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When it Comes to God, it Means Everything


There is a certain sameness in the wilderness. The sun rises and sets, the winds blow on cue, the sheep graze on clusters of grass. In this setting, shepherds have more than their share of time to meditate on the issues of life.

But on this day, for this shepherd, that sameness had been shattered and the issues had become far greater than he could ever have imagined. As he walked back to the camp of his wife's family, Moishe recalled the events from a short while ago. It began with a bush burning on the west side of Mt. Sinai, and a voice that called out to him from the bush — a voice from God no less — who could imagine such things?

His thoughts raced with anticipation and a healthy measure of anxiety. After all, he had just been given the task of freeing millions of Hebrew people who had been enslaved for 400 years by the powerful nation of Egypt. But as he walked along, occasionally prodding a dawdling sheep with his staff, his thoughts turned from the amazing sights and the awesome challenge that he had been given to a simple word that he had heard — "I AM."

Moishe had asked for some way to identify the true God that he had just met personally when he returned to a world overrun with supposed deities. The answer given to him was the Hebrew word meaning, "I AM." God had been very clear in His self-description:

"I am who I am. Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

These were truly thought-provoking words for Moishe. He could see the implications conveyed in this name. God is self-existent, not depending on anyone or anything for His existence. He is eternal, outside the limits of time. He just is.

Moishe hastened his flock along. He had a great task awaiting him. In a short while, he was about to become the shepherd of his people Israel, and soon they would become the flock of the one True and Living God.

What's in a name? Commonly speaking, our names form an important part of our identity. They can help describe our heritage or can become a source of great pride or embarrassment.

Down through the centuries, many people have been given names that originate in the Bible. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common name among males living in America is James, and for females it is Mary. For the year 2000, Biblical names are still the most popular for new births, with Michael and Hannah heading the list.

In many cultures it is traditional to name a child after other family members. This is especially true in the Jewish culture. It has been customary to name a Jewish child after a dearly departed relative, usually a grandparent. Boys are named during the brit (circumcision) ceremony, while girls are given their name in the synagogue during the first shabbat service after their birth.

In post-biblical times, Jewish children were given two names — a Hebrew name for use on religious occasions, and an equivalent name in the language of the dominant culture. So Moishe (Moses) becomes Morris or Murray, Aharon (Aaron) becomes Harry, and his wife Elisheva becomes Elizabeth.

Many familiar personalities in our modern world reflect this duality of names:

Jack Benny was born with the name Benjamin Kubelsky
Jerry Lewis was Joseph Levitch
Milton Berle was- Mendel Berlinger
Rodney Dangerfield was Jacob Cohen
Ann Landers was Esther Friedman

What about the actual meaning of Hebrew names? In biblical times, some names were given with a specific hope for the life of the child. Thus David named his son Solomon (from shalom, peace) because he hoped that Solomon would be able to rule the kingdom of Israel in peace. Other names were given with the intent of communicating the circumstances of the birth. For example, Isaac means "laughter" because both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the thought of having a child when it was physically impossible for them to do so. Isaac's name was a reminder of the miraculous gift of life that God had provided.

Another intent inherent in names was the communication of an important concept, often about the character of God. We see this practice in the names of Elijah ("The LORD is God"), Ezekiel ("May God strengthen") and Isaiah ("May the LORD save"). Their names were statements about who God is and what He can do for people.

God Himself bears a number of names that establish His unique identity. The first name used in Scripture for God is Elohim, a word in plural form that conveys the meaning of supreme might. Elohim and its singular variant, El, were also used in reference to false gods and even powerful human beings such as princes and judges.

What sets the True God apart from imagined deities and powerful people is His personal name, the one that separates Him from everything and everyone else in the universe. As Moses and the Israelites discovered, YHWH was God alone. His name and awareness of His identity were passed from generation to generation.

God's personal name, written as "LORD" in English Bibles and called the "Tetragrammaton," meaning "four-letter word") is recorded over 6,000 times in Scripture. In the early books of the Bible it is apparent that individuals used this personal name commonly in daily life. But over time the use of His name began to be limited. During the Second Temple period, vocalizing the name was not permitted outside the Temple. On Yom Kippur — The Day of Atonement, the name was spoken ten times by the High Priest in a ceremonial fashion. In all other settings, God's personal name was considered to be too sacred to pronounce verbally. Consequently, the practice began by Jews of substituting the name Adonai ("Lord or Master") or Ha-Shem ("The Name") whenever a speaker encountered the personal name. They read the Tetragrammaton but said aloud Adonai.

The Hebrew language began to decline due to the dispersion of the Jews after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. As a result, the correct pronunciation of God's personal name was lost. No longer could anyone pronounce the name with assurance of its accuracy even if they chose to do so.

The original scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures were written without vowels. So in order to restore the use of the Hebrew language during the early Middle Ages, Jewish scribes known as the Masoretes added vowel points next to the consonants of Scripture. Following the tradition of prompting readers to say Adonai when they encountered the personal name, they placed the vowels for the name Adonai on the Tetragrammaton. It was a helpful reminder for Jews who were familiar with the tradition of preserving the sanctity of God's name.

Unfortunately this reading aid also led to a significant point of confusion. In the 13th century a Spanish monk of the Dominican Order named Raymundus Martini merged the consonants from YHWH and the vowels from Adonai when he transliterated the Hebrew text into Latin. Martini recorded God's personal name as the Latin equivalent of "Jehovah" in his book, Pugeo Fidei, ("Dagger of Faith," c. 1278). Other Christian scholars followed in this same method, including a highly influential work by Petrus Galatinus entitled, De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis ("Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth," pub. 1518). Not only had the custom of not pronouncing the name been broken, "Jehovah" resulted from the misuse of the method used by Jewish scribes to preserve the sanctity of God's name.

