Monday, August 6, 2012

"LORD" in the Psalms (and elsewhere)

[From Pastor Ed on August 5 and August 12, 2012]

Frequently in the Psalms, we see the word "LORD" spelled out in either all capital letters or in what is called "small caps". What does this mean?

In the Hebrew language, there are two words that are commonly rendered in English translations as "lord": the first, a common word, adon (from which we get the name of God "Adonai") is translated "lord" and means lord or master, as in "the lord of the manor" or some sort of leader and overseer. This word could refer to men of some higher status, as in the lord of the house (to someone in the household), a governor, or the king. Of course, it can also refer to God, because He is the Lord over all! But it does not bear any specific or personal meaning.

The second word that is translated "Lord" is the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh (or Jehovah)— sometimes called the "tetragrammaton" (literally, the "four letters") because it is constructed simply of the four consonants: J/Y, H, W/V, and H. Because the Hebrew people considered this name to be so holy that they would never say it or write it out fully— lest they be in violation of the third commandment— we don't actually know what vowels would have been inserted between these consonants! (This is why it could be Yahweh or Jehovah.) Instead, they would just use the consonants to represent this name.

The earliest translators saw fit to translate this word also as "Lord", probably because they recognized that, as the name of the Lord of all, it was fitting that the title also be His name. (Similar to how we would never presume such familiarity with a king or president to call him by his first name, but would simply say "King".) But as a distinction from the word adon, the name began to be rendered in the all-caps or small-caps way that we see it.

This word, the name of God, isn't like any other name that we find for Him in the Old Testament. It isn't uncommon to find references to other gods, especially in reference to idol-worshipping practices, but these would have names of their own (like Ba'al, which is the name of a specific idol-god). Yahweh, however, was the name of the God above all gods— the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Furthermore, the name Yahweh is given to His people in a certain context. Abraham is told this name, Yahweh, when God declares to him (in Genesis 15:7): "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” Moses is told this name when he is instructed in how the Israelites would know that it was God who sent him (in Exodus 3:15): Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."

In short: the name Yahweh always indicated, not just that the Lord of lords was the One meant by the name, but the God of Abraham— the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. He describes Himself in this way, when He appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai and identified Himself (in Exodus 34:6-7): "The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Therefore, when we encounter "LORD" in the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture), we need to recognize this important and faith-building distinction of Who it is that is spoken of: it is Yahweh, our covenant God!

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