God has many names, but the one most revered, most sacred, is YHWH. This holy name has been labeled the Tetragram or Tetragrammaton, and it’s as mysterious in pronunciation and meaning as the God who owns it. According to Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry:
In the Hebrew, the Yod, Hay, Waw, and Hay of the four-lettered Tetragrammaton are pronounced ee-ah-oo-eh. These letters represent vowel-consonants, the only Hebrew letters besides the aleph that can perform as either vowel or consonant. (See “How the Hebrew Language Grew,” by Edward Horowitz.)YRM.org
In English, we translate the word with consonants and add vowels, so we pronounce this name as Yahweh, but Jewish believers do not speak this name at all because of it’s sacredness. One of my favorite books is written by a Jewish Rabbi. The book is called Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life written by Rabbi Irwin Kula.
With sage-like wisdom Rabbi Kula does what rabbis (rabbinam) do best. He places more questions in your mind than answers. Jesus did this when He taught too. The next time you read a gospel, watch how He answers so many of the Pharisees’ questions.
On my coffee table (and all around my messy house) are books ranging from devotionals to Bible studies to nonfiction inspirational books to fiction. During my quiet time I ask the Lord which one He wants me to read, and I find golden nuggets in the pages He leads me to. The other morning I picked up Yearnings, and this is the paragraph I read:
“In the Jewish tradition there are hundreds of names (for God): Father, Mother, Lover, Creator, Destroyer, Nurturer, Redeemer, Forgiver, Friend, Life-giver, to name just a few. The name used most often in Jewish texts is also the most mysterious and intimate. It is YHWH, which in English is all consonants and no vowels. In Hebrew it’s actually a word with no consonants and all vowels. Either way, it is unpronounceable. When you try to say it, you hear the sound of breath, a simple exhale. What is this teaching? The name of God is not meant to be uttered. YWHW is not meant to be known. YHWH is meant to be breathed” p.18Rabbi Irwin Kula
Breathing in YHWH
YHWH is not meant to be known. YHWH is meant to be breathed.
These sentences knocked me off of my couch–delicate like feathers but containing the strength of ten mighty men. I let them soak through me. YHWH is meant to be breathed…. You might want to argue that God does want to be known. That is His desire. But the point here isn’t whether or not He wants us to know Him; it is the fact that even with all of our study and searching, He will never be fully understood on this side of eternity. Yet He desires to be more than known, He desires to fill us as air fills our lungs.
I love theology, but this statement releases me from any presupposed ideas that I could ever grasp it all. So I’ve decided that when things get hairy, when life starts tumbling out of control, and I began wondering what in the world God is doing, rather than trying to figure it out, I think I’m just going to close my eyes and breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale deeper. Exhale longer. And I’m going to ask Holy Spirit to let me smell Him, breathe Him, taste Him. I invite you to do this with me. Take a minute today and breathe. He’s waiting.
Finding YHWH in the Bible
The breath of YHWH breathes on every page in the Bible starting with the breath of creation, yet God first introduces Himself with this name in Exodus when a run-a-way Moses herding sheep for his father-in-law encountered a burning bush–a bush on fire not consumed. That’s when He met YHWH who had a very important job for Moses.
God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,Exodus 3:15
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
When you see the name “Lord” in caps, like it is above, this indicates the transliteration (the process of writing words from Hebrew alphabet to the English alphabet) of the tetragrammaton. This name holds no definition, but God’s introduction gives the nuances associated with YHWH. He is the God of relationship, the covenant making God.
The Self-Existence God
Yet, this name also reveals His eternal qualities because during His conversation with Moses, God first describes Himself as the great I Am. (Warning: We’re going to be trudging through the weeds for a little bit to connect these “names.”)
If you look for the definition of YHWH in any Bible or commentary, most likely you will find the words, “self-existent one” or “to be, become, or to come to pass.” The reason for this definition is “I Am.” The Hebrew word for “I Am” ( HaYa) sounds very much like YHWH. It’s not the same word, but for centuries theologians have connected the two giving the undefinable YHWH the definitions of HaYa.
God of Compassion
But I found another explanation of YHWH that brings all of these definitions together. He is the self-existent one, the Creator of all who was, is, and will be (Revelation 1:8). And He is the God of covenants who walked with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Yet perhaps the most amazing characteristic of YHWH is His heart. This is uncovered by the location of His encounter with Moses which was Midian.
Moses ran away from Egypt into the land of Midian; therefore, some scholars believe YHWH is an Arabic name. In 1956 a scholar of both Jewish and Arabic studies, Shelomo Dov Goitein, theorized that the root of YHWH was an Arabic root, hawaya, which means “love, affection, passion, desire.”
Isn’t that beautiful? He is a loving, affectionate, passionate God who desires relationship with His creation. This is why He is compassionate and forgiving. His love relentless. His mercies new every morning. Yet in His passion, He is jealous. He wants all our hearts because He loves us. No other love can give us the breath of eternal life. Other loves consume our hearts, but just as the fire of God did not consume the bush, His love does not consume us. Rather, it warms, heals, impassions, and makes whole.
Bible Reading Plan on YHWH
I was intimidated by this name of God, and honestly, I still am. I will never claim to have all the answers, especially on the mysteries of YHWH. All I can do is my do-diligence (research), share what I’ve found and what I’ve experienced and point you back to the source of truth, the God-breathed book written for us to know Him. That’s why I always give a Bible reading plan.
I hope you’ll join me this month as we pore over 31 scriptures about YHWH. Not all include this name, but all reveal His heart. If you’re doing this in the month of September, you’ll notice we have a bonus verse! I never can remember how many days are in each month. (Eye-rolling emoji.)
You are wanted! Come join us on Instagram Friday mornings at 9:00 AM ET. I often teach our verses for the week unless the LORD has something else for me to share. If you aren’t an Instagrammer, I reteach the message for my channel on YouTube.
May I pray for you? Hold my hands.
“LORD, help us love you, the God of our world. Fill us with your breath. Bind us to your heart by your covenant, and help us love you with the burning love you have for us. Help us be more aware of your Presence. Thank you for being so faithful. We love you. Amen.”