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Questions and Answers  III

Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve received. Click on a title to go to a particular question and answer. Or scroll down the page to the text below. You can also check out our Subject Index and Search pages to find topics of interest. If you’d like to ask a question about the Bible, Christianity, or the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith, e-mail us at

Flags and Banners

Here Now, But Not Yet

Change in the Desert, Reeds in the Sea?

Three Days to the Sea of Reeds?

North Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba en route to Mt. Sinai?

Is Jesus the Son of a Human Father?

Sinai or Saudi Arabia?

Marriage in Heaven?

Why do Bible translations translate names?

Isaiah 56

Is Yahweh the Name of God?


Flags and Banners

Q: Would you have any information on the significance of flags and banners used in the Old Testament? Or could you direct me somewhere. —Ik

A: Flags and banners were military devices in ancient times. In addition to serving as standards to identify sections of an army, they were also used for sending signals. In the time that Israel was in the desert, there were standards for each of the four major divisions of the tribes of Israel in addition to the banners of the smaller groups known as fathers’ households (Num. 2:2 and following). Unfortunately, none of these ancient banners has survived, and we have no pictorial representation of what they looked like. Nevertheless, the imagery of banners and flags appears in several important prophetic sections, such as Isa. 11:10 where the Messiah is compared to a banner and Isa. 11:12 where the restoration of Israel is called a banner (a signal) for the Gentile nations. A good Bible encyclopedia should be able to give you more information. Another approach would be to research the use of banners and flags in the armies of the Ancient Middle East as a whole.

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Here Now, But Not Yet

Q: Is there any possible connection between the Hebrew expression here now, but not yet, implied in Genesis 22 regarding the offering of Isaac on Mt. Moriah and the quotation yet once more found in Hebrews 12:27? —Gary G.

A: The actual phrase here now, but not yet does not appear in Gen. 22. But considering the offering of Isaac as a type of the coming Messiah, this phrase could be useful as a description of prophecy in general. Much of the prophecy in the Old Testament is given in the perfect tense in Hebrew. While in most other circumstances, this would be understood as a past tense, in prophecy it gives a sense of the definiteness and unchangeable purpose of God in that these future events are already accomplished in his sight. In this sense, all prophecy is here now, but not yet.

In Hebrews 12:27, the expression yet once more is a reference to the quote of Haggai 2:6 in the previous verse. In the New Testament, this prophecy of Haggai was understood to refer to the end-time judgment of God that is coming on the earth. Jesus mentions this shaking in his end-time teaching in Matt. 24:29 and Luke 21:26.

The first shaking that the phrase yet once more in Hebrews refers to was the shaking of the earth by God’s voice when he spoke to the children of Israel in the desert (Heb. 12:25-26). This understanding appears to come directly from Haggai’s original prophecy, which refers the first shaking to Israel’s departure from Egypt (Hag. 2:5).

(For more on this topic see the index category Prophecy.)

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Change in the Desert, Reeds in the Sea?

Q: [With regard to our Crossing the Red Sea teaching:] We have to remember that these events happened several thousand years ago. The terrain and waters, etc. may have been different then. The waters may have been deeper, there may have been reeds at that time, etc. —Robert H.

A: The changes in land forms in the Middle East have been very slight since the time of Moses. The same mountains, the same valleys, even the same rocks (especially the larger ones) are still standing in the same places. Not much changes in the desert, even over thousands of years, because of the lack of rain and consequent lack of water erosion. Just about the only areas with perceptible change are at the mouths of rivers where silting has taken place, and in the case of the Nile, the subsidence of delta areas, such as ancient Alexandria (which has been much in the news lately because of its spectacular rediscovery by underwater archeologists).

The lakes that lie today along the length of the Suez Canal are known from ancient Egyptian records, so it is valid to consider them in reconstructing the flight of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt.

With regard to reeds, the lakes that have them today also had them in ancient times. The reason there are no reeds at the Gulf of Suez (the traditional Red Sea) is because of its salt water. This would also have been the case in ancient times.

(For more on this topic, see the Q&A below, or see the index categories Exodus, Red Sea, and Sinai.)

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Three Days to the Sea of Reeds?

