As with many students who studied Hebrew as their theological language in seminary, I grit my teeth when I see “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” used as a name for God. Let me explain – both of these are an attempt to transliterate the “YHWH” name of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jehovah is a bad transliteration based upon a rudimentary understanding of Hebrew use of vowels. Yahweh is a better transliteration, but it still falls short.
The Hebrew understanding of the “YHWH” name was that it was holy – set apart – not for daily use. In fact, once the temple was built and the priesthood formally instituted, that name of God was meant to be pronounced only by the High Priest, only in the Holy of Holies (most sacred space in the Temple), only on the Holiest day of the year. It was a very protected and sacred name.
Ordinary priests, scribes and individuals, were trained to pronounce “Adonai” (Ah-don-EYE), which is equivalent to the English word, ‘Lord,’ whenever they came across the YHWH in scripture.
At the same time, if you try to pronounce this word without vowels (which is how it was ALWAYS written), it comes out like breath. Try it. YHWH.
So Rob Bell, in one of his Nooma (a play on the Greek word for Spirit) videos, talks about God being as close to us as breath. He asks the question: do we die when we stop breathing or do we die when we can no longer say the name of God?
So if all you managed to do today was breathe – especially if it was a day when you were struggling with even that – it may be that you’ve spent the day doing something both simple and incredibly holy.
Never underestimate the power of your breath. Never doubt that God is as close to you and as constantly with you as the next breath you take.
Until tomorrow, dear friends, keep breathing, keep praising the Lord.