How Great Thou Art

yahwehEver met someone that you respected so much you dared not call them by their name. To you, they were Mr. or Mrs., Dr. or Professor, President or Dean. To refer to them by their first name would be disrespectful. The Israelites know how you feel. Though God’s chosen people they were in no way flippant in their approach to God.

John Piper introduces God as Yahweh:

The most common and the most important name for God in the Old Testament is a name that in our English versions never even gets translated. Whenever you see the word LORD in all capital letters, you know that this name is behind it. In Hebrew the name had four letters — YHWH — and may have been pronounced something like Yahweh. The Jews came to regard this word with such reverence that they would never take it upon their lips, lest they inadvertently take the name in vain. So whenever they came to this name in their reading, they pronounced the word “adonai” which means “my lord.” The English versions have basically followed the same pattern. They translate the proper name Yahweh with the word LORD in all caps.

This approach is not a very satisfactory thing to do, because the English word LORD does not communicate to our ears a proper name like John or Michael or Noël. But Yahweh is God’s proper name in Hebrew. The importance of it can be seen in the sheer frequency of its use. It occurs 6,828 times in the Old Testament. That’s more than three times as often as the simple word for “God” (Elohim – 2,600; El – 238). What this fact shows is that God aims to be known not as a generic deity, but as a specific Person with a name that carries his unique character and mission.

It is not my attempt to make God seem more distant by introducing him to you as YHWH, the God with the unpronounceable name. However it is my desire–in a world that takes his name in vain, in a culture saturated with “O my God” statements about good cupcakes and living room makeovers–that the grandeur and greatness of the LORD be embraced by his children.

The songwriter said it well:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!