Q: I enjoyed your teachings on the Red Sea crossing [Crossing the Red Sea], as it pertains to our walk of faith in Christ. I do not believe though that it was three days, because nowhere in scripture does it say that. It says three ENCAMPMENTS. I believe that God rescued them on Firstfruits.

Regardless of Pharisaical tradition, the Firstfruits falls anywhere from the same day to the sixth day after Passover, as it must fall on the first Sunday after Passover. This is the position of the Saduccees, and they controlled the Temple and interpreted the Festival dates in the year of our Lord’s crucifixion. Caiphas was a Sadduccee. (Or else if the Pharisees are right, Christ was resurrected on the 2nd day, not the third.) They crossed the Red Sea on the seventh day, and that is why they were told to eat unleavened bread for seven days to commemorate their journey. Paul says that this Sinai is in Arabia. Hasn’t Arabia always been east of the Red Sea?

We tend to focus only on the crossing of the Red Sea as the miracle of the Exodus, when we should also focus on the miracle of the desert crossing to reach the sea, too. I believe the ‘reed sea’ theory is only that, a theory that lines up with our finite vision and reckoning. Is anything too hard for the Lord? —Gerry

A: While it’s true that the stops of the Israelites are called camping places in Numbers 33, the narrative in Exodus clearly describes three successive days of travel: 1) Exodus 12:29-32 states that it was the night of the Passover meal that Pharaoh sent away the children of Israel. This together with the next day of travel makes the first day (according to Hebrew reckoning, which counts days from sunset to sunset). That first day’s journey was from Rameses to Succoth, whose locations are fairly well known, and which is a reasonable distance for people to travel on foot in a day’s time (Exo. 12:37).

2) The next (second) day’s journey was from Succoth to Etham (Exo. 13:20). Although the location of Etham is less certain, it is described as being at the edge of the desert, i.e. just before the beginning of the barren deserts of Sinai (the desert of Shur).* Reaching the edge of the desert from Succoth would also be another reasonable day’s journey.

* This description of Etham being at the edge of the desert would make no sense with the seven day crossing of Sinai you are advocating, since the entire journey would then be in the desert.

3) The next (third) day’s journey took them from Etham back away from the edge of the desert to the edge of the sea that they crossed miraculously that night (Exo. 14:2).

This reconstruction may actually support, rather than contradict, your interpretation about their rescue on First Fruits. Certainly in the year that Jesus died, the First Fruits (Omer), according to the Sadducees’ interpretation, would have been offered three days after the Passover Meal, the same day on which Jesus rose from the dead. However, there is no evidence for your suggestion that First Fruits fell seven days after Passover that year. On the contrary, the clear evidence of Scripture contradicts a seven day journey across Sinai prior to the crossing of the sea.

Perhaps most devastating to the idea of a crossing of Sinai before the crossing of the sea is the clear statement in Exodus 15:22 that Moses led the people from the sea directly into the desert of Shur. The name and location of this desert is well known from Egyptian records: it lay along the Eastern flank of Egypt proper where Sinai begins (at the approximate line of the Suez Canal). This indicates that they were entering Sinai after crossing the sea, not leaving it.

You are quite right that we should focus more on the miracle of crossing the desert. But the Bible is quite clear that the crossing of the desert took place after the crossing of the sea. Only after crossing the sea do we hear of people getting hungry and thirsty, etc., and of God’s miraculous provision for these needs, not before.

You are correct that Paul places Mt. Sinai in Arabia (Gal. 4:25). But in his day, this name referred to the Nabatean kingdom of Arabia which included the traditional Mt. Sinai, and which did not include many areas we think of as Arabia today (the name Arabia has shifted over the years).

One last point: The reed sea theory as you call it is not a theory, but is in fact the Biblical name, in the original Hebrew, of the body of water they crossed: yam suf, which means literally sea of reeds (Exo. 15:4,22; etc.). It is the Red Sea crossing which should be called a theory, since in the original Hebrew the Bible never uses the words Red Sea.

(For more on this topic, see the Q&A below, or see the index categories Exodus, Red Sea, and Sinai.)

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North Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba en route to Mt. Sinai?

