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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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  • "Why do they do that?" is the question, but we don't know who "they" refers to. 3It would help if the question included specific examples of "what are referred to as" and "many Christians talk about" (e.g. quotations from reputable texts or well-known Christians). Jul 12, 2022 at 14:38
  • Another name along similar lines (phrase that's used as a name for God) is Emmanuel (God is with us). Aug 7, 2022 at 4:47

5 Answers 5

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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.

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  • What about this name/title "Jehovah-Jireh?"
    – fгedsbend
    Sep 17, 2014 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, 2014 at 19:41
  • I'm a little unsure if my update addresses your comment @dleyva3?
    – mathman
    Sep 17, 2014 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? Sep 17, 2014 at 23:23
  • 2
    Mathman, your answer is very satisfying, thanks.
    – dleyva3
    Sep 18, 2014 at 4:19
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The Hebrew word יְהֹוָה יִרְאֶה, yĕhōwâ yirʾe (Strong's H3070): Jehovah-Jireh, is a symbolical name for Mount Moriah.

And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen (Genesis 22:14 KJV)

Names such as Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Nissi and Jehovah-Shalom are much more than simply place names. They also describe aspects of God’s many-faceted character.

YHWH / YAHWEH / JEHOVAH: Translated in English Bibles “LORD” (all capitals) to distinguish it from Adonai, “Lord.” The revelation of the name is given to Moses “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). This name specifies an immediacy, a presence. Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3).

The following extracts from an article on this subject explain why the name has to do with the person and character of Yahweh/Jehovah:

YAHWEH-JIREH [yah-way-ji-reh]: “Jehovah-Jireh” is the KJV’s translation of YHWH-Yireh and means “The LORD Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14). It is the name memorialized by Abraham when God provided the ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac.

Upon reaching the place God had chosen, Abraham demonstrates his faith and obedience by building an altar, binding Isaac, and placing him on the wood. Before Abraham can finish the offering, the Angel of the Lord calls to him from heaven, and Isaac’s life is spared. Then, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). Abraham names the place “Jehovah-Jireh” because of God’s gracious provision of a substitute for Isaac. Immediately afterwards, God reconfirms His covenant with Abraham (v 17-18). Centuries later, King Solomon would build the temple in the same location (2 Chronicles 3:1).

The account of Abraham on Mt. Moriah thus becomes more than a dramatic illustration of faith and obedience. It is a presentation of the Lord’s eternal grace, continual provision, and all-encompassing wisdom. Jehovah-Jireh is not “The LORD Did Provide,” but “The LORD Will Provide.” In other words, the name does not simply memorialize a past event; it anticipates a future action.

Likewise, the statement “on the mountain of the LORD it will be provided” (verse 14) refers to more than Mt. Moriah—it also refers to a hill called Calvary, where God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Abraham’s faith-filled statement that “God himself will provide the lamb” is a companion to John the Baptist’s exclamation, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jehovah-Jireh.html

You ask if it is proper to talk about these names for places in the Bible and say they are the names of God. Christians understand that adding ‘Jireh’ to the name of God describes His character and one of His many attributes.

Used reverentially, in acknowledgement of His sovereignty and grace, elicits our worship and praise as we trust in Him alone for all He has done, and all He is yet to do. It helps us to understand the significance of what happened on Mount Moriah when God provided the sacrifice that represents the ultimate sacrifice, that of His one, His only Son, who died so that we may live. The LORD will provide, and for this we are eternally indebted.

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When you say "just the name of a place", I assume you mean "only the name of a place." If I have misunderstood, then read no further, for I am basing my answer on this assumption!

You ask about Hebrew language with this matter, and it is true that it can be difficult to get such names right. For instance, the Hebrew word beer means 'well' yet there is a mistranslation of this in the Numbers chapter 21 account of the wandering Israelites coming to what is said to be a place called Beer, to there find a well (verse 16). The correct translation should read, "From there they went to a [particular] well, that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, 'Gather the people together, and I will give them water.'" Unfortunately, even the A.V. says they went to Beer, putting a capital 'B' at the start of the word that should simply have remained as 'beer' - well.

Some Hebrew words never refer to a place, but only to (as in this instance) a well. Other Hebrew words never refer to an object but only to a name for either a person or a nation. This is shown in verse 13 where a name is applied to a location (Moab) and another name to a nation (Amorites).

The problem is not just limited to the Hebrew language, and perhaps an illustration from the English language will help with this question. There is a town in Britain called Kirkcaldy. There was also a family in that area with the surname, 'Kirkcaldy'. This name was given to a man who owned a large estate on the outskirts of the town. One of his descendants was called "William Kirkcaldy of Grange". His surname was Kirkcaldy, and his location of residence was the estate of Grange by that town. The surname and title ran through the family line for many generations. Then, when the last male descendant died without a male heir, the surname Kirkcaldy could only be used for female descendants, but if they married, their surname then became that of their husbands. The habit then arose of both male and female grandchildren of such ladies getting Kirkcaldy as a middle name. This went on down the line for several generations until the custom died out.

This meant, however, that there was a time when Kirkcaldy was both a surname and a place name - it was both. Much later on it became confusing for people of this generation who had never heard of it as a surname, or even a middle name, and only thought it was a place-name, for the place remains to this day.

This, I suggest, is the best way to view the matter in hand - that biblical names like Jehovah-Jireh etc combine the name of God with a place-name. Put both together and you can learn a deeper meaning of the One concerned, as the place-name speaks of particular qualities of God.

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OP: 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?

Basically, what we are reading is the name of God and His nature. God is salvation. God is provider. God is creator. God is banner. God is healer. God is sanctifier.

Some may have discovered the nature of God in a place, but that misses the point of God revealing His nature at a particular place. The alter of provision with Abraham and Isaac no longer exists, but the nature of God as provider certainly continues, even as it was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Besides, there are scriptural places where the nature of God is revealed, though not at a place.

Some may call the nature a title, and that is true enough, but misses the point of God revealing His nature to us.

Example List of God's Nature

YHWH Rohi, the LORD is my shephard (Psalm 23)

YHWH Jireh, the LORD will provide (Gen 22:14)

YHWH Rapha, the LORD who heals (Exo 15:26)

YHWH Shalom, the LORD is peace (Judges 6:24) Again, the altar is gone, but God is still our peace.

I could go on, but believe the point is made. To answer the OP, the nature of God is not discovered in a place, but in His activities or relationships with us.

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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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