A New Occurrence Of The Divine Name “I Am” -- By: Ronald Youngblood
JETS 15:3 (Summer 1972) p. 144
A New Occurrence Of The Divine Name “I Am”
In the ancient Near East, names bore a significance that they rarely bear today. Most mothers who give their baby girls the name “Deborah” (or the shortened form, “Debra”) probably do so, because they like the sound of the name, especially its diminutive or caritative form, “Debbie.” But when the Palestinian mother in ancient times named her daughter Deborah she did so knowing that the word means “Honeybee.” Similarly, the modern father may name his newborn son “John” because he has a rich relative by that name, but in ancient times the same name would be bestowed on a boy because it means “The Lord Is Gracious.” Knowing that fact adds just the right touch to the story in the first chapter of Luke concerning the aged couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose first-born son the angel named Y(eh)ohanan, “The Lord Is Gracious.”
So it is that in ancient times a person’s name reflected his character, his personality, or his history. A particularly clear example of that concept is found in Abigail’s statement to David in 1 Samuel 25:25: “Let not my lord regard this illmatured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.” As soon as one learns that the Hebrew word nabal means “fool,” the sarcasm of Abigail becomes crystal clear.
And what was true of human names in ancient Palestine was true of divine names as well. Our God is called by many names in Scripture, and each of those names is full of meaning. The two most frequent and most important Old Testament names of the one true God are Elohim and Yahweh. “Elohim,” a plural form, is translated simply as “God” in most English versions when the God of Israel is meant. “Yahweh” is rendered as “LORD,” spelled entirely with capital letters, in most English versions.
These two names, Yahweh and Elohim, constitute one set of criteria used by scholars in their attempt to get back to the original sources that underlie certain of the canonical books of the Old Testament. Ever since the days of H. B. Witter and J. Astruc, it has been believed by many that the first four books of the Old Testament in particular demonstrate the existence of one or more written sources that preferred the name “God”
*Professor of Old Testament, Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.
JETS 15:3 (Summer 1972) p. 145
and one or more written sources that preferred the name “Lord.” That such preferences do exist in the books of Genesis through Numbers it is impossible to deny. What those preferences...
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