“Moses said to God, “if the people of Israel ask me ‘What is his name?’, what am I to say to them?” God replied “I AM WHO I AM “
What’s in a name? In the Bible, a great deal. The name of a person stood for that person, stood for the power and authority of that person. When God changed the name of a person in the Bible, as he does with Abram and Jacob, and as Jesus does with Simon in the gospel of John, he is changing the destiny of that person. Abram becomes “Abraham”= the father of many nations; Jacob becomes Israel = the one who prevails against God; Simon becomes “Peter”=”the Rock” on which I will build my church.
When Moses asks for God’s name in our first reading this Sunday, this is of great significance, for to know a person’s name was an indication of a personal relationship, to be able to call someone by name represented a certain level of equality or power in the relationship. It could also represent an attempt to exert control over that person, which is why Jesus always silenced the demons he cast out of people in the gospels, who were trying to speak out his name.
Just what was the name given by God in his encounter in today’s first reading? Ancient Hebrew was given in consonant letters without vowels. Only after many centuries did scribes add vowel notations. It is commonly conjectured that the YHVH was “Yahweh” and in time that name was not to be spoken out loud by Jewish people. The high priest was to whisper it once a year in the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies. What should one say, however, when coming to the YHVH while reading the scriptural text? “Jehovah” was a word used by some, retaining the consonant sounds but with different vowel pronunciations. Other traditions simply replace it with the word “Lord.” Out of respect for the Jewish tradition of not pronouncing the name out loud, the Catholic Church in recent years has discouraged the actual saying of the word “Yahweh” and requested a change in the lyrics of songs in which the word appears.