Posted by: mattcolvin | February 19, 2012

Who Does the Remembering?

The name of YHWH in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Monday of Quinquagesima week: Hosea 11:12-12:end.

The Lord also brings a charge against Judah,
And will punish Jacob according to his ways;
According to his deeds He will recompense him.
3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb,
And in his strength he struggled with God.
4 Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed;
He wept, and sought favor from Him.
He found Him in Bethel,
And there He spoke to us—
5 That is, the Lord God of hosts.
The Lord is His memorable name.
6 So you, by the help of your God, return;
Observe mercy and justice,
And wait on your God continually.

The NKJV does a disservice with the rendering “The Lord is His memorable name.” There are two problems. One is that “The Lord” is not a name at all. It is a title. “YHWH” is His name, and the substitution of “Adonai” or “The Lord” for that name makes this verse sound a little odd.

Second, “his memorable name” is not a good translation of the Hebrew (זכרו “zikro”). HALOT gives the definition: “The mention and invocation of God in liturgies” and cites Exodus 3:15:

Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘YHWH God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is my memorial, ( זכרי “zikriy”) to all generations.

YHWH means that in their future covenant relationship with Him, Israel is to use the name YHWH when addressing Him, when pleading for deliverance, asking for Him to remember (זכר “zakar”) His covenant with them. That is the sense that the word has in Hosea as well: God is to remember his history with Israel, in this case, the covenant He made with Jacob, His revelation to him at Bethel. Hosea wants Israel to avail itself of this covenant by turning themselves to YHWH and observing mercy and justice — i.e. what He has required of you, O man.

The point of a “zeker” is not that it is a “memorable name”, as though Hosea wanted Israel not to have to use a telephone directory to find it, but that it is a liturgical name, used in covenantal worship.

Part of the problem may be that many people think that we are saved by thinking about God, so that it is our memory, rather than His, that is the crucial factor in our salvation. But the vast majority of memorials in the Bible are reminders for God first, and only then for us. The rainbow, the stones on the high priest’s clothing, the altar at Bethel, and so on, all the way up to the bread and wine of the Last Supper and Lord’s Supper: all are memorials for God.

Jamie Soles does a great job with this concept in his album Memorials, where, after singing of the rainbow and God’s covenant with Noah, he ends with the refrain,

“I will remember (My covenant with you)
I will remember (My covenant with you)
I will remember
And you can remember too.”

Nothing wrong with you exercising your memory as well, but it’s God’s remembrance of His covenant that really matters.

Sound theology in music for you and your children!


  1. I wonder though if you think there is any basis for the “high church” reading of Lord’s Supper’s “Do this in remembrance of me” as a memorial sacrifice or at least prayer which we invoke to the Lord to call his mind to Christ and the New Covenant, etc, that is, it is a rite instituted by God for us to invoke God’s memory rather than our own remembrance, etc.

    • That is for sure the right understanding of “εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν.” I don’t know that it’s peculiar to high church traditions. You don’t need to believe in transsubstatiation to recognize that if the Supper is just an edible flashcard, then our religion is Gnosticism.

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