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It seems like many of what are referred to as the names of God are actually the names of places that have been dedicated to God:

Jehovah-nissi - Moses built an altar and called that it Jehovah-nissi (Ex. 17:15)

Jehovah-jireh - Abraham called the place where he almost sacrificed his son Jehovah-Jireh (Gen 22:14)

Jehovah-shalom - Gideon built and altar (Jdg 6:24)

Is there an element in the Hebrew that I'm missing? Sure, these clearly describe attributes of God, but can they rightly be called His names?

Please note that I fully understand that Jehovah is God's name. If I call my house, God-Dwells-Among-His-People, then God doesn't suddenly get a new name. Yet many Christians talk about these names for places in the Bible and say they are the names to God. Why do they do that? Is it a proper thing to do?

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Titles vs. Names

I think the confusion stems from a lack of precision in our terminology, where we talk about the names of God when we really mean the titles of God.

This has been reinforced by decades of Christian literature that refer to the names of God when really discussing His titles. Take this devotional for example.

This distinction is easier to see in the suzerainty treaties of the ancient Middle East where the preamble begins with the name followed by a list of titles ascribed by the vassal. Take a look at the preamble in this Akkadian Hittite treaty for example: "These are the words of the <name>Sun Mursilis, <followed by titles>the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant, the favorite of the Storm-god, the son of Suppiluliumas, etc."

Famously, the pentateuchal covenants are structured like suzerainty treaties and the Mosaic covenant begins with the LORD's name followed by a title ('the deliverer' which one might label the act following His name) in Exodus 20:2: "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." There are many other examples in the OT.

I only mention this to show that there is a distinction between 'names' and 'titles' in the literature of this period and especially when doing exegetical work, there may be value in noting the difference.

A specific example: Jehovah Jireh

Seems to me that the naming of an altar, especially by the patriarchs, was usually an act of commemoration or thanksgiving, indicating something they wanted to say about the character or activity of YHWH in the episode that transpired.

This is certainly the case with Jehovah-jireh where the naming of the place commemorated the LORD's activity in Gen 22 in providing the sacrifice in Isaac's stead. Abraham was no doubt greatly relieved and uses the honorific 'jireh' to mark the occasion and it's location.

The key to me is that unlike with names, titles can be assigned by anyone and to anyone. That's why we have a William the Conqueror, an Ivan the Terrible and a Bloody Mary in our vocabulary today.

And Jehovah Jireh is structurally an honorific much like William the Conqueror, which others used to describe William I.

Abraham does the same at this altar in ascribing the title 'Provider' to YHWH, leaving Christians many millennia later a beautiful honorific to ascribe to God in our daily usage.

  • What about this name/title "Jehovah-Jireh?" – 3961 Sep 17 '14 at 3:37
  • To fredsbend comment, how does that impact names given to places/altars? How can those be properly considered titles/names of God? – dleyva3 Sep 17 '14 at 19:41
  • I'm a little unsure if my update addresses your comment @dleyva3? – mathman Sep 17 '14 at 22:50
  • It sounds as if you're saying that what happened was less "Abraham named the place 'Yahweh-yireh'" (as my translation has it), and more "Abraham named the place 'The place of God, The Provider'". Is that more or less accurate? – Matt Gutting Sep 17 '14 at 23:23
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    Mathman, your answer is very satisfying, thanks. – dleyva3 Sep 18 '14 at 4:19
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The two word phrases where the first word is God's special four letter name and the second is descriptive ("is there"/shammah, "heals"/raphah, "is my banner"/nissi etc.) are often collected together by preachers. They are aspects which biblical characters choose to describe God, which make them important. They aren't all literally names, but they function like names, sometimes in pointing to a defining characteristic of God.

I note that there's a confusion about Exodus 3:14 - "I am what I am" - in another answer here and I've heard it elsewhere. That verse (http://biblehub.com/text/exodus/3-14.htm) doesn't contain the four letter name of God. The word for "I Am" / "I will be" has the letters AHYH and Exodus 3:14 links God with the verb "to be", whose root is HYH. it is plausible that the four letter name of God is related to this root, but not obvious. I think people get confused with Exodus 6:2-3 where God makes a big deal of telling Moses his four letter name, but there's no meaning of the name given. Also note that the four letter name appears practically everywhere in the Hebrew bible.

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