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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Hebrew Names of God #3: HaShem

As we saw in the previous article, God’s name Elohim is concerned with creation and the preservation of all of His works. The name YHWH, translated ADONAI in the TLV, is the God who reveals Himself—His essential character—especially to Israel. He revealed Himself to Abraham, as the one who brought him out of the land of the Chaldeans (Gen. 15.7) and made a covenant with him to give the land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River to him and his descendants. He revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream at Beit El (Gen. 28:13), saying,

“I am ADONAI, the God (Elohim) of your father Abraham and the God (Elohim) of Isaac. The land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your seed;” Genesis 28:13 TLV

and to Moses at the burning bush (Gen. 3:15),

God (Elohim) also said to Moses: “You are to say to Bnei-Yisrael, ADONAI, the God (Elohim) of your father, the God (Elohim) of Abraham, the God (Elohim) of Isaac and the God (Elohim) of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and the Name by which I should be remembered from generation to generation;” Genesis 3:15 TLV

and (Ex. 6:2-3):

״God (Elohim) spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am ADONAI. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, as El Shaddai. Yet by My Name, ADONAI, did I not make Myself known to them.” Exodus 6:2-3 TLV

To the descendants of Abraham, Elohim is revealed as YHWH, the God of revelation. Thus YHWH is the personal name of the God of Israel. This is especially clear in the Book of Deuteronomy, where the phrase “HaShem, the God of Israel” is personalized, becoming “HaShem, your/our God,” and repeated quite frequently, multiple times in single verses. The book concludes, 26:16–19, with a declaration of a covenant between “HaShem, the God of Israel” and “Israel, HaShem’s people.”

These four consonants, YHWH, commonly known as the tetragrammaton (Gk. meaning “four letters”) or the “Ineffable name,” is by far the most frequently used name for the God of Israel in the Tanakh, appearing over 6,800 times. However, sometime in history speaking this name out loud became forbidden, probably to avoid the desecration of God’s name (cf. Ex. 20:7; Lev. 24:13). The aversion to speaking this Name of God was so strong that the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1, states that “one who utters the Divine Name as it is spelled” will not have a place in the world to come. Since the original pronunciation of this Name is unknown due to the longstanding Jewish prohibition of speaking the name out loud, various circumlocutions, or pseudonyms are used, such as ADONAI, Lord, HaShem (meaning “The Name”).” Out of respect for the Jewish people, in this and subsequent blogs, I will use HaShem because it refers to “The Name”, which is the name of the God of Israel. There are some today who put great emphasis on the “correct” pronunciation of this name. Let me emphasize that the importance of the name is not in the pronunciation of letters and sounds; it is in the character and attributions that the name represents.

Notice in the verses quoted above, HaShem reveals the full significance of who He is in connection with His covenant and promise to His people Israel, and it is through His interactions with Israel the true significance of this name is unfolded. In this name— HaShem, ADONAI, Lord—He manifests Himself as a personal, living Being, who fulfills the promises to Israel, that He made to their fathers, and reveals Himself as the unchanging God who remains faithful to His word throughout all generations, as well as the holy, righteous, loving, and gracious redeemer and savior. However, the clearest example of the attributes of HaShem are recorded in Ex. 34:6-7,

“Then ADONAI passed before him [Moses], and proclaimed, ‘ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.'” Exodus 34:6-7 TLV

These Divine attributes are known as the thirteen attributes of mercy, which all describe the character of HaShem. Notice that the bulk of these attributes are on HaShem’s graciousness, mercy, and forgiveness: He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abundant in loving-kindness and in truth. He shows mercy and forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. At the same time, He holds humankind accountable for their sin and judges them. More importantly, the results of His graciousness, mercy and loving-kindness extend to a thousand generations, while his judgment continues for only three or four generations. Thus HaShem is 330 to 400 times more gracious, forgiving and merciful than he is judgmental. And all of this is learned through His revelation and relationship with B’nei Yisrael.

In the previous article on Elohim I briefly compared the name Elohim with HaShem. I would like to develop that comparison a little more. HaElohim (the Elohim) appears many times in the Bible, but it never says HaADONAI, because YHWH, HaShem is the name of the only true God. Over and over again the Bible says, “my Elohim”, but it never says, “my ADONAI”, because when it says my Elohim it means YHWH, HaShem. The Bible speaks of “the Elohim” of Israel, but not the “ADONAI of Israel,” because there is no other YHWH, HaShem, and the “living Elohim,” but not the “living ADONAI,” because the Bible cannot conceive of YHWH other than living.

The earliest reverence to the name, HaShem, is in Genesis 2:4, where it is paired with Elohim. This pairing of the two names appears throughout chapters 2 and 3, expect for the story of the temptation where only the name Elohim appears. This pairing of names ADONAIElohim, which occurs twenty times in these chapters, though rarely met with elsewhere, is always significant. I will address this in the next article. Until then, I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts, remember:

1) that YHWH, HaShem, chose Israel to be His people and entered into covenant with them, and that this fact is central to the Tanakh;

and

2) HaShem’s words from Isa. 43:10, “I, I am ADONAI —and there is no savior beside Me.”

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