, Yehoveh made Himself known more personally and became more accessible. Slowly, step-by-step, Yehoveh revealed Himself to those who followed Him. In Genesis, we simply have an outline of who He is. Then by the time we reach the end of the first-five books, we have more information on Him than we can possibly understand.

The next manifestation we receive is when we read about Yeshua. And, Jesus made the relationship between God and man almost as personal as it gets: He became one of us; walked among us, and shared the pains and frustrations of a fleshly human existence. I say, “almost,” because when Jesus left, we received the Holy Spirit: you can’t beat that! God no longer walked among us, external to us, He took the next step, and has now set up living within us. In the most literal possible sense, God dwells with us. Internal to us.

I was discussing this with a fellow believer and their response was that this was “my opinion.” Well again, words mean something. If I told you that Neapolitan ice cream was better than Chocolate ice cream . . . I would be correct, but that would also be my opinion. If I said that purple was the best color in the world, I might be exaggerating, but it would also be my opinion. However, if I told you that the Earth was round and revolved around the Sun that would be scientific and historical fact, and not my opinion. By telling you that Yehoveh is the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that Allah is the name of a god being worshiped at the Ka’ba in Mecca by Arab pagans before Muhammad came. That is also historical fact, and not my opinion.

My only hope is that when you are praying, you know who you are speaking to. Is it Allah, Buddha, Hare Krishna, or Yehoveh?

Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)

I do thank you for your gifts.
It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.

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2 Responses to Word’s Mean Something (or What’s in a Name?)

  1. Interesting post about Hebrew and the Hebrew name YHWH, thanks. It is a great shame that almost all translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into English have translated all occurences of the name and titles of YHWH as simply God or Lord. You lose so much doing this! Reading the Hebrew is much more fulfilling and informative.


    • nhiemstra says:

      Thank you and I agree. I am certainly not a Hebrew scholar, but for the last several years I have acquired a fascination with the Hebrew language. For years, as a Christian I was told to view the Old Testament writings through the lens of the New Testament. What we need to do is take an opposite view: view the New Testament through the lens of the Old Testament–it’s culture, traditions and beliefs.

      If you have read any of my other studies, you would know that one of my big irritations is the notion that the bible is so mystical and magical that culture, language, era, and even context doesn’t matter when reading it. This is absurd on its face and is only useful when someone simply wants to teach a specific man-made religious doctrine as opposed to what the Word of God actually says. Hence, my search for understanding the roots of my faith–not just as background information, but as a foundation on which the rest of my faith can rely on.


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