In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2.5-11.
What is “the name that is above every name”? That was the question I found myself asking as I read this wonderful passage afresh this morning. On the face of it, working from the phrase that immediately follows, the name is “Jesus” (as in the song, “Jesus, name above all names”) – but that really makes no sense at all. Jesus is the anglicised version of the Hebrew name Yeshua which – far from being a name above every name – was a common name among the Jews and had been so ever since Joshua (Yeshua again) the son of Nun, had been appointed Moses’ successor and had led the Hebrews in their conquest of Canaan. It was also the name of one of their most famous prophets, Hosea (Yeshua again).
No; the name that is above every name is THE name – the one name no Jew would every dream of speaking. It is the Tetragrammaton – the name of God himself – YHWH. The name by which he revealed himself to Moses. “God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him, I am YHWH. I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of EL SHADDAI but by my name YHWH was I not known to them” (Exodus 6.2-3, literal translation).
This, the very name of God himself, is a word so sacred that, wherever it occurs in Scripture, the Jews substitute for it the word Adonai meaning “Lord” – usually capitalised as LORD in English translations of the Old Testament.* In other words, by New Testament times, “Lord” had became the codeword for YHWH – and that, I believe, is how it is used in this passage from Philippians. Accordingly, we might paraphrase the last part of this morning’s passage as follows …
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus – who now bears the name of God himself – every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is indeed YHWH, to the glory of God the Father to whom it also belongs.”
Jesus is YHWH! But what does YHWH mean? Almost certainly it is derived from the verb “to be” but scholars remain undecided as to precisely how. It could mean either “the One who is” (tying in with the “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3.14) or “the one who brings into being” – “the life giver”; and maybe we are intended to read it as both. Either way, there is something else that is very special about this word. In Hebrew pronunciation, its two syllables are the closest approximation to the sound of an inhaled breath (YH) and an exhaled breath (WH) – note how we spell the onomatopoeic word “yawn” – so that everything that has breath quite literally speaks the name of God – the name now given to Jesus – at every moment of its existence.
* Note. “Jehovah” is a word coined in English which attempts to introduce the vowels from adonai into YHWH.