Q: I have just recently traveled the area of the Sinai. I have carefully studied the maps and aerial photos. I have these comments on your paper on the Sinai exodus [Crossing the Red Sea]...

The dunes you mentioned are irrelevant as they are along the north coast of the Sinai. The northern route to Caanan was beside the dunes, not over or through them. The scriptures mention that route as a possible route...

You mentioned 150 km or 100 miles of desert they had to cross, making that seem like an impossibility. In New Mexico, around Easter time, Catholic men, women, and children walk almost 100 miles in two to three days on their annual pilgrimage from Albuquerque thru Santa Fe to churches to the north of Santa Fe...

Most of this argument is academic anyway, because the real Mt. Sinai has been conclusively proven to be Jebal Laus in Saudi Arabia anyway. We are simply trying to confirm how they got there, not whether they did or not.

If indeed they did cross at Neueba on the Gulf of Aquaba, that had to be one massive, awesome miracle, because of the distance and the depth of the water. When the Egyptian government divers come up with chariot parts, we will know conclusively where they crossed. —Lyle T.

A: You are correct in stating that the northern route to Caanan was beside the sand dunes of Northern Sinai. However the Bible specifically says that God forbid Moses to take this northern road: God did not lead them by the way to the land of the Philistines(Exo. 13:17). If they did not take this route, which would have led to war with the Egyptian troops stationed at fortresses along the way, then the only other way they could have crossed Northern Sinai was to walk across sand. This would have made the travel extremely difficult, not to mention that Northern Sinai lacks water sources. Because of these considerations, any route through Northern Sinai must be discounted.

I am not familiar with the annual pilgrimage in New Mexico. However, your description of their route through populated areas assures them of plenty of food, water, and emergency services. Moses and the children of Israel had none of these, other than what they could find in the desert along the way. The flocks and herds the Israelites brought with them required water daily. In a forced march straight across Sinai, which would last several days, all these animals would die. But the Bible only mentions the miraculous provision of water after the crossing of the sea, not before.

There are at least two lines of argument that completely invalidate the possibility of a sea crossing in the Gulf of Aqaba: 1) Exodus 15:22 says that when they came out of the sea, Moses led them through the wilderness of Shur. The wilderness of Shur is well known from Egyptian records to have been along the flank of Egypt proper in Western Sinai, not in Saudi Arabia. 2) The Bible, in the original Hebrew, never calls the sea they crossed the Red Sea. This is a traditional and incorrect translation. The Hebrew says yam suf which means sea of reeds. There are no reeds growing around the Gulf of Aqaba now or in ancient times since it is a salt water sea.

To cross the Gulf of Aqaba, they would have had to climb down an underwater mountain and back up again the same night: the depth reaches about 5,000 ft. below sea level in the center of the gulf. There is no hint of such a grave difficulty in the Bible, nor any clue to how Pharaoh’s army could have driven chariots down such a steep slope and then up the other side.

In spite of your assertion, those who believe Mt. Sinai was in Saudi Arabia are far from having any conclusive archeological proof to back them up. Nor have they succeeded in overcoming the many contrary indications in Scripture. A conclusive proof is one that would be accepted by a majority of the professional archeologists working in the Middle East. I don’t know of a single reputable archeologist that accepts this theory.

Take for example the rock art found at Jabal al-Lawz. Rock art is found all over the deserts of this area from many different time periods. But the presence of representational art (of animals and/or people) does not prove the Israelites were here. On the contrary, representational art was forbidden them by God (Exo. 20:4)! So this supposed proof is just the opposite: it is evidence that whoever it was that made this art was not Israel!

Conclusive proof would require clear archeological evidence, from the right period of time, that matches the description of Scripture, and permits a clear identification of the ethnic identity of the group. This is lacking at the site you suggest. Several of the finds at Jabal al-Lawz proposed as evidence of the Israelites actually date from the Roman period more than 1,500 years later!

This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia has been suggested as the location of Mt. Sinai. These past claims have been invalidated for many of the same reasons I am mentioning here.

I know how exciting it can be to travel the desert and come up with all kinds of theories: but proving them is something else altogether. Good luck in your efforts!

