The Holy Name of God
In ancient cultures, names universally have a power of their own. A name is not just what that person is called, it is that person. Changing what you call someone subtly changes your perception of that person.
There was a subtle change in my personal perception of God when I began to use the Holy Name in my private prayer. Using the Holy Name made God more “real” somehow, with a personality and feelings. Somehow, God became more wondrous, more awesome, more magnificent, and infinitely greater and more powerful than before. It makes you realise you are worshipping the God of the Bible, who performed so many mighty and wonderful deeds.
According to ancient Follower custom, after the example of the Prophet Yeshua`, we have traditionally addressed God as Abba (the Aramaic for ‘Father’). However, in recent times among Followers there has been a move away from this. There doesn’t seem to be any one reason. For some, it is too gender-oriented; for others, it doesn’t convey the power of God. I think there may be one more underlying reason: that the Talmidi mission to return to the heart and intention of the Torah has led us to a realisation of how powerful and holy God’s Name is.
(It is interesting to note that Karaite Jews, who reject rabbinical authority as we do, relying solely on the Law and the Prophets, also use the Holy Name).
The Basis of the Prohibition
The prohibition of pronouncing the Name of God, YHWH, is a rabbinical commandment, not a biblical one. Traditionally, mainstream Judaism quotes the third commandment (Ex 20:7 – “You shall not use the name of YHWH your God for evil”) as justification for prohibiting the pronouncing of God’s Name. But the commandment actually prohibits using God’s Name for false or evil purposes. (Calling for someone’s death in God’s Name is therefore blasphemy).
Other passages forbid using God’s Name for swearing false oaths (Lev 19:12 – “And you shall not swear by my name falsely”). Other passages encourage us to use God’s Name to swear oaths (Deut. 6:13, Deut. 10:20 – “And swear [sacred oaths] in His name”). However, Yeshua` forbade his followers to swear any oaths at all (Matt. 5:34-37); this was his solution for getting round the increasingly complex problem of what rabbinical tradition said it was and was not valid to swear oaths by. It also cuts out any circumstance where someone is tempted to prove they are speaking the truth by using God’s Name to prove it (which, in effect, is misusing God’s Name).
The Talmidi reverence for God’s Name
You will notice that in Follower writings, God’s Name is written as YHVH. The vowels are omitted to stop the casual, uninitiated reader from being able to pronounce God’s Name. In Talmidi services, God’s Name is written using the four consonants, but when read some sects replace it with the words Ha-Qadosh (Hebrew for ‘the Holy One’). In such a service, it is only pronounced when saying the priestly blessing (Nu 6:22-27).
It is extremely offensive to any Jew for God’s Name to be pronounced in jest or vulgar language – all cultures, it would seem, denigrate the name of their gods in this way (eg Christians and their exclamation “Jesus Christ!”). In the Galilaist and Yeshuinist traditions, God’s Name is only pronounced in private prayer. No casual, irreverent bystander is allowed to hear it, thus denying them the opportunity to vulgarise it.
This may seem very strange to someone not acquainted with the Israelite idea of holiness. In Christian thought, holiness means goodness, without stain or blemish of any moral kind, sometimes even imbuing a person or object with some innate power in and of itself. However, in Israelite religion, to be holy means to be separate. For example, in Temple worship, you had sacred or “holy” vessels. This did not mean that the vessels possessed some innate power of good. Rather it meant that their use was kept separate for the Temple, and they were not used for any other function. A garment like a tallit (prayer-shawl) is holy, because it is used for prayer, and for no other circumstances.
Similarly, Israel is called to be a holy people, meaning that they are to separate their ways from pagan ways, to keep them distinct and preserve them.
So God’s Name is holy, because its use is kept separate from ordinary and mundane language. We are not, for example, to use it in idle conversation, or to someone who might misuse it, or to a non-Yahwist. We don’t write it out in full, except in permanent and sacred texts; and we definitely do not use it to curse (Lev 22:32).
When we observe this reverence for God’s Name, it has a psychological effect on us. It makes us realise the greatness of God. It gives God’s Name an air of awe and wonder.
No other name is held holy. No other name is reverenced. As it says in Isaiah 42:8
“I am YHVH, that is My name. I will not give My glory to any other [name].”
What do the Law and the Prophets say?
The prophet Jeremiah informed people that it was wrong to cause people to forget the name of their God:
“How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship.” (Jer 23:26-27)
King David felt that knowing and using the name of God would save people from extreme peril:
“May YHWH answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Ya`aqov protect you.” (Ps 20:1)
And the prophet Joel was given the same message:
“And everyone who calls on the name of YHWH will be saved.” (Joel 2:32)
King Solomon prayed that if we asked forgiveness in God’s Name, then things would be set right:
“When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back and confess your name, praying and making supplication before you in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to them and their ancestors.” (2 Chr 6:24-25)
And God said to Moses that if priests used God’s Name to bless the children of Israel, then YHWH would truly bless them:
“[In this way] they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Nu 6:27)
And finally, God says that YHWH is God’s Name forever – not Adonay, or Lord, or Father, or even the Holy One, but YHWH:
“Say to the Israelites, ‘YHWH, the God of your ancestors […..] has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” (Ex 3:15)
This means that the rabbinical injunction not to pronounce God’s Name has caused us to forget it.
The holy Name of God is very powerful. I promise you, if you use God’s Name, and observe due reverence towards it, and keep it holy (only use it in private prayer), then your perception of God, your closeness to God, and your understanding of God will change. You will come to feel the awesome Presence of God, and fully know and realise that you worship YHWH, the living God, the God of Israel and of all the Nations.