The English word “god” is perhaps one of the most confusing words in our language. When Christians speak of “God” it is automatically understood that we are referring to the one true and living God, the God we read about in the Bible. But, this is true because of our common beliefs, heritage, and vocabulary. In the world, on the other hand, people speak of many gods. In India today, for example, there are literally millions of gods identified, honored, and worshiped by the people (e.g., Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, etc.)

So how should we distinguish the one true and living God from all of the other “gods” that are identified by human cultures? I propose that we do it in the same way that we distinguish one human being from all the other human beings (both real and imaginary) that are identifiable by people: by using his or her proper name.

In Exodus 6, the one true and living God appeared to Moses. He told Moses that he had previously appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the description God Almighty (El-Shaddai). God told Moses that up until that moment in the history of human beings he had never revealed his personal name to anyone on the earth. Abraham and his descendants knew that the God with whom they had a covenant could be described as “the God above all other gods” but they did not know his proper name-until Moses learned it.

The proper name revealed to Moses by the God of the universe was YHWH. Of course, shortly after YHWH revealed his proper name to Moses he also commanded that his name not be mis-used (see Exodus 20:7). The Hebrews took this to an extreme by never using the proper name of God. For this reason there is much confusion surrounding the appropriate use of the proper name of the one true and living God. This confusion persists even though the proper name of God appears over 6,000 times in the text of our Old Testaments! (The exact number is difficult to ascertain due to variations in the available manuscripts; however, in the most recent update of the Masoretic Text the proper name of our God, YHWH, appears 6,828 times in 5,790 verses).

Therefore, when Christians speak of “God,” whether or not we know it or fully understand it, we are speaking of YHWH, the one true and living God. This is the God who gives us our identity by revealing his identity through his proper name-YHWH. May we never be afraid to properly use the personal name of our God.