(For more on the theory that Jabal al-Lawz is Mt. Sinai, see our review of The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai by Steve Greisen. For more on the location of Mt. Sinai, see Sinai or Saudi Arabia? below, or see the index categories Exodus, Red Sea, and Sinai.)

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Is Jesus the Son of a Human Father?

Q: You...mentioned that Jesus made an appearance before his birth. I see that ‘Jesus’ (Yeshua, Yahshua) has been quoted over 80 times in the NT as saying he was the son of man. Other translations say son of a human. The English says son of MAN. The scriptures say he had a father. The OT says there is only one God and there is no other. Shouldn’t we believe ‘Yeshua’ when he says he was the son of a human man? —Lyle T.

A: The title Son of Man, far from indicating Jesus’ humanity refers to his divinity. It’s a hint to Dan. 7:13 and the coming of one like a son of man on the clouds (compare Matt. 24:30 and 26:64). Jesus was in fact the son of a human being—his mother Mary—and appeared in human form. But although he was in appearance like a son of man, the word like itself indicates that he was also something more.

Contrary to your assertion, there is no place in the Bible that Yeshua (Jesus) said he was the son of a human father. Rather, he continuously refers to God as his Father (Matt. 7:21; 10:32-33; 11:27; 12:50, etc.) both directly and indirectly, as when he claims the right to judge, a right which in Biblical and Jewish thinking is restricted to God alone (John 5:22). Many more examples of these indirect claims can be found in our past teaching letters [see Did Jesus Claim to Be God?].

With regard to there being one God, this is what Christianity has always affirmed. Our claim is not that Jesus is another God, different than the Father, but that he is a distinct personal manifestation of the One eternal God, who can be localized in time and space in such a way that he can interact with us and lead us back to the Father. He is the arm of the Lord, a description used in Isaiah and elsewhere in the Bible to show both his connectedness and his distinction from the Father (Isaiah 53:1, etc.). This miracle of God’s personal, localized self-revelation is what we refer to as the Son of God, meaning by that his origin with the Father, but not that he is a separate being, as some mistake the analogy.

This fine tuning is not just a bunch of meaningless philosophy: it’s essential to the salvation message. The death of a mere man on the cross could do nothing with regard to sin. After all, thousands have died on crosses. But the death of God himself was the ultimate atonement (his death in our place) that brought salvation forever to those who accept him and accept his offer to restore our broken relationship with God.

(For more on this topic, see the index category Jesus.)

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Sinai or Saudi Arabia?

Q: [In response to our Crossing of the Red Sea teaching:] There are too many good arguments against the identification (circa 340 CE) of Queen Helena’s mountain as the real Mt. Sinai. The Torah says that Mount Horeb/Sinai was in the land of Midian, and Paul states that it was in Arabia. Scholar Frank Moore Cross agrees, as do some others. Not many, unfortunately. (There was some discussion of this in a recent Biblical Archaeology Review.)

Of course, The Gold of Exodus is a sensationalized account, but the earlier book by Larry Williams is believable...

The traditional Sinai site has little going for it. There is no open area nearby large enough to accommodate an encampment of Israelites the size that is indicated in the Torah, whether we consider the 600 alpayim [thousand] to be men only (which in my opinion is not certain, considering Hebrew plural usage), or that it was the entire group. Not to mention a battlefield where the Amalekites attacked Israel.

Williams and Cornuke have made the point that the peninsula we call Sinai is now, and has always been (except for a short period in recent years) *Egypt*. If the B’nei Yisrael [the sons of Israel] were led out of Egypt, it would seem they would have been led somewhere other than simply a different section of Egypt...

If the mountain is indeed in Midian, and Midian is indeed now northwest Saudi Arabia (see the map in your Bible), then the B’nei Yisrael had to have a miraculous passage through a fairly large body of water, and the Gulf of Eilat, or Aqaba for the Jordanians, known in ancient times as the Red Sea, is the logical choice. It stretches one’s credulity to think that one of the lakes or swamplands in Egypt would have been the place of crossing. Even after the crossing, they would have still been in Egypt! Why not go around?... —Dennis S.

