God Can’t Really Have a Name

I know what you are going to say, “But God DOES have a name- he told it to Moses!”

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Yes, he told Moses his name, but let’s look more closely at that verse, which is Exodus 3:14-15… (The terms in parenthesis were added by the editor)

God said to Moshe, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh [I am/will be what I am/will be],” and added, “Here is what to say to the people of Isra’el: ‘Ehyeh [I Am or I Will Be] has sent me to you.’”  God said further to Moshe, “Say this to the people of Isra’el: ‘Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [Adonai], the God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz’chak and the God of Ya‘akov, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; this is how I am to be remembered generation after generation.

What was that last command to Moses? Wasn’t it that God said this is my name and how I am to be remembered, forever? And what was that? Was it by a word? Was it a specific title or name? No, it wasn’t: it was by a description of who he is.

The Internet Dictionary defines a “name” as a word or words by which something is known, addressed, or referred to. So, in this respect, a name might not be like Steven, or John, or Henrietta, but as a description of who and what something is. That is the way God commanded us to know and refer to him- not with a single name but by the description of who he is.

Yes, we call him Lord, Adonai, Yahweh, Jehovah, God, and many other names, all of which are used to refer to him whether in writing or speech. But that is not how God, himself, said we are to remember him, is it?

A name, as we humans use it, is to identify someone who is like everyone else, i.e. a living creature, as separate and distinct from other similar living creatures. In a society of people, the women have different first and last names and the men, as well. Given the multitude of people, there will always be some duplication, but for the most part, the names we have are what identifies us from everyone else who is the same as we are.

But God has no equal- there is no thing that is like him, so a name is irrelevant, really, because he is the epitome of unique. That is why, I suppose, he uses terms of reference to explain who and what he is when he uses the word “name” to describe himself.

A good example of this is in Deuteronomy 16:11, which is where God states we are not to sacrifice anywhere except the place where his name lives. Again, he doesn’t say the place named after him, or the place with the same name he has, but the place where his name LIVES!

God is telling us that the reference to him is not a static and unique set of letters, but it represents who and what he is. God’s name is a living thing because it is God- he is The Father, The Creator, The King, The Judge, The Savior! He is too much to be restricted to something as confining as a name.

When he changed the name of Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17), it wasn’t like someone getting a legal name change, but it was to represent who Abram had become- from a father to the father of many. He did the same when he said Sarai would now be called Sarah (from mockery to princess.) And in Genesis 35:10, he changed the name of Jacob to Israel, again representing not so much a change in what to call him, but a change from who he was to who he is now.

Throughout the Tanakh, we can see the usage of the term “the name of the Lord” or “call upon his name” not meaning to use a specific title or word, but more so to reference who and what God is. It represents the reputation and power, the renown, and the authority of God.

Again, a name is just inappropriate for God because he is so much more than what we can contain in a simple identifier.

So, what does this all boil down to? It boils down to this: there is no one, right name for God because God is more than just one thing. Any name or title or reference which we might use to identify him is incomplete. Therefore, if you call him Jehovah, Yahweh, Adonai, Lord, God, Master, Father, Creator, Judge, Savior, Shield, Provider, or any other word that represents who and what he is, you are not doing anything wrong.

There is a group of people known as the “Holy Namers” who insist that there is only one true name for God, and if you use anything else you are praying to a false idol or a pagan god. These people, in their zealousness to know and respect God, are, in fact, insulting him by implying that God doesn’t know who you are praying to; and, even worse than that, they are actually sinning by rejecting what God has told us to do, i.e., remember him as he told Moses we should.

God never says he has only one name but tells us many different ways to refer to him; he even tells Moses, at one point, that his name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14), so should we be praying to “Jealous”?

Of course not!

God is beyond anything we humans can comprehend; he is a multifaceted spiritual entity that is not any single thing at any one time. God can’t even be referred to as an “is” because he isn’t just an “is”- he is, he was, and he will be, all at the same moment in time. To us, things happen in the past, present, and future along a linear, chronologically defined line, but to God, it is all happening now.

To conclude: Please don’t listen to the “Holy Namers” because God can’t really have a name, so call upon him using whatever name(s) you know him by, none of which will ever be adequate but all of which he knows we use. Trust me, he will hear you.

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Remember that I always welcome your comments.

So, that’s it for today: L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Comments welcomed (just be nice)