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?

  • 1
    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? Sep 21, 2012 at 17:23

4 Answers 4


[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 — three hundred and eighteen 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.


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.

  • I don't agree that it means proclaiming in this context. Here it indicates worship, not evangelism.
    – Kazark
    Sep 21, 2012 at 1:17
  • On the other hand, there may be a sense of "proclaim" in that it denotes public worship.
    – Kazark
    Sep 21, 2012 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. Sep 21, 2012 at 17:30
  • @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 :) Sep 30, 2012 at 15:08
  • @JackDouglas Thank you. I've removed the obsolete link.
    – Sticmann
    Oct 1, 2012 at 1:12

In antiquity, divine names or true names were thought to hold power. This is best illustrated in an Egyptian myth about the god and goddess Ra and Isis. In this legend, Ra becomes injured, and Isis uses this fact as leverage to learn the divine name of Ra. Isis tells Ra that she can only heal him if she knows his secret name. Isis immediately cured Ra, but he could not take back the power that he had granted her by telling her his true name and from that point on Isis was equal to the sun god in power.

This can also be seen in spells and incantations. For example, on page 124 of Jewish Aramaic Curse texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia by Dan Levene we see a spell in which the canter is instructed to use the name of Hadriel and Shakniel to silence "evil and violent people who stand gainst Berik-Yeheba son of Mama"

In the name of Hadriel, Shakniel, the well, the stone, and the pit, I adjure, I adjure you, in the name of he who is great and frightful, that you may silence from Berik-Yehaba son of Mama the mouth of all the people who write books, who sit in forts, who sit in market places and in streets, and who go out on the roads.

Another on page 46 seems to utilize as many names as possible as a power-enhancement tactic for the spell

I have adjured you by the holy angels, and by the name of Metatron the pure angel, Nidrel and Nuriel and Huriel and Sasgabiel and Hapkiel and Mehapkiel, shose seven angels that are going adn overturning the heavens and the earth and the stars and the zodiac signs and the moon and Plaedes. May you go and overturn evil sorceries and powerful magical acts...

In Hebrew, the phrase קָרָא בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה (qara besem Yahweh) literally means to call, cry or proclaim the name Yahweh. This pretty clearly evokes the imagery of the divine-name-power discussed above.

At the same time, use of the divine name in Judaism was also forbidden. In Exodus 3:24, Moses attempts to learn God's divine name and is rebuffed and chided by a pithy response from God. As a result it is believed that God is not to be controlled and as such, we should never use the true name of God in speech or writing out of respect and reverence. However, this tradition does not appear until well after most of the Torah was authored and this therefore would not have been taboo at the time of the Patriarchs.

Obviously, use of a divine name would typically only be done for a god in which an individual believed had power. It therefore is no wonder why worship became associated with invocation or "calling on" a divine name - why would you worship (or call upon the name of) a god which was not powerful? You would neither call upon, nor worship a god which lacked power.


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
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Unfortunately, this does not answer the question. Be sure to visit the tour to learn more about this site. Nov 7, 2014 at 4:23

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