“God’s Name” by Mark Jones

“We can learn about God by understanding the meaning of His name as revealed in Scripture. His name is identical with His attributes in terms of how He manifests them to us in His Word.

God does not need a proper name. His self-appointed name describes Him not as He exists within himself but as He reveals himself and relates to His creatures. Thus, by using names, God accommodates Himself to His creatures and reveals Himself to us.

God’s names function as a synonym for His character, the sum of His attributes (Ex. 20:7; Ps. 8:1). Correspondingly, to know His name is to know Him (Ex. 6:3). While they are anthropomorphic, these names do not originate with humanity, as if we were in any position to name God.

Rather, these names disclose to us God’s personal existence, His attributes, and His glorious being. Although nameless within himself, God in His revelation has many names. We have chosen to focus on just one in this chapter, the “LORD,” or Yahweh (sometimes also referred to as Jehovah or YHWH), which is used roughly five thousand times in the Old Testament.

The etymology of Yahweh has been discussed a great deal through the course of church history, with no firm consensus on all the details. Coming from the root hwy or hyh (meaning “to be, be at hand, exist, come to pass”), the name of God may be understood in light of God’s works rather than the name’s sheer etymology. To ask for God’s name is to ask for His character:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Ex. 3:13–14)

With the revelation of His “name,” we must remember that no one name can fully reveal who God is. Nevertheless, this revelation tells us a great deal about God. Yahweh reveals His nature, particularly that He is not only self-existent (“I am”) but also unchangeable (“I will be what I will be”). God’s immutability (i.e., unchangeability) carried no small consequence for the Israelites, who depended on his covenant faithfulness. This proclamation was the high point of God’s revelation up to that time in redemptive history.

In the context of Exodus, the name Yahweh points to His covenant faithfulness: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7; see also 3:7–9, 13–14; 6:1). His name also reveals His sovereignty and glory: “that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18). As the Lord, Yahweh is the everlasting, omniscient, omnipotent God:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. (Isa. 40:28)

His name remains synonymous with his eternal being (Isa. 41:4; 44:6). As the Glorious One, Yahweh expresses jealousy for the worship of His people and the glory of His name: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa. 42:8).

His name can strike terror in hearts. Yahweh speaks in thunder and shoots lightning across the sky (Ex. 19:16–19; 20:18). He reveals His presence by fire (Ex. 13:21) and controls the elements of the earth, such as the sea (Ex. 14:21). Yet as noted above, Yahweh deals with his people as the God of the covenant. He creates and preserves all things, but in a special way, He sustains His people according to His promises to them. Thus, the name Yahweh is peculiarly significant to God’s people because it represents his covenant-keeping faithfulness toward them.

After Christ fulfilled the work that the Father gave him to do, God bestowed on Him the divine name:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)

The name is not explicitly given, but there is good reason to assume that it refers to Yahweh. Jesus has perfectly represented the Father on earth as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). As such, He has the public authority to receive the highest blessing possible: the name above every name. What name could be higher than Yahweh and all that it means?

Not only Paul but also John uses language from Isaiah that enforces this basic theological point about Christ’s exalted status. In Isaiah we read the following claims by Yahweh:

I, the LORD, the first,
and with the last; I am he. (Isa. 41:4)

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god. (Isa. 44:6)

I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last. (Isa. 48:12)

Now look at John’s description of Jesus in Revelation:

Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. (Rev. 1:17–18)

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” (Rev. 2:8)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 22:13)

As these passages in Revelation show, Jesus’s name speaks to His prerogatives as the immutable, eternal, and living God. The exalted Christ bears the name of Yahweh.

God names Himself to bless his people. He names Himself to instruct His people. God does not need to name Himself, but He chooses freely to condescend in order to give us knowledge of God’s being and his purposes toward us. Remarkably, while God does not need to name Himself, He does name His Son.

The God-man has the peculiar dignity of being recognized as Yahweh. In light of that truth, we can be as sure of Christ’s heart toward us as we can be of God’s heart toward the Israelites when he brought them out of Egypt.

As the exalted Messiah and High Priest interceding in the heavenly places, Jesus is trustworthy. Christ’s purposes, and thus his teachings, remain the same toward believers. He is unchangeable in his purposes. Hence, the author of Hebrews assures his readers of this aspect of Christ’s ministry: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

If God is able to bestow a name on Jesus, he is also able to bestow a name on those who remain faithful to the end like Jesus did. In Revelation 2:17, we are told that believers will receive a new name. This promise extends to all of God’s faithful servants and is not limited to the immediate recipients of John’s letter.

To receive this new name is to receive Christ’s kingly name (Rev. 19:12–16). We are named in baptism, as we enter into a new relationship with God. At the end, we shall also receive a new name that will confirm to us our exalted status.

Without this new name, we will not enter into the new heavens and the new earth.”

–Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 91-95.

“Whatever our tongue utters should savor of His excellence” by John Calvin

“Whatever our mind conceives of God, whatever our tongue utters, should savor of His excellence, match the loftiness of His sacred name, and lastly, serve to glorify His greatness.”

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vol. 1; The Library of Christian Classics; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 388. (2.8.22)

“God’s glory” by Thomas Watson

“God’s glory is as dear to a saint as his own salvation. And that this glory may be promoted he endeavors the conversion of souls.”

–Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer  (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1662/1999), 44.

“The first and great petition” by Thomas Watson

“‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ In the Latin, it is, sanctificetur nomen tuum,—sanctified be Thy name. In this petition, ‘hallowed be Thy name,’ we pray, that God’s name may shine forth gloriously, and that it may be honoured and sanctified by us, in the whole course and tenor of our lives.

It was the angels’ song, ‘glory to God in the highest;’ that is, let his name be glorified and hallowed. This petition, “Hallowed be Thy name,” is set in the forefront, to show, that the hallowing of God’s name is to be preferred before all things.

It is to be preferred before life; we pray, ‘Hallowed be Thy name,’ before we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

It is to be preferred before salvation, Rom. 9:1. God’s glory is more worth than the salvation of all men’s souls. As Christ said of love, Mat. 22:36., ‘This is the first and great commandment;’ so I may say of this petition, ‘Hallowed be Thy name,’ it is the first and great petition; it contains the most weighty thing in religion, God’s glory.

When some of the other petitions shall be useless and out of date, we shall not need to pray in heaven, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ because there shall be no hunger; nor, ‘Forgive us our trespasses,’ because there shall be no sin; nor, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ because the Old Serpent is not there to tempt; yet the hallowing of God’s name shall be of great use and request in heaven.

We shall be ever singing hallelujahs, which is nothing else but the hallowing of God’s name. Every person in the blessed Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, must have this honour, to be hallowed; their glory being equal, and their majesty co-eternal.

‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ To admire God’s name is not enough. We may admire a conqueror, but when we say, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we set God’s name above every name, and not only admire Him, but adore Him.”

–Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 406.

“The link between God and His name” by Herman Bavinck

“All we can learn about God from His revelation is designated His Name in Scripture… There is an intimate link between God and His name. According to Scripture, this link too is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God Himself.

We do not name God; He names Himself. In the foreground here is the name as a revelation on the part of God, in an active and objective sense, as revealed name.

In this case God’s name is identical with the attributes or perfections that He exhibits in and to the world: His glory (Ps. 8:1; 72:19), honor (Lev. 18:21; Ps. 86:10–11; 102:16), His redeeming power (Exod. 15:3; Isa. 47:4); His service (Isa. 56:6; Jer. 23:27); His holiness (1 Chron. 16:10; Ps. 105:3).

The name is God Himself as He reveals Himself in one relationship or another (Lev. 24:11, 16; Deut. 28:58). That name, being a revelation of God, is great (Ezek. 36:23), holy (Ezek. 36:20), awesome (Ps. 111:9), a high refuge (Ps. 20:1), a strong tower (Prov. 18:10).

By proper names, particularly by the name YHWH, God made Himself known to Israel. He revealed Himself to Israel by the angel in whom the Lord’s name was present (Exod. 23:20).

And He put His name on the children of Israel (Num. 6:27), caused His name to be remembered (Exod. 20:24), put His name among them and made it to dwell there (Deut. 12:5; 14:23), especially in the temple that was built for His name (2 Sam. 7:13). Now His name lives in that temple (2 Chron. 20:9; 33:4).

By that name He saves (Ps. 54:1), and on account of that name He cannot abandon Israel (1 Sam. 12:22; Isa. 48:9, 11; Ps. 23:3; 31:3; 143:11–12). Israel, accordingly, may not blaspheme and desecrate that name, or use it in vain (Exod. 20:7; Lev. 18:21; 19:12; 24:11).

On the contrary: that name must be invoked, passed on in story, magnified, known, feared, exalted, expected, sought out, sanctified (Gen. 4:26; 12:8; Exod. 9:16; Deut. 28:58; 1 Kings 8:33; Ps. 5:12; 34:3; 52:9; 83:17; 122:4; Isa. 26:8; Matt. 6:9; John 12:28; etc.).

In the New Testament God’s name acquires an even richer and deeper meaning. For the Logos, who was in the beginning with God and is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known (John 1:18) and revealed His name (John 17:6, 26).

Since no one knows the Father except the Son, only those to whom the Son reveals the Father gain knowledge of God (Matt. 11:27). Those who confess the Son have the Father also (1 John 2:23). Those who have seen Him have seen the Father (John 14:9).

The name of Jesus Christ, accordingly, guarantees the truth of our knowledge of God and all the associated benefits. He is called Jesus because He saves His people (Matt. 1:21) and is the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

By His name miracles are performed (Acts 4:7); by it we receive forgiveness (Acts 2:38), the right to become God’s children (John 1:12), and eternal life (1 John 5:13). Where two or three people are gathered in His name, He is in their midst (Matt. 18:20).

Those who pray in His name are heard (John 14:13), and those who call on the name of the Lord are saved (Acts 2:21). All salvation for humanity is comprehended within the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Being baptized in that name is a sign and seal of fellowship with God. And an even richer revelation awaits believers in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12), when His name will be inscribed upon everyone’s forehead (Rev. 22:4).

The name of God in Scripture does not describe God as He exists within Himself but God in His revelation and multiple relations to His creatures. This name, however, is not arbitrary: God reveals Himself in the way He does because He is who He is.

Summed up in His name, therefore, is His honor, His fame, His excellencies, His entire revelation, His very being.”

–Herman Bavinck, Eds. John Bolt and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 97, 98-99.