Who Was Jehovah?
Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow
JEHOVAH—the Existing One, the Tetragrammaton. Jahweh is more correct, but Jehovah is the oldest form although it is a mispronunciation of the Hebrew word. This word is composed of the consonants, J H V H and the vowels of Adonay, "Lord." But it is always pronounced as the name Adonai. This method is acquired by taking the consonants of the word that is not to be read, with the vowels of the word that is to be read. When exactly this method was adopted is not clear. Jehova is found in 14th Century MSS., so perhaps this was only adopted later with a final "h," Jehovah is in the 16th century. In the 17th century it was largely criticized by some scholars.
In 1530 Tyndale uses it in his translation of the Pentateuch.
Je-ho-vah is perhaps an untenable form and pronunciation of this title. J H V H, viz.: Yod, He Vau, He, in the Hebrew lettering, but as the vowels are unknown the correct pronunciation is lost.
It is the famous Name of four letters, the Tetragrammaton, translated and written as LORD, to distinguish it from Adon, or Adonai Lord.
JHVH is never an appellative of deity like EI, or Adon, or Melech, and when it is found compounded with these appellations they become common nouns e.g. Adonias does not mean Adon is Jah but it means JHVH is Lord. In fact JHVH is the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel, in a monotheistic sense but as the revelation, or rather the revealing, of the One true and Living God.
It is very probable however that JHVH is a word of foreign origin. The Israelites knew nothing of this name before they went down into Egypt; nor did they find it in Egypt, nor did they take it with them when they set out for the Promised Land. Moses their leader did not know God under that name until he went to dwell with Jethro his father-in-law. On Mount Horeb God declared Himself unto Moses by this name JHVH, which was not known to the Patriarchs but was only revealed at this time:- "and God Spake unto Moses and said unto him I am JHVH the LORD. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac and unto Jacob by the name of El Shaddai but by my name JHVH was I not known to them" (Exodus vi: 2-3 ).
Jethro taught Moses the art of government, and inducted both Moses and Aaron into the worship of JHVH, the sacrifices and "eating bread" before God. JHVH may therefore be a Midianite or a Kenite word. Other derivations have been suggested but, they seem not so probable and no evidence is produced to support them, such as that it is from the Hebrew word, "to fall," and might originally have been a meteorite fallen from heaven, or rain or a thunderbolt! or the root may mean "to blow," a stormwind!
It seems most likely that Moses learnt from Jethro, the Priest, the worship of JHVH. A careful comparison of all the texts indicates this as the most satisfactory conclusion.
If originally foreign, it was adopted and incorporated early into the Hebrew language, but the derivation of the word remains somewhat uncertain. It has the appearance of being the 3rd person singular imperfect "Kal" of the verb to be and the meaning is He is, He will be, or He lives or breathes (breath being life). He was the Self-existent, Living God; T.T.A.L.G.M.H. invoked in the H.R.A. Ob.
There are many compounds, such as Jehovah-shalom, etc.
Before the Christian era, the name Jehovah had ceased to be much used by the Jews; in the Old Testament some of the later writers use the name Elohim. From the third century B.C. the oldest Greek versions (Septuagint) use the word Kvotor Lord where the Hebrew had JHVH and in the books written in Greek in this period (Macabees 203) and the New Testament Kvotor is used as "God." Josephus would never divulge it, Philo names it as ineffable and says it is only lawful for pure people to utter or ever hear it, in a perfectly pure place! ". . . if anyone should even dare to utter His name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death, so the ears and tongue must be pure, to hear and utter it' and the place must be holy wherein it is uttered."
Like all other holy names it became potent in magic and was, and possibly is, unfortunately used for that purpose.
In the Scriptures the name first appears in Genesis ii:4-. "the Lord God (Jehovah Elohim) made the earth and the heavens," it seems to be contradicted in Exodus vi: 3 where it says ". . . the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah, was I not known to them."
This name is quadrilateral, hence it is also called the Tetragrammaton.