A: Unfortunately, I must point out several significant holes in your reasoning that are the result of popular misconceptions currently being promoted as fact:

1) The authors you refer to are incorrect in claiming that Egypt in the time of Moses included Sinai. The eastern boundary of Egypt was just to the west of the desert of Shur, which was itself located along the western flank of Sinai. This is the desert area you enter immediately to the east of what is today the Suez Canal. At the time, this eastern boundary of Egypt was protected by a line of well-documented Egyptian forts. Slaves who passed this line were considered to have escaped from Egypt. Those living on the other side of this boundary were not Egyptians, but desert people considered to be foreigners by the Egyptians. For an Egyptian to cross this line was considered to be entering a remote and foreign land. These assertions are established by well documented Egyptian textual discoveries.

That the desert of Shur was beyond the eastern border of Egypt is devastating to the idea of a sea crossing in the Gulf of Aqaba. Exodus 15:22 clearly says that Moses led them from the sea into the desert of Shur. This would be impossible with a sea crossing into Saudi Arabia. It can only mean that the sea they crossed was at the western edge of Sinai.

2) The tribal territory of Midian was considered for many years to lay to the east of the Rift Valley that runs south from the Dead Sea to Eilat. This is the opinion reflected in many Bible maps. But archeological discoveries over the past several years have redrawn the map of Midian. This includes the discovery of a Midianite shrine at Timnah in Israel. It must now be considered a certainty that Midianite occupation extended into Sinai. The location of Midian therefore does not contradict the traditional location of Mt. Sinai in Sinai.

3) Yes, Paul does describe Mt. Sinai as being in Arabia. But in Paul’s day, Arabia meant the Nabatean kingdom of Arabia, which included Sinai (as well as Damascus: see 2 Cor. 11:32 and compare it with Gal. 1:17; Aretas was a Nabatean king).

4) The weaknesses of a sea crossing in the Gulf of Aqaba are many. But the most obvious and glaring error is the use of the name Red Sea to include this area. In fact, the name Red Sea does not appear in the original Hebrew text of the Bible. Rather the name is yam suf which translates as Reed Sea or Sea of Reeds. Reeds do not grow in salt water environments such as the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba. This invalidates both of them as options for the sea crossing. Rather the Sea of Reeds in Egyptian literature was used of a line of bodies of fresh water along the eastern edge of Egypt, following the line of today’s Suez Canal.

5) You claim there is no plain near the traditional Mt. Sinai (Jabal Musa) where the tribes could camp. But in fact, there is a huge plain immediately in front of the traditional site, where modern pilgrims camp in their hotels (the valley of Er-Raha). The pilgrim Egeria, our earliest source on the site (4th cent. AD), describes it as an immense valley, vast, quite flat, and extremely beautiful (Pilgrimage chap. 1). This matches the Biblical description quite nicely.

You are correct that the earliest known identification of the traditional Mt. Sinai is late. But there is some evidence that it was a goal of pilgrimage already in the first century AD for Jewish pilgrims, and perhaps as early as the third century BC for Nabatean pilgrims. Perhaps they had sources of information that are lost to us today.

While the arguments given above provide strong evidence against a crossing of the Gulf of Aqaba into Saudi Arabia, they are not able to prove the traditional site of Mt. Sinai (Jabal Musa). The most we can say is that the general location and physical characteristics of the traditional Mt. Sinai match the evidence of Scripture. Other mountains in southern Sinai do, too. But in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I prefer to give credit to ancient tradition, which, after all, is not always wrong.

(For more on this topic, see the index categories Exodus, Red Sea, and Sinai.)

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Marriage in Heaven?

Q: Your article [Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness] has brought about a debate in our church, or should I say helped continue a debate. We have been discussing Are you married in Heaven? This question arising because of people whose spouses pass away and then they remarry. If they were all three believers that faithfully followed the Lord, and fulfilled all that is necessary to be known as true believers, what happens when they pass away? Who are they then married to in Heaven and then when they return with Christ to reign on earth? —Robert S.

