Do You Call your Husband "Sir"?
By John Telgren
Do you realize most of us never call our Lord by name? For years and years, I prayed to my God, but rarely did I ever use his name.
We commonly refer to him as "Lord" (an old English word meaning "master" or "sir") or "God" However, the Bible refers to him more than 5000 times as "Yahweh". This is the most common designation for God in the Old Testament. The only other name that even comes close is "Elohim" (God), which occurs over 3000 times in the Old Testament. In Exodus 3 and in Exodus 6, God reveals that his name is "Yahweh".
However, most Jews today follow a medieval tradition when they come to the name "Yahweh" in scripture. Originally, Hebrew had no written consonants. Therefore YHWH is what appeared in the manuscripts. In medieval times, a group of Jewish scholars developed a vowel system for written Hebrew, which consisted mostly of dots and dashes above or below the consonants. However, when they came to YHWH, they did not use the vowels for "Yahweh". Instead they used the vowels from the word Adonai . Thus what appeared in the manuscripts looked like this: . This indicated to those who read scripture aloud, that even though you read Yahweh, you actually say "Adonai". So there was a difference in what you read, and what you spoke. You read "Yahweh", but you spoke "Adonai". Adonai is not a name, but a title. It can be translated into English as "Lord", "Master", or "Sir". This is what Jews say when they mean to say "Yahweh". The basic reason they do this has to do with God's holiness. The name of God is so holy, that they do not pronounce it. Since it is so holy, they do not want to run the risk of taking the name of the Lord in vain. So they don't say it at all. We as Christians may think this is a little ridiculous, but we actually do pretty much the same thing, except we do it ignorantly.
Our own English Bible translators have followed the same Jewish practice when it comes to God's name. Most translators render "Yahweh" as the "LORD" - using all uppercase characters with the last three letters scaled down. So when you are reading your Bible and you come across the word, "LORD", the word in the Hebrew text is "Yahweh". "Adonai" in the Hebrew text is translated "Lord". "Elohim" in the Hebrew text is translated "God". So, "The LORD is my Shepherd" is actually, "Yahweh is my shepherd". "O LORD my God" is actually, "O Yahweh, my God." The Old Testament is filled with the name "Yahweh".
Yet we rarely if ever pray to Yahweh. We almost never sing to Yahweh. We do sing some songs to "Jehovah", but in reality there is no such name. It is a hybrid that came about from combining the title, "Adonai" and the consonants of the name "Yahweh" into one word . The consonants to Yahweh and the vowels to Adonai were never meant to be read together as one word. Earlier translators evidently were not aware of this, and thus rendered it as "Jehovah" in our English Bibles. However, most modern translators now render Yahweh as "LORD". Most of us are oblivious to the fact that we never use our God's name. Christians have unwittingly followed the same Jewish practice with no awareness of it or the explanation why.
It may not seem like such a big deal. After all, God is God right? When I pray to "my God", who else could I be talking to except our creator? What is the big deal about a name?
We typically do not go around telling everyone our name unless we are initiating some sort of relationship. Over ten years ago, I revealed my name to a young girl named Stacey. Today she is my beloved wife. She does not call me "sir", "master", or even "husband". There are several titles that are appropriate to me, but she does not call me by any of them. She calls me "John". I love to hear her say my name. Indeed, it has been said that one of the sweetest sounding words to a person is his own name. How would it feel if we only referred to each other by title even in our most intimate conversations and never used each other's names? Yet that is precisely what we do with Yahweh, our God.
Now you may be thinking, "what a minute, your marriage to your wife is one thing, but our relationship to God is quite another". Is the marriage illustration appropriate when it comes to God and his people? Let's look at some biblical examples.
God has pursued his "bride" (his people) relentlessly since the beginning. Nowhere is this more vivid than in the book of Hosea. God's bride (people) went into Exile, and when God will restore her, the prophet says "no longer will she call me, "my master", ba'ali, she will call me "my husband" ishi. (Ho 2:16)". Ba'ali was a word that meant something like my "master", "lord", "sir", "owner", or "husband" depending on the context. Ishi meant my "husband" or my "man". You can see the intimate imagery the prophet uses to convey the type of relationship God desires with his people. But this is not an isolated metaphor. Using this same imagery, Isaiah prophesies, "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So your God will rejoice over you" (Is 62:5). Paul uses the same husband-wife imagery concerning Jesus and the church in Ephesians 5:25-32. John also uses this imagery when he calls God's people the "bride" of the Lamb in Revelation 19:7-10. Yahweh is our husband, and we are his bride!
Yahweh gave us his name in Exodus. The Psalms are filled with references to Yahweh as well as the prophetic and narrative books. Is it possible we should re-think our practice of calling our "Husband" only by the title of "Master"?