Why Is Jehovah One of God’s Names and What Does it Mean?
- Heather Adams Contributing Writer
- 2020 29 May
Jehovah is one of the ways of saying YHWY, the true, personal name of God. It evolved over time through changes in both traditions and translations of God's Word. Jehovah (ja-ho-vah) is one of several names found for the Lord in Scripture, such as Adonai and Yahweh.
Most Christians are familiar with the word Jehovah. We hear preachers use it in sermons, and we sing it during hymns and songs:
"Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak, but Thou art mighty; Hold me with Thy powerful hand." (from 'Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah')
"There's no God like Jehovah!" (from 'Days of Elijah')
Jehovah is a word we know has special meaning. But have you often wondered, like I have...how and why it came to be used in this way? Discovering the answer can deepen your understanding of God, and enrich your worship. According to the Bible, God revealed Himself as having a singular original name, how He chose to reveal Himself to mankind: YHWY, more familiarly known today as Yahweh or Jehovah.
The Meaning Of the Name Jehovah
The literal meaning of the name is "I am the one who is" (Dictionary.com) or, more simply, "I am." (BibleStudyTools.com). This short definition carries a sense of the eternal. In other words, God was, God is, God will always be. Seen in light of Scripture, it also hints at His all-present nature: seeing, knowing, and actually being with us.
The name Jehovah is a Latinization of the name YHWY, God's personal name, as He revealed it to the Hebrews. He supplied this name to His people partly to set Himself apart as the One true God among the many gods who were being worshipped in the culture.
YHWY is what is called the Tetragrammaton by the Greeks, or "four letters." The pattern is made up of letters from the Hebrew alphabet: Yud, Hay, Vav and Hay. Most Biblical scholars believe that it was probably pronounced as "Yah-weh." But because the Hebraic language was written without vowels, the actual original sound of the Tetragrammaton has been debated.
How God Came to Be Called Jehovah
The use of Jehovah was really a progression over time. Around the 3rd century BC, out of their reverence for the command "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7), Jewish tradition held that the word YHWY was sacred. They decreed it should only be spoken by the high priest during the designated Day of Atonement, one of Israel's major holy festivals. For other occasions, the name Adonai was substituted for YHWY.
The result over time was that the original vocalization of God's name began to fade from people's minds. Centuries later, a group of Jewish scholars called the Masoretes wanted to restore the word. They dropped the vowels of Adonai into the Tetragrammaton, resulting in the pronunciation "Yehowah." In the 13th century, the earliest Latin form of this word was introduced, which in English became "Jehovah."
Through all the adaptations and transitions, the underlying intent was that God would be revered above all—and that His name would be treated with the highest respect.
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Where Is 'Jehovah' in Scripture?
Jehovah (or other forms of it, like Yaweh) appears in the Bible more than any other name for God—about 6,800 times. Beginning in the 16th century, early translations, such as King James and William Tyndale's translations of the first five books of the Old Testament, started using this form of the Tetragrammaton. Many later translations, including the English Revised and American Standard versions, followed suit.
"That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth." (Psalms 83:18 KJV)
"And Moses cried unto Jehovah, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they are almost ready to stone me.' And Jehovah said unto Moses, Pass on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thy hand, and go." (Exodus 17:4-5 ASV)
As early in Scripture as the book of Exodus, God speaks of Himself using this name; in this case to Moses:
"And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them." (Exodus 6:3 KJV)
The prophet Isaiah invoked the name, usually in the context of praise and worship:
"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation." (Isaiah 12:2)
"Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength." (Isaiah 26:4)
Jehovah also appears as the root of several compound names that declare God's goodness to His people.
- Jehovah-Elohim, the LORD who made the earth and the heavens (Genesis 2:4)
- Jehovah-Jireh, the LORD who provides (Genesis 22:14)
- Jehovah-Nissi, the LORD the Victor (Exodus 17:15)
- Jehovah-Shalom, the LORD sends peace (Judges 6:24)
- Jehovah-Shama, the LORD the indweller (Ezekiel 48:35)
Sometimes in the King James Bible and other more modern translations (like the New American Bible and the New Revised Standard) the word 'Lord' is used in the place of YHWY instead of Jehovah. But the essence is the same. Spelling it with all small capital letters distinguishes it from other times 'Lord' is used.
"Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth." (Psalms 83:18 NIV)
Why Is This Name for God So Personal?
God, the Creator of all things, wanted to foster a close relationship with the people He made. So, instead of remaining aloof and distant, He chose to reveal Himself. Giving them His true name was an act of intimacy that invited mankind to know Him. It was one of the first of many expressions of love God showed to His people.
This gesture can have the same impact today as it did for the Hebrews. The idea that such a mighty and immense God desires to be close to us inspires humility and praise in my heart. Using the word "Jehovah" then becomes a wonderful and worshipful moment.
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5 Beautiful Promises of Jehovah
This name, whether used in the simple or compound form, is brimming with hope. It is part of proclamations and prayers in Scripture, and is always associated with God's goodness to His people. These excerpts from the King James translation give some glimpses into how God stays near and active on our behalf.
1. He is present with us in times of suffering.
"And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan..." (Exod 6:3-4)
Here, God tells Moses He is aware of how the Hebrews have been treated by the Egyptians, and promises to deliver them from there into the Promised Land. Moses is transformed by this experience at the burning bush.
2. He is present with us amid injustice.
"Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult...That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth." (Psalm 83:1-2, Psalm 83:18)
The Psalmist calls on God to remind those who are evil that He will not tolerate evil being done to His people. The writer is humbled in spirit as he acknowledges that God is all-knowing and all-powerful.
3. He is present with us in our need.
"In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks...Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength…" (Isaiah 26:1, 4)
Isaiah foretells a time when Israel will break into a song of exaltation for God's protection over the nation, and is clearly anticipating that occasion.
4. He is present with us even when we sin.
"And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:1-3)
In this passage, Isaiah lifts up praise to the Lord for forgiving His people when they repent, and for restoring their relationship to Him. It is a moment of celebration and worship.
5. He is present to walk with us.
"And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." (Luke 1:30-31)
God sent His Son to earth with the name Jesus, which comes from the Hebrew "Yehoshuah." That name means "Jehovah saves." (In his prophesy of the coming Savior, Isaiah 7:14 predicted the birth of Jesus by using the name Immanuel, which also means "God with us.")
A Prayer of Praise to Jehovah
Father God, thank You for revealing Yourself to us in such a personal way. The name Jehovah teaches us so many wonderful things about who you are, most importantly Your presence with us.
But there is the promise of so many more blessings. We praise You for being our Provider, our Peace, our Deliverer, and our Healer. In fact, it would take us forever to list everything that You've promised and all that You've done. So how do we respond to Your grace and mercy? Let us give ourselves, for that is what Your Word says You really want: our hearts, minds, and spirits.
We pray that as we have learned more about Your name, our gratitude, joy, and trust in You would grow. Thank You, Father God, Jehovah, for Your desire to be known. Help us seek a deeper connection to You. Amen.
Learning more about the name of God goes beyond being a simple study. If we take the time to reflect on what "Jehovah" is meant to convey, we can't help but be changed. For when He revealed it, God sent a clear message about His nature: that He is fully present with His people. May you be blessed with a new appreciation for the word Jehovah—knowing what a precious gift it was between God and His people.
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Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com