Have you ever wondered why sometimes your Bible says “LORD” in all capital letters, other times it has the standard capitalization for a proper noun “Lord”, and occasionally you will find an all lower case “lord”? Be still your pondering hearts! You could probably find this information in the front of your Bibles… but I am here to give you the skinny:
“LORD” is used when the original Hebrew manuscripts read יהוה (or YHWH in English letters). This was a personal name used for God, the God of Israel, the maker of Heaven and Earth. It was a God who was in personal relationship with His people…sort of a unique idea back then! In Exodus 3:14-15, God introduced Himself as “I Am that I Am”. So using English letters, the three consonants of “to be” would be H W H…and the Y would be added as the third person prefix “he is”. Nobody is exactly sure how it was pronounced, because the ancient Israelites would never say this personal name for God as it was too holy (in fear of taking it in vain). Instead, when reading this scripture they would say adonai, meaning “my Lord”. Even more, ancient Hebrew didn’t include written vowels, they just sort of knew how to pronounce words. When written vowel pointings (the little symbols around the consonantal letters: יְהוָֹה ) were added to biblical Hebrew by later scholars, two pronunciations of YHWH became popular: “Yahweh” and “Jehovah”. So when you read”LORD” in the Bible (written over 6,500 times), know that it is referring to the personal name given by the God himself. The same God with who we too can have a personal relationship with, through His Son!
“Lord” is not used that much, but when it is used it is where the original Hebrew read adonai, “my Lord”, which as I said above was the name they would SAY even when it was written YHWH/Yahweh. When the “L” is capital, it still refers to the God of Israel. It just wasn’t using His personal name. Typically this is used in context of God as the creator and sovereign of all things, not necessarily in context of God as the personal God of Israel.
Lower case “lord” is used when in reference to a person (not God) as a title of honor or authority. Think Downton Abbey. There aren’t lower cases in Hebrew, so the grammar and context of the original Hebrew word (same root as adonai) would have determined if it were referring to a “lord” or “the Lord”. Gen 18:12 has an example of “lord”.
If you see “the Lord GOD” (GOD in all caps) that is the proper name YHWH/Yahweh combined with the word adonai. So it was saying “my Lord YHWH”. So translators just made the word YHWH be “GOD” in all caps, instead of saying “my Lord LORD”. Example in Ezekiel 14:18
Lastly, the word for “god” (any god or God) in Hebrew is el, or elohim (more frequently used to reference God).
If you hear a name today (particularly one of Jewish roots) with “el” at the end, whether they know it or not, it usually means something “of God” or “like God”:
Nathaniel: natan “gift” + el “God”=”Gift of God”
Michael: mi “who” + ke “like” + el “God” = “One Who Is like God”
Ariel: ari “lion” + el “God”= “Lion of God”…a perfect name for a singing half lady-half fish merprincess, I guess…
Taco B’el….well, I guess I am reaching a bit.