By Joel Greenwood
If you grew up going to church regularly, you’ve probably heard someone describe God by saying the name, “Jehovah.” However, if you open your Bible app and search for “Jehovah,” you won’t find any results of it in Scripture.* So where does the name Jehovah come from? There are three pieces of evidence that will help us solve this peculiar nomenclature conundrum.
Evidence #1: God’s real name is too sacred to say out loud.
When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush on Mount Horeb, he commanded Moses to tell the Egyptians that God had sent him. When Moses asked, “Who should I say has sent me?” His response from God was to say that the name of his sender was “He will be.” In Hebrew, the word that was used is Yahweh, and it may be a name you’ve heard before.
However, there was something special about this name of God’s: over time, members of the nation of Israel decided it was so sacred that they wouldn’t say his name aloud or write the full name in Scripture. Instead, they took out the vowels, so that the name of God would be written simply as, “YHWH.”
Evidence #2: The most common way to encounter Scripture was hearing it out loud.
Writing parchment was not common in ancient times. Mix that with the fact that many people were unable to read, and the result is that the main way the earliest books of the Bible were shared was through reading them aloud.
However, if you were a scribe copying Scripture, you wanted to make sure that people didn’t accidentally read God’s sacred name aloud! Instead, they should substitute it with the name, “Lord,” which in English is the word Adonai. To remind them not to read the sacred name aloud, the solution was that scribes would write the consonants of God’s name YaHWeH, but mix in the vowels of AdOnAi.
Evidence #3: All people make mistakes (we’re human, after all!).
Over the years, as people encountered this strange combination of names for God, they forgot the originally intended reminder to say “Lord.” Instead, many combined the vowels and consonants to get this hybrid name, “Yahowah,” which converts to English more smoothly as “Jehovah,” and is the name we recognize today.
So, now that we know the full story about the name Jehovah, is it wrong for us to worship God through a name that he never revealed to us about himself? In Isaiah 29:13, we see God telling Isaiah that Israel is worshiping him with words, but not with their hearts, which is what he truly desires. When we worship God, he makes it clear that he doesn’t care nearly as much about the correct words (or even mildly inaccurate names!) we use, so much as he cares about the state of our hearts.
A heart of pure worship before God is what will truly bring him praise.
*In the King James Version, “Jehovah appears seven times, but only as an English translation of YHWH.