YAHWEH as the Personal Name of God

1,

God cannot be named, because God cannot be described.. Any description circumscribes the Uncircumscribable.

The name of God given to the Jews, however, reveals something of the nature of God, and the relationship of God to people.

Indeed, Yahweh is the personal name of God, whereas the other words spoken of God are not names but titles, and these refer to the various roles he plays vis a vis people, the world, the creation.

Elohim= God
El= mighty one
El Shaddai= almighty God
El Elyon= most high God
Adonai= lord, master
Avinu= our father

Another Hasidic writer says that the ‘many’ names of God — and though there are 7 main ones, in fact there are many more multiple ones — are adjectives or qualitative terms describing God’s many faceted involvement with his creation. These names or qualities are like different rays of the sun, having different kinds of influence on our lives. These names are also, according to the Midrash, the different deeds of God. In this text God says to Moses, “You want to know my name? I am called by my deeds. When I judge my creatures [as to whether they observe justice], I am called Elohim. When I wage war on the wicked, I am called Tzevakot; when I tolerate the sins of mankind, I am called E-l Shad-dai; when I have compassion on my world, I am called Ha-va-ya-h” [some Hasids treat this last word as code for Yahweh]. These names are energies of God, active influences of God; each is some qualitative attribute by which God relates to his creation. It is interesting that Elohim also means ‘the Mighty Forces of Nature.’ Thus there is some link, often overlooked, between the giant powers of nature and the justice, or injustice, of human society. A society living in injustice is more likely to be hit by natural disasters, in Jewish history.. Both political and natural calamities are warnings to the Jews their society is unjust.

The many names are, then, a divine ‘intervention in reality’– God as ruler, God as judge, God as provider, God as saviour, and so on.

2,

The ‘Tetragrammaton’ is the 4 letter name of God, YHWH. This is just consonants, with vowels left out, so no one can actually say the name. But Ruth 2, 4 might suggest an early time when the name was vocalised.

The name is first mentioned in Genesis 2, 4, but the well-known story where God cryptically conveys it to Moses is in Exodus, 3, 14. In prayers, Jews speak Adonai, even though they leave YHWH in the text. This practise only arose after the Exile in Babylon. In English, Yahweh was always translated as ‘the Lord.’ This is a big error, because it substitutes the formality of a title for the personalness, even intimacy, of God’s only name. This happened through William Tyndale, who also introduced the speculative, and inaccurate, ‘Jehovah.’

Yahweh contains the archaic third person singular imperfect of the verb TO BE. So it might mean, “He exists.” But, in Exodus God speaks to Moses in the first person voice [Ehyeh], and so says, “I am”, or “I exist.” In English, this has been rendered as “I am who I am”, or “I am the Existing One”, but the best rendering is probably, “I am that I am.” This translation captures that God stands on nothing, but stands in himself, leaning on nothing, but being self-subsistent and self-generating, rather than arising from anything extraneous. I am, full stop. The beingness, the existing, needs no other support, ground, origin. It is. It is what is. Everything else that has being leans on, depends on, subsists in, needs, the existence that exists and needs nothing. Its beingness, its existence, is complete, in some way no created being, whether material, organic, human, or even a ‘spirit’, can attain or comprehend.

Closely associated with being or existing is ‘life.’ Thus Yahweh is ‘the God of the living’, the bestower of life, the source of ‘aliveness’ [1 Kings 18; Isaiah 41, 26-29; 44, 6-20; Jeremiah, 10, 10; 14; Genesis, 2,7]. One of the several properties of Life is Delight. All beings live in Delight, and even sin is a distorted form of Delight [Hasidic tradition]. Life has vitality, strength, and health, or ‘well-being.’ In God, people move from ill-being to well-being, and from well-being to eternal being [St Maximos].