A: Jesus addresses the topic of marriage in the life to come in his debate with the Sadducees in Matt. 22:23-33. The Sadducees were attempting to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection by means of the Mosaic law of yibbum: the obligation of a man to take his brother’s widow as a wife (Deut. 25:5-6). If, they said, such a woman were married successively to seven brothers in fulfillment of this law (because she did not bear a child to any of them, and each in turn died), whose wife would she be in the resurrection? Each had been an equally legitimate marriage, and therefore none of the brothers could claim priority over her. This, they felt, exposed the absurdity of the idea of a resurrection.

Jesus responded by telling them that they were mistaken: both in disbelieving the doctrine of the resurrection and in misunderstanding what that resurrection would be like (Matt. 22:29). For, he said, in the resurrection neither do they marry nor are they given in marriage, but they are as angels in heaven (Matt. 22:30).

Far from teaching that we will become angels, as this verse is popularly misunderstood, Jesus teaches that we will exist in an unmarried condition, just as the angels do. The proof of this is the context. The Sadducees were asking whose wife she will be. Jesus’ answer: none of them. Why? Because there will be no marriage in the resurrection.

It could be argued that Jesus only said that there would be no new marriages in the resurrection, but that marriages made on earth would endure. But according to Jewish and Biblical law, the marriage bond is dissolved at death. This is the only way the woman in the Sadducees’ example could be legitimately married to each of her husband’s brothers.

This is also taught by Paul in Romans 7:2-3: For a woman who is under (the authority of) a man [a married woman] is bound to a living man by law. But if the man dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, while the man is living, she will be called an adulteress if she becomes another man’s. But if the man dies, she is free from the law [concerning the husband], which results in her not being an adulteress when she has become another man’s.

This is the reason that, at least in English-speaking countries, the traditional marriage vows state that the marriage is valid until death do us part.

The single state is preferred by Paul in his discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 precisely because of his expectation that marriage is a temporary condition associated with this present life, and that it will no longer exist when the Lord comes: But this I say, brothers: the time from now on is short [until the coming of the Lord], and that those who have wives should be as those not having (them)...for the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29,31). This instruction, he says, is for our benefit and to promote good behavior and devotion to the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35).

There will be only one marriage in the life to come, which none other will be allowed to compete with: the wedding feast of the Lamb, in which the Church will be united eternally to her Bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-10, Rev. 19:7-9).

(For more on this topic, see the index category Marriage.)

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Why Do Bible Translations Translate Names?

Q: Why is Ya’akov translated Jacob in the O.T. and James in the N.T.? Is it another Miriam and Mary story? I don’t understand why the translators needed to do such things. —Laura B.

A: There are two main reasons for these name changes: 1) The difficulty that most people have in learning and remembering foreign names, and 2) the history of the translation of the Bible in a particular language group.

The adapting of foreign Bible names to more familiar equivalents started with the Bible itself. Joshua, whose name in the original Hebrew Old Testament was Yehoshua (yeh-hoe-SHU-ah), appears in the Greek New Testament as Iesous (ee-ay-ZOOS). Moses, in Hebrew Moshe (MOE-sheh), appears as Mouses (Moe-ew-ZEASE). (The syllable in caps receives the accent.)

In the case of Jacob, in Hebrew Ya’akov (Yah-ah-COVE), two different forms appear in the Greek New Testament. The first, Iakob (ee-ah-KOHB), is used to translate the name of the Old Testament patriarch, the grandson of Abraham. The other form, Iakobos (ee-ah-KOE-bows), a more Greek-friendly form, is used for the name of the several men by that name living in New Testament times. In Latin, both of these forms became Jacobus, which later developed to Jacomus and eventually to the English James. The convention eventually came to be to represent the Old Testament patriarch with Jacob and the New Testament figures with James.

In the case of Mary, the probable original Hebrew Miryam (Mir-YAM) appears in the Greek New Testament as either Maria or Mariam (the two forms are used interchangeably). Under French influence, this appeared in Middle English as Marie, which later came to be written with a y as Mary.

While there are many positive reasons for adapting Biblical names to local equivalents or modern derivations (including Biblical precedent), the downside is that it tends to remove the people of the Bible from their original culture and environment in our thinking. This can often skew our understanding of the Bible. It’s important to remember accurately who these people were and what the teachings of the Bible meant to them in their time and cultural environment.

(For more on this topic, see the index categories Jacob, Mary, and Names in the Bible.)

