Psalm 75. What’s In An Unspeakable Name?


Today’s Lectio Divina: Excerpts from Psalm 75. (MsgB)

An Asaph Psalm.

We thank You, God, we thank You—
Your Name is our favorite word;
Your mighty works are all we talk about.
 


Unless I’m mistaken, Psalm 75 has one amazing twist I must tell you about.

As you might remember, when God introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Exodus 3: 1-22), Moses had one very interesting conversation with the Creator of the Universe. A conversation that we New Testament folks should never take for granted.

You see, up until the time of this encounter between Moses and the Most High God, the people of Israel had only their one Hebrew word (Elohim) to talk about their god. And in a world where every nation had at least a god, or two, or three, ‘elohim’, quite honestly, wasn’t all that helpful in defining the uniqueness of this god the Israelites worshipped. Since the Hebrew word ‘elohim’ simply means ‘god’, the only way the people could distinguish their ‘elohim’ from others was to add the phrase ‘of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’

So when Moses and Elohim meet at the burning bush, God introduces Himself as Moses would have known him…

“I am the God (Elohim) of your father: The Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, the Elohim of Jacob.” Exodus 3: 6

Later on in this conversation, Moses asks the big question that, quite honestly, changes everything for all of us for all time. In verse 13, we find Moses asking…

“Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God (Elohim) of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What do I tell them?”

It’s here (verse 14) where God reveals His personalized name to Moses…

“I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’”

Bingo.

For the first time in human history, God’s people now had a unique word (or phrase) that gave them the defining name of the God previously known only as Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Most scholars believe this word, and several variations of it, were written in the Hebrew Scriptures as YHWH.

Now here’s the rub.

This holy name (YHWH), given by God to Moses, was so holy, God’s people eventually decided that no one should speak the word, lest a casual approach to God’s Holy Name might anger Him. So for centuries, the Hebrew word ‘YHWH’ was only written and never spoken. Over the centuries that followed, since the Hebrew language only uses consonants and no vowels, no one actually remembered how the original word was pronounced! Today, our best guess, when speaking the Hebrew word YHWH, is “Yahweh”. Modern Judaism decided to replace the confusion altogether and use a newer Hebrew word ‘Adonai’ in its place. Our Christian Bibles address this name problem by capitalizing the word LORD in order to distinguish YHWH in the Old Testament from the more common word for god, Elohim.

So why am I giving you this little history lesson in the names of God?

Because Psalm 75 actually reads this way…

We thank You, God (Elohim), we thank You—
Your Name (referencing YHWH) is our favorite word;
Your mighty works are all we talk about.

Psalm 75, you see, is part of a section of the Psalms known as the Elohist psalms. Psalms 42 through 83 are referred to as Elohistic because the name YHWH is avoided and the word “Elohim” is used instead.

So now we come to the twist I was talking about. As I see it, isn’t it interesting that Asaph, the psalmist, sings here that God’s name (referring to YHWH) is “our favorite word” when indeed it was unlawful for any Hebrew to actually use the word itself?

Hmm.

I can just imagine Asaph, walking around the Temple, whispering his favorite word to himself, knowing if he said it too loudly, he’d be guilty of the unforgivable sin!

What did you just say, Asaph?

Nothing, sir. Nothing. Just singing to myself, sir. No harm. No foul.

Watch it, Asaph. That mumbling under your breath has got to stop. I thought I heard you speak the unspeakable name. We’ve got our eyes on you, Asaph. One more little slip like that and you’re out of here!

Maybe that’s why Jesus got into so much hot water when He went around the Temple referring to YHWH as Abba, or Poppa or Daddy.

Can you imagine the scandal?

The unspeakable name (YHWH), that the psalmist Asaph declared as his favorite unspeakable word, is now brought to a whole new definition by the Son of God. The untouchable, unsearchable, unchangeable, eternal I-AM-WHO-I-AM is actually Poppa or Daddy to us, His children.

Gosh. Now, in the light of Jesus’ revelation, I’m beginning to understand why this unfathomable name (YHWH) became Asaph’s favorite word in his vocabulary. How about you?

My prayer: I’m amazed, God, for the increasing revelation given to us over the centuries as You continually reveal more to us about Your Name. Once known only as a distant Elohim, now, through Jesus, I can know You as Abba, my Daddy, my Loving Father. May I continually marvel at Your desire to have me know You better. From Elohim to I-AM-WHO-I-AM to YHWH to Abba, I receive all of who You are as my King and Lord of Lords. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So how might I be dis-honoring the holy names of God by treating them too lightly? While I never want to approach God through legalistic formulas and unyielding rules and regulations, how might I recover and restore the high honor due His Holy Name?

So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Psalms?


Over a 50-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at The Psalms: God’s Songbook of Prayers. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Contemplating the Psalms home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Sustainable Faith-Heartland network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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