Each time the word “LORD” is written in all capital letters in our Bibles, it refers to the personal name of Israel’s God. How many times is God’s personal name used in Deuteronomy 6:4-5?
(Note: NASB translation does not capitalize; use NIV, ESV, or NLT to see capitalizations.)
Read Exodus 3:1-12. How does the angel of the LORD appear to Moses (v. 2), and how did he introduce himself (v. 6)? What does the LORD invite Moses to do and why (vv. 7-10)? What is Moses’ reply (v. 11)? How does the LORD reassure him (v. 12)?
Read Exodus 3:13-17. Remember that while the author has been using the word “LORD” throughout this narrative retelling, this is the first time any human has learned God’s name. After the LORD invites him on a mission, what does Moses want to know (v. 13)? How does God reply (vv. 14-15)?
Why does God’s name, Yahweh, usually appear in our English Bibles as LORD, Jehovah, or Adonai (see video 1:32-2:57)? In our English Bibles, how is LORD—written in capital letters—different from the same word written in lowercase letters, “lord” (see video 2:57-3:25)?
The divine name of the God of Israel refers to the one who was in the past, is in the present, and will always be in the future. Why do you think this was important for Israel to know as God announced his plan to deliver them from slavery? How does God’s name help you understand who he is today?
For thousands of years, every morning and evening, Jewish people have prayed these well-known words as a way of expressing their devotion to God, they’re called the Shema.
“Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the Lord is one, and as for you, you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”1
We’re going to look at the second key word here, “LORD,” written in all capital letters. This is the personal name of Israel’s God.
The Personal Name of the God of Israel [00:29-01:32]
We first learn the meaning of this name in the story of Moses and the burning bush in the book of Exodus, chapter 3. God appears to Moses, and he commissions him to liberate the Israelites from slavery. And so Moses wonders, what if people ask the name of the god who has sent me? And so God responds, “Tell them ehyeh has sent me to you.” Now, that Hebrew word ehyeh means “I will be.” In other words, God’s name means that he is the one who is and who will be. God’s existence doesn’t depend on anyone or anything else. This god simply is2.
But it will sound kind of strange for Moses to say to the Israelites, “‘I will be’ has sent me to you.” Only God can say “I will be.” So in the next sentence, God tells Moses the version he should say aloud. “Yahweh the God of our ancestors, he has sent me to you.”3.
Now that word Yahweh is the ancient Hebrew form of the verb “he will be.” And this is the personal name of the God of Israel. It appears over 6,500 times in the Old Testament.
Honoring the Sacred Name [01:33-02:57]
Now here’s what’s interesting. Over the centuries, Israelites wanted to honor the sacred nature of this divine name. So as they read the Hebrew Bible aloud and they came to this name, they stopped saying Yahweh and instead started saying the Hebrew word for “Lord,” which is adonay.
Now this practice has been continued throughout the centuries, and so later, when people started translating the Bible into English, they adopted this same practice. Instead of spelling out the divine name, they translate it as “LORD” spelled in all capital letters.
Okay, you got that? Good because there's more. Ancient Jewish scribes wanted to prevent anyone from even accidentally saying this name aloud when you read the Hebrew Bible, and so they came up with a visual device to remind you to make sure you say adonay. They took the four consonant letters of the divine name. These letters correspond to our English letters, YHWH. Then they inserted the three vowels from the word adonay and combined these together to create an artificial hybrid word, which if you pronounced it, it would say yahowah. But no Israelite ever said yahowah. It’s simply a visual reminder to say the word adonay.
Now it gets more interesting. Much later, Christian scribes came along who didn’t know that yahowah was an artificial word, and so they began to say it aloud and spell it in their writings. This is the word that eventually entered into English as Jehovah. It’s a word many people still use today.
But the main thing is, the word LORD in all capital letters is an indication of the divine name. Don’t confuse it with the word Lord in your English translations that’s not in all capital letters. That’s the actual Hebrew word adon, which just means “lord” or “master.” This word can refer to people like kings4 or the master of a servant5, even a shepherd over his sheep6. And sometimes biblical authors will use this word to refer to God, like in the phrases “the Lord of all the earth”7 or the “Lord of Lords.”8.
But behind all of these words, Jehovah, LORD, Adonay, stands the original divine name of the God of Israel. It refers to the one who was, who is, and who forever will be.