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Isaiah 56

Q: What is your understanding of Isaiah 56? I really like it. And through Yeshua [Jesus] we have even greater access in His Kingdom. Praise HaShem [the Name of God]! —Laura B.

A: Isaiah 56 is a good example of why Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel. Many New Testament themes can be traced back to this chapter as elsewhere in Isaiah. Here, the central theme is the acceptance of the Gentiles by God, quoted by Jesus when he overturned the tables in the Temple: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isa. 56:7, see Mark 11:17). This took place in the area of the Temple known as the Court of the Gentiles. Some Jewish merchants had appropriated this area for business purposes. By casting them out, Jesus affirmed the right of Gentiles to come into the Temple to worship, and that their worship was accepted by God.

This same acceptance of the Gentiles appears in John 10:16, where Jesus hints to the very next verse in Isaiah (56:8): And I have other sheep that are not from this fold [i.e. who are not Jewish]; these, too, I must lead and they will hear my voice, and they will be one flock, with one shepherd. This is one of the sources of Paul’s teaching of the one new man in Christ, those called out from both Jews and Gentiles, for whom Jesus has destroyed the wall of separation by his death on the cross.

This is another one of the places in the Old Testament where Jesus’ name is prophesied along with his ministry. In Isaiah 56:1, where it says My salvation is about to come, the Hebrew word used for salvation is yeshuah, the noun form of Jesus’ Hebrew name (Yeshua). As a result, we can read this verse prophetically as My Yeshua is about to come. Many of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah include this prophetic form of his Hebrew name.

This chapter also provides the background of Jesus’ mysterious teaching about those who are eunuchs (single) for the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:12; see our teaching on Marriage, Divorce, and Singleness). In Isaiah, eunuchs who serve the Lord are promised a portion in his house and an everlasting name better than that which comes from sons and daughters (Isa. 56:4-5). It seems that Jesus took this quite literally in his own life and teaching, as he remained single throughout his life.

(For more on this topic, see the index category Isaiah.)

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Is Yahweh the Name of God?

Q: A few months ago I wrote to you about a group using the Sacred Names [Is Jesus’ Hebrew name Yeshua or Yahshua?]. You wrote back something that I’d like clarification on, please. You said that many scholars today question whether Yahweh or Yahveh is truly the name of our God. Why are they doubting this after so many years? I understand there to be a prophesy about God’s name being restored to His people in the age to come. Is this so? Thanks again! —Laura B.

A: The Hebrew language was originally written with consonants and no (or almost no) vowels. So the name of God appears in the Hebrew Bible as Yhwh, a set of four consonants, with no indication of what the vowels are or how to pronounce it. By the time the vowels were added (by the Masoretes in the 6th cent. AD, a series of dots and lines referred to as vowel points), the name of God was considered too holy to pronounce. So when Scripture was read, the word Adonai (Lord) was said instead of the name of God. The vowel points put under Yhwh were those of the word Adonai to remind people to do this.

Gentile scholars that were ignorant of this convention read Yhwh with the vowel points of Adonai and came up with the name Jehovah, which was popularized in Europe in the 16th century as the name of God. After this error was exposed, the reconstruction Yahweh or Yahveh became popular (in the last century or so), based in part on late Gentile testimony and in part on linguistic speculation on the root from which the Name was derived.

The most recent attempts to reconstruct the name of God have focused instead on personal names in the Bible that incorporate the name of God (known as theophoric names). For example, Jonathan (Yeho-natan, which means given by Yhwh") incorporates the name of God at the beginning of the name; Elijah (Eli-yahu, which means my God is Yhwh) incorporates the name of God at the end of the name. This new research convincingly suggests that the name was pronounced something more like Yehuah. But complete certainty is lacking, since the actual pronunciation was forgotten among the Jewish people long ago.

I don’t know of any place in the Bible that prophesies the restoration of the Name. In fact, it seems more than a coincidence that just as this name disappeared from public knowledge, God introduced himself again under a new name, Yeshua (ye-SHU-ah, which means Yhwh is salvation), the original Hebrew name of Jesus.

(For more on this topic, see the index categories Yahweh and Yeshua.)

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