Some Hasidic people also translate Yahweh in Exodus as “I exist, and I will exist.” Or, “I will be who I will be”, or even “I will be because I will be.” Other renderings include, “I will be that I will be.” The Hasidic tradition says of this, only God exists into the future, or has a future that is assured. Living beings have a past and present, but no assured future. This means there is no beginning and no ending in God. God persists, so to speak. God’s reply to the question put by Moses regarding his name is, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”, sometimes shortened to ‘eh-he-yeh’, meaning in English, ‘I shall be.’ This name of the personal, living God is being, and existence, but it suggests, on-going being and existence with a future. This being cannot fail, cannot diminish, cannot recede like an outgoing tide; it is, and its isness will be. Therefore, all the promises of God to the Jews, and via them to us, have this implication of being pledges that we too, in participating in the isness of God, will be, and will continue to be. This is the Jewish origin for the later Christian preoccupation with ‘eternal life.’ It is not a reward for being a good boy or good girl; it is what is, and so as we draw nearer to God, our fragile and precarious being is uprooted from its native soil and replanted in God, like a little green shoot grafted onto a large vine. Incomplete existence [human] is immersed in complete existence [divine]; thus does a being inherently without a secure future acquire a secure future. The latter gifts the former; and so by gift the human becomes something God is by nature.

The Hasids also say that the names, deeds, attributes, influences, energies, interventions, of God, especially the key 7, manifest Holiness. But Yahweh is beyond even Holiness. Holy is ‘kadosh’ in Hebrew, and means transcendent and apart. By contrast, ‘eh-he-ye’, or ‘I am’, is God as being, God as the essence of reality. Thus it is beyond Holiness. If Holiness is God’s transcendence, then the beingness of God, signified by Yahweh, transcends Holiness, describing a divine reality that pervades every existence even as it transcends it, and thus relates equally to all realities, whether holy or mundane. ‘The sun shines on the just and unjust alike’ Christ says of his father, and this is built into the very name Yahweh.

Yahweh has a parallel with Buddhism’s Void in all Form– and in all Form whether translucent like a clear window or polluted with sludge, whether sacred or profane, whether good or wicked. The secret name of Yahweh is, ‘heart that holds all realities, gives space for all realities, upholds all realities, unconditionally, treating the first the same as the last, having no favourites but equally upholding in being all realities, and equally available to the Form enlightened by the Void and to the Form in ignorance of the Void, with no preconditions, but unconditionally.’

The beingness upholding in being all beings, unconditionally.

This is Yahweh. This is the Love beyond all love, and loving, we humans know; this is the Isness whose only possible positive description is Love. The ‘I am that I am’ is the beingness of Love, the Love that bestows existence, and relates with it personally; the Love that upholds it in being, and calls every being out to doing. In this way we participate in, and deploy, the deeds and energies of Yahweh, in our deeds and energies. We become co-Actors with him, which means, co-Lovers of the creation he has made. Only in so far as we seek to love, as Yahweh is Love, do we receive the power inherent to each and every one of the divine names.

Yahweh is the only real name permissible to the God beyond all names. Only this name is an acceptable positive affirmation of the unknown and unknowable Essence of God. The other and basically ‘plural’ names of God do not describe God qua God, or presume to affirm anything about God in Essence, but they do describe, and richly, the Manifestations of God in relation to his creation, and to his people. Hasidism uses the Greek Orthodox Christian distinction between the Essence and the Energies of God: when we call God provider or ruler, these are ‘mere names’, describing not God’s Essence, or what God is as God, but rather, describing a certain vision of God he grants us to have of him by affecting our reality in a certain manner. So, he provides in relation to us, or, he rules in relation to us. The Energies of God, as Eastern Christianity calls them, or the Many Divine Names, as Jewish tradition calls them, are bridges between God and creation, relational inter-active fields connecting, in a dynamic and evolving way, Uncreated and created.

If you assert one manifestation of God, say compassion, and down play another, say fighting the wicked, then your vision of God’s rich relating to the creation is skewed, imbalanced, narrowed.

Yahweh is reality, the reality not far off, but in all things, supporting them in existence– their true being, and calling them out — their true action, and relating to them personally — the Love that carries all being, all doing, and is available to humanity, face to face, and heart to heart.

If you depart from true being, you enter a shadowy and limited being, you become sick. This affects your soul. If you depart from true action, you enter a twisted and harmful action, you become unrighteous. This affects your heart.

Soul: eyes: face. A light in your soul shines from your face.
Heart: ears: voice. A fire in your heart burns from your voice.