Another practice in the Jewish culture that has been lost in the Christian world involves the sacred nature of writing God's name. Based on God's instructions to destroy both the images and the names of Canaanite pagan deities, but to preserve all things related to His personal name (Deut. 12:3,4), observant Jews will not casually write any of God's names. This practice avoids the risk of God's name becoming defaced or destroyed in any manner. One way of accommodating this prohibition is by substituting a hyphen for the vowels.  Also because of the special circumstances of computer technology, recent rabbinical decisions have ruled that the prohibition does not apply to writing on a computer unless the words are printed out and thus becomes a permanent form. In addition, whenever writings that contain God's name are damaged, it is customary to bury them in a special grave.

For some people, this attention to detail may appear to be a trivial legalistic practice. But how many people today truly hold God's name in awe? In our society it is much more prevalent to hear God's name used in flippant or even profane ways.

The names of God teach us much about how we should respond to Him. They also teach us about His plans for humanity. Many of the additional names of God describe His actions on our behalf. He is further known as El Shaddai ("God Almighty") because of acts that manifest His great power, and El Elyon ("The Most High God") because He is the maker of heaven and earth. Many more names follow this same pattern.

Marvelously woven into this tapestry of names is a revelation of the very nature of God. One of these attributes deserves special consideration. In the book of Proverbs we encounter this remarkable passage –

Who has ascended into heaven and descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name or His son's name?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)

Undeniably, the answer to the first five questions is God. They are questions that point to His creative and sustaining power over the universe. But His son's name? That is a very interesting question to be found in the Tanach (Old Testament). The answer lies in recognizing God's declared plan for humanity.

God has explicitly stated His intention to provide us with salvation — the process in which He redeems people from their sins and enables us to be included in His everlasting kingdom. A recurrent phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures is hineh El yeshuati, "God has become my salvation." For example, in Psalm 118 (traditionally used in the Jewish observance of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles), the people call out to God: "O LORD, save us" (Ps. 118:25). The answer to this request is: "The LORD has become my salvation" (vv. 14,21). Not only does God promise to provide the means of salvation, He promises to actually become their salvation.

The prophet Isaiah adds this affirmation – "He became their Savior" (Is. 63:8). Is it any surprise that in the precise day appointed by God, He dwelled among us and literally became our Savior and our salvation? He accomplished this promise by coming as the Messiah.

What is His son's name? Much of our world knows Him by the name of Jesus. But in the Hebrew, He was called Yeshua, a contraction of the words, "The LORD is salvation." His name was no coincidence. It was proclaimed in advance by an angel who said, "You shall name him Yeshua, for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

The name of Yeshua/Jesus is unique among biblical names. Unlike other biblical characters, His name did not describe a future hope for the child, or about events related to his birth or a descriptive name about the character of God. It is a fulfillment name — a name that identifies him as the actual realization of the purposes of God. People need salvation – God becomes our salvation – and the name He uses, Yeshua, is an indicator of where to discover and receive that salvation.

Regrettably, many people have rejected the salvation he offers. It is a rejection that was foretold in that same 118th Psalm: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone" (v. 22). In spite of providing the very salvation that people cry for and critically need, it is a gift that is often refused.

The name of Jesus has long been a controversial subject for Jews. Many Jewish people have been persecuted in His name. He is typically presented without recognition of his Jewish heritage. Even his name has lost its original Hebraic form. Is it any wonder that most Jewish people have rejected this "chief corner stone?"

The name of Yeshua has been transformed into the Greek equivalent, Iesous, to the Latin, Iesus, to the Old English Jesus (with the J pronounced with the soft "y" sound) and finally to Jesus and the hard "J" sound in modern English.

Orthodox Judaism has made its own modifications to the name of Yeshua because of their opposition to him being the Messiah. Originating in the rabbinic writings of the Talmud, his name is used as Yeshu. It is an acronym formed by the first letters of the words: Yimach Shmo V'zichrono, meaning, "May his name and memory be erased." Clearly this alteration of his name is a deliberate attempt to defame him and to demonstrate their rejection of his divinity.

Most people in Israel today know him by the name of Yeshu, not out of spite, but out of ignorance. Perhaps there is no coincidence that the letter dropped from his name – ayin – means "eye." Suffice it to say, it is difficult to see without your eyes.

While Jesus may not be a true Jewish name, the important thing to recognize is that he was a true Jewish person. He understood Hebrew. He faithfully avoided the pronunciation of the divine name, with one very great exception when He boldly used it to describe who He really was –

"Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM." (John 8:58)

YHWH became our salvation by dwelling among us as Yeshua. His death as a sinless man, yet still fully God, provides us with the atonement we need for our sins:

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Has Yeshua become your salvation? If so, your hope is secure and your ultimate promise is eternal life. But if your answer is no, then where do you stand before God? From where will your salvation come? The Scriptures are unequivocal in stating:

"This Yeshua is the stone rejected by you builders which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else! For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by whom we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12).

Each of us must answer these questions for ourselves. As the names of God reveal to us, He is not just the holy and righteous Creator of the universe. He is the Savior of humanity. For that reason may we all joyfully receive His salvation and join together in saying, "O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:1).

Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2001 American Remnant Mission