The name Jehovah is probably familiar to many who attend church on a regular basis. Even those who do not attend church may be aware of it because of a visit from a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though the word may be familiar, it is not necessarily understood. What exactly is Jehovah? The simple answer is that Jehovah is the proper name of the God of the Bible. Ancient religions had gods such as Zeus, Odin or Ra. Modern religions have gods like Allah or Vishnu. The title “god” is a generic title that is applied to all deities in all religions. To distinguish one deity from another, many of them had specific names. The God of the Bible tells us His name to distinguish Himself from all other deities. The name of God has come down to us today as Jehovah.
The name Jehovah is found early in the Bible, it’s first use being in Genesis 2. Jehovah is found throughout the book of Genesis, but in Exodus 3 God explains the significance of His name. For generations the nation of Israel was enslaved in the land of Egypt. God spoke to Moses and told him to go to Pharaoh and request permission for the Israelites to leave the country. In response, Moses asked God what he should tell the Israelites when they asked who sent him. The Israelites were in a land that worshiped hundreds of gods. When Moses informed them God had sent him to deliver them, they would naturally want to know which particular god was doing the sending. “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:14) God says His name is “I AM”. The name “I AM” is the word that has been translated into English as Jehovah. Jehovah means “I AM”.
The simple definition is not a full explanation of the name Jehovah. In telling Moses who He is, God is telling Moses something important about His nature. Jehovah, or I AM, is a declaration that God is eternal. He is not “I was” or “I will be”. He is I AM. He is changeless. What He is now He always has been and always will be. He is self existent. He simply is. He does not owe His existence to another god before Him. He is not dependent on some outside agency. He exists because He is God who has always existed. The name Jehovah declares the eternal, changeless, self-existent nature of God.
Of course, when God spoke to Moses He did so in Hebrew. The name He gave to Moses would have been written in Hebrew, which is quite different from English. A close English approximation of the Hebrew word is YHWH. The word Jehovah is a rough English transliteration and pronunciation of the Hebrew name. Though some people make a big deal out of saying Yahweh instead of Jehovah, the English translation is a legitimate and proper use of God’s name. Most English translations of the Bible translate YHWH as LORD, and print the name a little differently to inform the reader that the original is speaking of Jehovah. Any time a Bible translation has the word Lord in all capital letters, it is indicating the name Jehovah. Jehovah is the proper name for the God of the Bible, a name that distinguishes Him from all the false gods and that declares to man His infinite nature.