Yahweh is existence, Yahweh is reality; thus Yahweh is with us, in all that is, in all that happens. A modern Hasid has Yahweh say, ‘Certain things must be, no matter how painful and incomprehensible to your human selves, in order that great things, and infinitely blissful things, should be. But I do not orchestrate these things from some distant heaven, holy and removed from your existential pain. I am with you, suffering with you, praying for redemption together with you. If you cannot experience me, it is not because I am ethereal; it is because I am so real.’

This is moving closer to the Messiah, the God who pours himself out, and empties himself, for love, and who bears the crimes we cannot repay or make reparation for, one human to another, but accepts these harms as wounds to his being.

The Messiah’s ultimate deed is hidden, as a secret, in Yahweh’s name.

‘I uphold all, unconditionally’ comes to mean, ‘I will redeem all, unconditionally, for I will pay for those who cannot pay.’

Yahweh will take the hit for what he has risked.

This is justice, as well as a generosity going way beyond justice. If God puts us in hellish conditions in this world, where Love is risked, then it is only fair Love carries the greater burden. But Love is beyond what is fair. It is passionate, it is excessive, it goes all the way.

Yahweh’s name says, Love comes through. The future is with Love. All else passes away, save Love.

‘I will be’ is changing to ‘I will be with you.’ This has existential implications for us, for it also means, ‘our fate is with the God who joins with us in existence’s pain and absurdity.’

3,

The names of God in more detail..

[1] El: the deity; sometimes the creator; and can mean ‘power’ or ‘might’ [hence ‘Mighty One’].

It is used mostly in poetry and prophetic discourse, always with some attribute of God attached: El Elyon– Most High God; El Olam– Everlasting God; El Shaddai– Almighty God; El Hai– Living God; El Ro’i– God of Seeing; El Gibbor– God of Strength; thus also the names of humans and spirits: Gabriel– Strength of God; Michael– Who is like God?; Raphael– God’s medicine; Ariel– God’s lion; Daniel– God’s judgement; Israel– One who has struggled with God; Immanuel– God is with us; Ishmael– God hears [God listens].

[2] Elohim: power, or ‘God is the power over powers’, or ‘God has many powers.’

Hence also, God is, or deploys and dwells in, ‘the Mighty Forces of Nature.’ The God doing the creating in the Genesis story is called Elohim. This name is Shamanic, without doubt. ‘He is lord over all the things that are lordly.’ The lords of Nature, all the spirits, have a lord, a Great Spirit, who is their source. Thus Elohim is singular and plural at once, One and Many. God uses the plural of himself in Genesis, 1, 26, and 11, 7; this has led to tremendous debate among scholars, generating anxiety because of a narrow interpretation of monotheism. Self-deliberation within God can be singular but the ‘majesties’ of divine presence and action in nature can be plural. As Gerald One Feather once said to me, ‘we walk in one Spirit, with many spirits.’ At any rate, the word seems to refer to God as ‘the all-powerful One’, or ‘He who is the object of respect and reverence’, or ‘He with whom the person who is afraid takes refuge.’

[3] Elyon: the ‘Most High’, or ‘supreme.’

[4] Roi: ‘seeing.’

The God who sees [or is seen?]. This term is used of the prophet who is a seer, or visionary.

[5] Shaddai: from the Canaanite north, associated in tradition with the name by which God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and later in the Book of Job.

The word means ‘almighty’, even ‘to overpower’ or ‘to destroy.’ Thus ‘the Destroyer’ is an aspect of God, from an early time. Another root for this Daemonic word might be ‘mountain’, or ‘mountain dweller.’ Paradoxically, the word has by different routes also been associated with God’s ‘fertility and blessings’, connected with ‘fruitfulness’– “May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful..” [Genesis, 28, 3]. Fruitfulness is obviously a theme of Eros, yet more paradoxically the Daemonic has a different fruitfulness, referring to bringing forth fruit out of struggle, suffering, trouble. Thus Genesis combines both themes: “By the Almighty who will bless you– with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lie beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb” [Genesis, 49, 25]. Blessings of heaven and breasts: Eros; blessings of deep and womb: Daemonic.

