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The phrase "call upon the name of the LORD" turns up occasionally in Genesis:

Genesis 12:8 (ESV)
From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the LORD.

Genesis 13:4 (ESV)
to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.

Genesis 26:25 (ESV)
25  So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac's servants dug a well.

I've read a couple thoughts on it that suggest it means humans now had to strive to know God. The first time it's used seems to be unique (see a related question on Genesis 4:26). Do the subsequent uses of the phrase call back to the first or was it just a standard formulation that meant "worshiping God"?

Either way, does anybody know what it means to invoke on the LORD by name?

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Partial dup? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/495/… (This question focuses on Gen 4:26, so not a complete dup.) –  Gone Quiet Sep 19 '12 at 1:22
Hi Grace! I wanted to formally welcome you to our Biblical Hermeneutics site and explain why I edited your question. It's an interesting question that covers some ground that we've already had a question about. But it's also a little bit more than just Genesis 4:26. So after a conversation in our chat room, we've decided to focus this question on the broader meaning of the phrase and let Genesis 4:26 stand along. What do you think? –  Jon Ericson Sep 21 '12 at 17:23

3 Answers 3

[Note: This question has been edited to keep it from being a duplicate. As such, the original form of this answer has been moved (with minor edits). This is something of a placeholder now for that answer.]

Calling on the name of Yahweh indicates the public, communal worship of God.

Many sound exegetes hold to this position. See my linked answer, which focuses on Genesis 4:26, for details; it is applicable here as well.

Note that the patriarchs were men of prayer (e.g. Isaac praying in the field when Rivqah arrived; also the author of Hebrews says they were men of faith, which necessarily implies prayer.) As such, when it is highlighted that they called on the name of the Lord in a particular location, that was an open, public service of worship (remember how large the households of the patriarchs were—308 for Abraham at one point).

(The first use is not unique, Jon, but matches well with these usage in the later parts of Genesis. This is a standard phrase; anyone who holds otherwise bears the burden of proof.)

This phrase is best understood to indicate the public, communal worship of God.

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Several of us decided to break out the Genesis 4:26 mention from this question since there already existed a question on it in particular. I like this answer for this question, but if you wanted, you could move or copy some of it to the other question too. It's up to you. –  Jon Ericson Sep 21 '12 at 17:34
@JonEricson Do your moderator powers not enable you to just move my whole answer over? –  Kazark Sep 21 '12 at 17:36
@JonEricson I see what you're suggesting, tho. If you are not able to move it, I could condense this answer down and copy most of the current answer over to the other question, then reference my answer there from here, and add a little bit of addition explanation to fit this one to the current question. That seems reasonable. –  Kazark Sep 21 '12 at 17:40
Strangely, they don't. (That's just users. I wonder if there's a question for moderator powers.) –  Jon Ericson Sep 21 '12 at 17:42
Thanks for the edit. This answer is a bit awkward since my work on the question assumes exactly the opposite theory as yours. But I do think we ended in a better place despite ourselves. ;) –  Jon Ericson Sep 25 '12 at 3:48

The word qara' in Hebrew can mean naming (as in God called the light Day), calling out, or proclaiming.

In Exodus 33, Moses asked to see God’s glory and God said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, Yahweh.

Then, in Exodus 34, it says, "Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.'"

"Calling on the name" is proclaiming the Name Yahweh, His character, and all that goes with it. So, Abraham was setting up worship sites in Canaan and proclaiming the gospel to those who lived there. Also, Abraham's path through Canaan roughly follows the path that the Israelites followed later under Joshua, so Abraham's preaching could be thought of as a pre-conquest of the land.

Additionally: Abraham starts even before he comes to Canaan. In Genesis 12:5, it says that Abram took Sarai and Lot and all their possessions, and the people that they had acquired in Haran. The translation 'acquired' is certainly fine, but it's not the word for purchased servants. The word `asah literally means "made" or “produced”. So, these are all the "souls" (nephesh) he had made; these are spiritual children, converts.

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I don't agree that it means proclaiming in this context. Here it indicates worship, not evangelism. –  Kazark Sep 21 '12 at 1:17
On the other hand, there may be a sense of "proclaim" in that it denotes public worship. –  Kazark Sep 21 '12 at 3:01
May I be the first to welcome you to Biblical Hermeneutics! I think this answer stands on it's own, so I moved the call out to Mike's answer to the end. I don't think my edit to the question invalidated your answer, but you might want to check just in case. Thanks. –  Jon Ericson Sep 21 '12 at 17:30
Thank you, Jon. The edit is just fine. –  Sticmann Sep 22 '12 at 1:20
@Jon just to complicate things further, I thought you should know Mike deleted his answer! Sticmann may I add my welcome and thanks for your excellent and well reasoned/supported contributions - just the sort we hope for here :) –  Jack Douglas Sep 30 '12 at 15:08

I know it's been 2 years since this Q & A. As I've just been doing a word/phrase study on the occurrences of "call on the name" in Hebrew & Greek, you can see that that the Hebrew phrase routinely is literally, "call in (the) name (of) ...". This is a slightly different usage than all the other usages of "call on" (qara' + ?). The number of these occurrences is limited and can be studied in less than an hour. What I see is summarized below in my user note for Genesis 4:26 that I entered in my Accordance program:

Note that the words “call” and “name” are the same as in the common phrase “called his name”, which was just used in Gen 2:19; Gen 3:20; Gen 4:17, Gen 4:25, and here “called his name Enosh”. But the phrase “call in the name of YHWH” seems a specific usage, almost always done this way. See Gen 12:8; Gen 13:4; Gen 21:33; Gen 26:25; 1Kings 18:24–26 - All these have to do with seeking God in conjunction with sacrifice at an altar. Was this not what Cain and Abel had done? Perhaps that had been the first, and ill-fated, and last time the first family had sought God in this way, up till this time, and this verse would be a re-institution, and establishing of a pattern. See the following verses. I believe I see the phrase “call in the name of” meaning “to seek God in a way that publicly identifies you as one of his, called by his name. This is a major step beyond the common prayer by someone (like Cain) who appeals to God for help, for mercy, etc, -- without yielding sovereignty over his or her life. 1Chr 16:8; Psa 79:6; Psa 80:18; Psa 99:6; Psa 105:1; Psa 116:4, 13, 17; Is 12:4; Is 41:25; Is 44:5; Jer 10:25; Joel 2:32; Zeph 3:9; Zech 13:9; Acts 2:21; Rom 10:12–17; 1Cor 1:2.

So, I quibble slightly with the definition above "public, communal worship". I think the public, communal aspect is the emphasis on public identification as one trusting in/seeking YHWH. We see the same explicitly in the NT context of proclaiming "Jesus is (my) Lord". I believe that there are some of these verses which are not so much talking about worship as clearly identifying whom you worship (and thereby being a witness, or even a proclaimer).

  • Jerry Platz, always seeking to understand this Word better. Berkshire, NY
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