The English word Lord or LORD has been substituted for the actual name of God the Father, YHVH, in our English versions based on a Jewish custom that dates back to the second or third century BCE. Before that time, there are indications in the Tanakh that the name of YHVH was routinely used in daily conversation, greetings, and writing.
Nehemiah Gordon, a Karaite Jew, relates the following on the ancient use of the name of YHVH in his article on The Ban on the Divine Name:
If it were forbidden to use the name we would expect that the righteous men of ancient Israel whose deeds are recorded in the Tanach would refrain from using it. Yet we find the name used repeatedly by the ancient Israelites. As already mentioned the ancient Israelites are praised for using the name in vows. But the name is even used in what can be described as “casual” contexts. Thus Boaz and the Judahites of his day used the name of יהוה as a greeting, as we read in Ruth 2:4,
Now Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to those harvesting, “May יהוה be with you!” And they answered him, “May יהוה bless you!”
So the ancient Judahite greeting was “יהוה be with you” to which the proper response was “יהוה bless you!”. This is clearly a formulaic greeting similar to the modern “How are you?” to which the proper response is “Fine” (even if things are not fine). However, unlike the modern greeting, the ancient Israelite greeting consisted of a blessing in the name of יהוה. We also find such a greeting in Ps 118:26, “Blessed be those that come, in the name of יהוה”. The Levites would stand at the entrance of the Temple and bless those arriving on their pilgrimage “in the name of יהוה”.
The Mishnah (the written collection of Jewish oral traditions) in Berakhot 9:5 confirms this understanding:
…one shall inquire after the peace of his friend with the Name [of God], as it says, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the harvesters, ‘God be with you’, and they said to him, ‘God bless you.’” (Ruth 2:4) And it says, “God is with you, great and valorous one.” (Judges 6:12)
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the substitution of Adonai (“Lord”) for YHVH throughout the Tanakh was begun by scribes during the second temple period. This is claimed to have been out of respect for the name of God.
“Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, his name being revealed to Moses as four Hebrew CONSONANTS (YHWH) CALLED THE TETRAGRAMMATON. AFTER THE EXILE (6TH CENTURY BC), and especially from the 3rd century BC on, Jews ceased to use the name Yahweh for two reasons. As Judaism became a universal religion through its proselytizing in the Greco-Roman world, the more common noun elohim, meaning “god,” tended to replace Yahweh to demonstrate the universal sovereignty of Israel’s God over all others. At the same time, the divine name was increasingly regarded as too sacred to be uttered; it was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament.”
Solomon Tulbure at Eliyah.com has provided a reference to not just the substitutions of the title, but where the text was physically altered by scribes from YHVH to Adonai, apparently at least 134 different times. This document can be reviewed here.
This hyper-focus on protecting the name of God from misuse is described by Wilhelm Gesenius, who produced a well-reference Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible in the early 1800’s:
“The Jews, from an over scrupulous superstition and reverence for the name of God, whenever in the sacred text [YHVH] occurs, read it [Adonai]…”
This practice goes on still today. In fact, new modifications have arisen since the adoption of this practice.
Judaism 101 in its article, “The Names of God” has this to offer:
“…by the time of the Talmud [approx 200-300 CE], it was the custom to use substitute Names for God. Some rabbis asserted that a person who pronounces YHVH according to its letters (instead of using a substitute) has no place in the World to Come, and should be put to death. Instead of pronouncing the four-letter Name, we usually substitute the Name “Adonai,” or simply say “Ha-Shem” (lit. The Name).”
In modern usage, even the title Adonai has now become “sacred” like YHVH used to be. As can be seen above, many Jews today avoid this title, as well. Instead, they now substitute the word HaShem (meaning, the Name) for Adonai! So now they are substituting another circumlocution for the past substitution! What a confusing mess based on the traditions and superstitions of men!
I believe restoring the four letter consonants in the Bible is helpful for increasing our understanding and actually brings honor to the name of YHVH. I have mentioned elsewhere that the pronunciation of these four consonants in English is a topic that is hotly debated. However, in my own research of the name, I have come to pronounce it as Ya‘h’veh. You may have reached a different conclusion. Regardless, the pursuit of this understanding has opened up many more aspects to the nature and character of our God in my life, and I believe has drawn me closer to himself. As I have drawn closer to him, I have also grown closer to Yeshua. As Yeshua himself said:
John 6:44 KJV – 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.