Yet another line of interpretation claims that the word means ‘setting a limit’ on God’s acts; the things he does stop at a certain point, but are ‘enough, sufficient, a sufficiency.’ The implication is that God leaves things incomplete, to be completed later on; or that we have to learn when ‘enough is enough’, curbing our demand for God to go on doing miracles for us, while we do nothing. This could be nuanced somewhat differently to mean, ‘the God who is sufficient to supply all one’s needs.’ This word perhaps is a direct precursor of the Mosaic God, in that Yahweh is sufficient in himself, a self-determined being.

[6] Shekhinah: the ‘dwelling’ of God, the presence of God which has descended to ‘dwell among’ humanity.

The word does not appear in the Jewish Bible, but later tradition, including especially Hasidism, uses it to speak of God dwelling in the Temple or among the people. This is the only name for God that is feminine. In the Wisdom Literature, Wisdom becomes not only female, but virtually a consort or partner with God in creation. When Wisdom is feminine, it makes possible not just God’s visitation [comes and goes], but his more permanent and unitary ‘in dwelling.’ Clearly, certain defences of monotheism are uncomfortable with the woman who is Wisdom, but ‘she’ is present in the text. In Greek, her name is Sophia.

[7] Tzevaot or in transliteration Sabaoth: often appears with Elohim, or Yahweh, meaning ‘hosts’ or ‘armies.’

God of Hosts– many realities, many beings, many spirits, parallels Christ’s saying that ‘My father’s house has many mansions.’ God is a vast community, or a vast kingdom. God of Armies [I Samuel, 17, 45] means that the spirits will fight for truth, against falsity, and that God acknowledges the centrality of fighting even in the spirit world, as well as in human history in the material world [the singular of the word denotes a vast assemblage of the spirits, the plural of the word denotes a vast assemblage of humans]. Community is recognised, battle is recognized, as carrying the ‘stamp’ of God. Both represent plurality, letting many others be ‘other’, giving room for vast divergences. In community, there is ‘unity in diversity’, a harmony of many organs in the body working together as one; but battle signifies a different respect for variation, for the truth itself cannot just be accepted, rather, it has to be contested. Contesting the truth clarifies its depths; imposing the truth by force is weak, and not God’s way– much as we would all like God to beat up the bullies who terrorize us. But then do we extend that to God beating us up, when we are the bullies? God’s fighting is manifest in several ways, to do with righteousness, justice, and steadfastness in affliction. Indeed, fighting is at the heart of the Daemonic, and the heart that is torn, honed, tried in a furnace, by it. Israel means ‘God fights’, and if we are daring in fighting against God, we will learn from this to become bold in fighting for God. Significantly, this word mainly appears in the prophetic literature.

Other names for God, of lesser gravitas to Jews, include the following..

Adir– Strong One
Adon Olam– Master of the Universe
Elohei Avraham– God of Abraham
Kadosh Israel– Holy One of Israel
Melech HaMelachim– King of kings
Makon– the Place
Yahweh-yireh– God will provide [Genesis, 22, 13-14]
Y-rapha– God will heal [Exodus, 15, 26]
Y-tsidkenu– God our righteousness [Jeremiah, 23, 6]
Y-shammah– God is present [Ezekiel, 48, 35]
Tzur Israel– Rock of Israel

The Kabbalah — Jewish mysticism — claims that the creation was made from the structuring and restructuring of all the letters that form the names of God.

But there is another tradition that derives the creation from just the four consonants of YHVH. This is like the four directions of the Sacred Circle of Shamanism.

Y– water, south

H– fire, north

V– air, east

H– earth, west.

4,

Yahweh’s name is an ikon, a koan, a poem.

Yahweh means, I love the world I created and will not see it ruined, desolated, forsaken. In the end, and over the long haul, I will entirely redeem it.

But all these names are Yahweh, for the same Jewish commentaries conclude that the net implication of Yahweh’s name is, ‘I will be with you in your present distress, and I shall be with you in future exiles and persecutions.’

God with you– this is Yahweh.

But over time, it changes, and becomes something more radical in love.

God suffers for you– this is Yahweh living in the heart of his Messiah.

Messiah is the name of names of God.

It means, Yahweh’s heart on earth.