The Bible is rife with passages that state we are to “call on the name of the Lord”, or that we are to “call upon his name.” There are many Believers who understand these terms to mean that we are commanded to use the actual name of God, which is called the Tetragrammaton when we are to call upon his name.
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There is a term for this belief, which includes the many different opinions about how the name is pronounced, a term which is not such a nice term, and we call these people “Holy Namers.” These are the people who insist that we should write, speak, and in every way, whatsoever, use the holy name of the Lord whenever we can. And, I know this sounds wrong to say, but in my experience, nearly every one of these people was raised as a Gentile.
Now, I can understand this, to a degree, because Gentiles are brought up praising and worshiping Jesus, and calling out his name over and over. After all, he did say to pray in his name, didn’t he?
Of course he did, BUT…what does that mean?
So, here we are, back to the original question: what does it mean, really, to call on the name of the Lord?
It means to pray to him and not to some other god. It has nothing to do with his name, and everything to do with who he is.
When we first see this term, it is in Genesis 4, where we are told that after Enoch was born men began to call on the name of the Lord.
Does that mean the people all called him by his holy name? According to the Jewish commentary in my Chumash, it meant that people began to call God by Adonai. The Tetragrammaton was used in the Tanakh before we see it used in Exodus when God told Moses his name, so maybe people not only knew but used the holy name from the very beginning. When Moses asked God what name he should use to tell the Israelites who sent him, God uses the holy name, which (at least, to me) implies that someone must have known that name so when Moses used it, they recognized it.
I believe the holy name, the Y-H-V-H was not only known, but the actual pronunciation was known (which we really don’t know today), so you might ask why not use it?
The reason is simple (at least, if you’re Jewish it is): we don’t use God’s actual, holy name in order to show our respect for him.
And, when the Bible tells us to call upon his name, the cultural use of that terminology was (and still is) to pray to him. Not to call out his name like you were screaming out the front door to your children (“Steven! If you don’t get in this door right now, you will be grounded for a week!”)
No, we shouldn’t use God’s holy name like we were calling a friend on the phone or shouting hello to someone.
The other cultural use of calling on God’s name means to represent God’s renown, reputation, and refer to his holiness and power.
For instance, in 1 Chronicles 22:8-10 God tells David that David’s son, Solomon, will build the temple David wanted to build, so let’s see what God says (I added the bold print):
But a message from ADONAI came to me, ‘You have shed much blood and fought great wars. You are not to build a house for my name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his enemies that surround him; for his name is to be Shlomo, and during his reign I will give peace [Hebrew: shalom] and quiet to Isra’el. It is he who will build a house for my name.
God stated what Solomon’s name is to be, indicating the actual name. But, when using the term “for my name” he clearly doesn’t mean his actual name but is referring to his reputation and his renown. That is the proper way any term referring to “the name of the Lord” is to be used.
I wanted to list the many times in the Bible this term is used, but there were just too many times, And picking one or two examples isn’t going to make any more difference to those who will reject what I am saying here than if I found one or two hundred examples.
The holy name of the Lord,
יהוה, is, for simplicity, the first name of God. When you meet someone who you respect, such as a leader of the country, or an important person in your company, a Minister or a Rabbi, do you just automatically call him or her by their first name? I hope not! That is disrespectful, and if we pay that modicum of respect to a human being, doesn’t the creator of the universe, the Lord God, Almighty, deserve at least that much respect?
If none of this makes sense to you, then I guess you will continue to use the Tetragrammaton whenever you feel like it, and I don’t think that it is a sin to do that. I do think, probably because I am Jewish, that you are being somewhat too friendly with God. Yes, we can march boldly to God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16) but that doesn’t mean we can walk up to God, slap him on the back, and say, “Yo, Y-H-V-H, how’s it hanging?”
Would you do that to a king or queen, or a president? If not, then what makes you think it is OK to do that with God?
Here’s it is, in simple English: to call upon the name of the Lord has always meant to pray to him. It never meant to use his holy name, and when we read a reference to or statement about “the name of the Lord”, it doesn’t mean the Tetragrammaton, it means God’s renown and reputation.
Yes, there are some rare exceptions, but they aren’t the rule.
God used these terms throughout the Tanakh to refer to his renown and reputation and holiness, and that is how Yeshua and every single one of his Talmudim (Disciples) understood and used them.
As I said earlier, if you want to use God’s holy name with no more respect for him than if he was one of your drinking buddies, I don’t think it is a sin, I believe it is disrespectful but, then again, I also believe God will understand this is what you were taught to do.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change.
As for me, I would much rather pray to God in a respectful and grateful way than to assume it is OK for me to use his holy name, even though he did tell us what it is.
Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share, and comment if you feel you have something to add. I am not afraid of a drash, so long as we are respectful and courteous to each other.
Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!