Isaiah is unique within scripture in using the 'Lord Jehovah' to describe God. The underlying Hebrew behind the translation is 'Jah Jehovah' which has led some commentators to assume that the 'Jah' prefix is a scribal error. Others see this as one of the most absolute and emphatic titles that God has. The aim of this paper is to suggest that this is no mistake and to explore some of the meaning that the text is attempting to convey.
There are two possibilities offered by those that consider this to be a scribal error. Perhaps the most startling is given by Adam Clarke in his commentary upon Isaiah 12:2. I will quote it verbatim:
"...here is probably a mistake; and arose originally from the custom of the Jewish scribes, who, when they found a line too short for the word, wrote as many letters as filled it, and then began the next line with the whole word."
If I have understood his argument correctly then the 'Jah' (or 'Yah') is simply the first part of the following word which the scribe used as 'padding' to fill out the end of a line. I more mainstream argument is that it is a case of dittography; of accidentally starting a word twice.
However I believe the consignment of this to scribal error is almost impossible for both mathematical and theological reasons. Theologically we have to remember that this is the name of God we are referring to here. In fact if I was Jewish I would probably have written G*d because my reverence for the divine name would be so great that I would have trouble using it directly. The Psalms told them that His name alone was the most high. Given that basis is it really likely that I would have used a part of it simply to pad out the end of a line?
The objective and mathematically argument may however, in this instance, be the more compelling. The term 'Jehovah' is used 6527 times in the Hebrew Old Testament although it is only rendered Jehovah four times in the KJV. This is therefore most certainly not a word with which the scribe would have been unfamiliar. Yet there are only two places in scripture where this deliberate padding or accidentally slippage occur and they are both in Isaiah; in fact within 14 chapters of each other. The odds against that being chance are 16:1. Closer examination reveals they are both in verses describing the strength of God. God's strength is discussed in 232 verses (or roughly one in every 150 verses). Therefore the chances of these two expressions both turning up in Isaiah and both being in verses related to strength accidentally are about 2400 to 1.
In fact the word 'Jah' itself is suggestive even outside of the combination with Jehovah. It occurs in 47 verses and only 5 times outside of Psalms. The two occasions we have referred to, Isa 38:11 and Ex 15:2 and 17:16. Ex 15:2 again mentions strength, Ex 17 is used in the context of war. So one has to ask how likely it is that Isaiah would be those only prophet to use the expression Jah and yet that two of the three times the book uses it it does so in error?
I believe there is no mathematical or theological basis for thinking of this expression as anything other than a deliberate for God. This leads to the obvious question: "what does it mean?" Matthew Henry provides one of the more poetic descriptions which I shall again produce verbatim:
"For in the Lord Jehovah-Jah, Jehovah, in him who was, and is, and is to come, there is a rock of ages, a firm and lasting foundation for faith and hope to build upon; and the house built on that rock will stand in a storm."
K&D refer to this as the 'proper name of God the Redeemer in most emphatic form.' Personally I rather like Barnes' suggestion that the construction is designed to look a little weird as it is trying to express something which tongue is unable to express.
I believe the descriptions just given gel very well when used in the context the phrase is used. In Isaiah 12 we find a believer turning to the God that had chastised him. He declares his faith and trust in God and his willingness to build upon the trust. Chapter 26 is similar although it speaks for a whole nation that is returning to rebuilt after a period of desolation. If Jah really speaks to the strength of God and Jehovah is the God that was and is and is to come then what can be more emphatic than the juxtaposition? The eternal God of Strength?
When dealing with one of the rarer titles of God such as this one I am occasionally tempted to wonder: why bother? God is God why do we need yet another description? Perhaps the answer is that we can grow complacent. Whilst the term Jehovah is magnificent it does occur over six thousand times. Perhaps we read it with rather less awe now than we once did. Even the relatively rare 'Jah' occurs fifty times. Here in Isaiah we see the foretelling of the destruction of a nation: this would have been devastating to those that believed. And God graciously chose to draw just a little closer than normal when he comforted them and He revealed this new even more incredible name to them to get their attention. I hope that this brief paper has drawn your notice to this amazing title and that perhaps Lord Jehovah will have just a little more of your attention today as a result.