Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
The name of the Lord occurs over six-thousand times in the Hebrew Old Testament: “YHWH,” pronounced “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” as it is written out in some Bible translations. In the earliest English translations, the scholars wanted to respect the name of the Lord God so His name would not be used inappropriately, and so they came up with a simple solution: wherever the name YHWH occurred in the Hebrew text, they would print that as “the LORD,” and where other words were used referring to the Father–such as “Elohim” or “Adonai”–He would be referred to as “God” or “Lord.” Some other modern English Bibles may translate YHWH as “the Lord” (mixed-case letters), but then it is harder to distinguish between the use of YHWH and other names for the Lord our God. But in English Bibles that respect the older translation convention–e.g. New and Old King James Versions, English Standard Version–wherever you see “LORD” (all capital letters), you can be sure that is where you will see the name of the Lord our God as it was known to the Hebrews.
It is in the second generation after Adam that we first see men begin “to call on the name of the LORD.” (Genesis 4:26) And that phrase, that idea of calling on the name of the LORD, is found throughout the Old Testament from Genesis through the prophets. (e.g. Joel 2:32)
If we would call on the name of the Lord, then we must first know Him, and Jacob had not known the Lord his God very well. He had spent his whole life finding ways to get things done on his own, never truly relying on God and quite often abusing God’s blessings on his life. Even after the Lord had appeared to Jacob in a dream at the place he later called Bethel–“House of God”–Jacob still maintained his conniving ways. (Genesis 28:11-22)
Genesis 28:20-21 NKJV
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on,
21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.”
Yes, Jacob said “YHWH” shall be his God, but even though he used God’s name, he did not truly know God. You see, knowing God’s name entails much more than just knowing “YHWH” or “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” or “Lord” or “God.” We must know what that name means, we must know that the name of the Lord our God is not just a word but a real understanding of all that He is and was and shall be. When the Lord came again to Jacob wrestled with him throughout the night, then Jacob learned the limits of his own strength and the sovereignty of God in all things. That is when Jacob truly asked for the name of this Lord God.
Our God is not a god of steel or wood or gold, not a god of the sky or the moon or the river or the tree, not a god of selfish ambition nor a god of worldly honors and human vanity. This is not a god whose name is written next to the name of other gods, not a god who is so human as to be indistinguishable from your best friend or your worst enemy.
But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.
This is the Lord our God, the Creator of the universe, the Rock and Redeemer, the One who is mighty to save us from our sin, the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and, yes, of Jacob. And it is the name of this God, this true Lord, that Jacob sought to know. Jacob wanted not only the Lord’s blessing but also His NAME, so that he could in all earnestness call upon that name, so that he could truly say, “This is my God, this Yahweh, this Jehovah, this ‘I AM THAT I AM.'”
I wonder sometimes if we today know God’s name so intimately ourselves. We speak words that we have learned by rote–“Our Father in heaven” or “O Lord” or “Lord God”–and yet we do not truly meditate on those words, truly let them sink in and take root, so that we know His name not as words or feelings but as true knowledge of His being and His presence. Jacob had spoken the name of the Lord long before he actually understood the meaning of God’s name. It is only after Jacob had yielded to God that he asked to know that name in his heart.
13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”
Our God is the great “I AM” in whom we live and breathe and have our being. (Acts 17:26-28) Only by the will of the Father God, the Lord God, the Holy God, do we have our own lives. And only by His will are we saved. (Ephesians 1:11-12) Only by the sovereign grace of YHWH are we found in Jesus Christ, His Son. And that other name, that name Jesus, has become the name above every name, the name at which every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:9-11), the name in which we are baptized, the name in which we pray for forgiveness and help from the Father, the LORD, our God. If we would seek the blessing of the Father, we must know the name of His Son.
When Jacob asked for the name of God, the Lord did not respond in words. He acted in His own name and blessed Jacob and asked a question of His own:
“Why is it that you ask about My name?”
When we come before the Lord our God today in prayer, we should ask ourselves if we truly seek to know the Lord. Do we truly want to know all that His name entails? Or are we simply seeking whatever blessing we can get without ever really knowing Him? Jacob needed a broken hip and a night of wrestling with God to learn that he did not truly know his God. And so Jacob sought to know more, he sought the name above all names, the name of the God who is above all other gods, the name that alone could heal his spirit and bring him home safely to his father.
Let us always be seeking to know this LORD, YHWH. Let us seek to know Him because we love and fear Him. Let us seek His face so that we may recognize Him. Let us read His Word so that we may know His voice. Let us yield to His Holy Spirit so that we may know His presence. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) By knowing Jesus and by living our lives in His name, we will come to know the name of the Lord our God better each day. In this lifetime, we will never know the fullness of God’s name, the fullness of His mercy and grace and power and sovereignty, but because of our faith and hope and love for the name of Jesus Christ His Son, we may rest assured that one day, when we see Him face-to-face, we shall know name the Lord in all His glory.
O Lord my God, tell me Your name, I pray. I want to know Your whole name, Your whole and holy Presence. I will not be content with the idols of this life, not content to sit back and hope that you’ll come to me. Instead, I will seek You and grasp onto You and ask to know Your name. Here I am, Lord. You know my name, You know my innermost being. Teach me now about Your name and Your being, so that I may love You even more. Amen.