Have you ever reflected on the various names of God revealed to us in our scriptures? It does make for an informative study, and I hope will help us in our walk and worship, so let’s start by looking at how the names of God reveal his characteristics, and his relationship to us, his children.
We often choose names for our children to describe some ‘hoped for characteristic’, and we see that practice throughout the pages of scripture. Jacob -‘the deceiver’ (Gen 27v19), whose name was later changed to Israel (Gen32v38) ‘for you have striven with God and prevailed’; and of course in the name of our Lord Jesus -Yeshua, (Mtt1v21) ‘for he shall save his people from their sins’.
But why should the names of God be important to us now, and can they help us along our earthly pilgrimage?
The first reason is that out of only ten prime commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai one specifically (Gen20v7) tells us ‘Not to take the name of the LORD –YAHWEH – your God in vain’. This means more than not just using God’s name in a slang or profane way, it means that if we have a right relationship with the one true and living God, we must honour his name in our lives.
A second reason rests on the inherent greatness of God’s name as we seek to praise him. We read in psalm 8v1 ‘O LORD our lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth’, and see also ps48v10, ps75v1, ps76v1, etc.
And a third reason stems from Proverbs 18v10 ‘The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe’. This encourages us to seek protection (Jehovah Nissi), healing (Jehovah Rophe) and provision (Jehovah Jireh) through the name of our great God. Some of you will remember how these promoted two popular worship songs in the eighties.
Although God has revealed himself to us through his names, we had to await the final and ultimate revelation when He became incarnate through the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus.
In his definitive book ‘The names of God’, Ken Hemphill lists thirteen significant names; let us now focus in on just five of those, as knowing these may help us in our individual and collective praise and worship.
Elohim (Gen1v1). “In the beginning God”. This reflects the one and only eternal, sovereign and creator God through whom, out of nothing, ex nihilo, everything in the created universe, spiritual and physical, owes its origin. It is the most frequent name used for God in the Old Testament, and it is plural. Then in Gen1v26 we read, ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image”’, giving a hint to the Trinity from the very onset of our scriptures. It also plants perhaps the most fundamental and transforming thought that any human being may ever conceive, that we are in the image of our creator God. As such, is it any wonder that we can find genius displayed in art, music, literature, science and technology? This should spur us on to obey our Lord’s command to ‘love one another as ourselves’.
Adonai (Gen15v2). ‘But Abram said “Lord God, what will you give me?” This name, once again plural, signifies God’s rightful ownership of the family of humanity, and as such demands and requires our worship and obedience. As is written in the Westminster Confession of 1646, we were all individually born to ‘glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever’. As Christians we know that we not only belong to God, but we can also have intimate and eternal fellowship with Him through our faith and trust in Jesus – Yeshua – the Messiah.
El Elyon (Gen14v19-20). “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth”. The prefix El was frequently used in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic as a reference to a deity, and is used here to show that Israel’s God, our God, stands apart and high above all other supposed gods. The uniqueness of our God is shown in that He alone is ‘possessor of heaven and earth’.
This uniqueness we reflect in our introduction to the ‘Prayers of Penitence’ where we use the essential Jewish prayer, the centre piece of their service of morning and evening prayer, the Shema (Deut6v4) “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad”, when we say “The LORD – Yahweh is our God, the LORD is one”. We are saying that this is the one and only God in whom we can have complete confidence to put our trust.
El Shaddai (Gen17v1). ‘The LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless”’. What an amazing promise God made to Abram, one that I believe also applies to us; we can walk with God. What we must do is recognise God’s lordship over our lives, acknowledge in penitence and faith our sin before the most Holy God, and then thank Him for the salvation we have through the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus.
This name El Shaddai is usually translated as ‘God Almighty’ and so reveals the omnipotence, the all-powerful nature of God, and his inexhaustible riches that he makes available to us. Truly, this is a God we can trust with our whole life.
YAHWEH (Exodus1v14). ‘God said to Moses “I AM WHO I AM”’. That was how God described Himself to Moses at the burning bush when God commissioned him to go and lead the Hebrew people out of their bondage in Egypt; so many people in this twenty first century still await deliverance from their bondage.
In psalm 68v4 we see that ‘YAHWEH’ is indeed the proper name of God when we read, ‘Sing to God, sing praises to his name; I am the LORD – YAHWEH, that is my name: I will not give my glory to another’.
This appellation occurs nearly seven thousand times in our bibles where it is usually written as LORD, translating the four consonant Hebrew word YHWH called the tetragrammaton. That is why the name of God is unpronounceable, and why some Jews in Jesus’s time explained away his miracles by saying he knew how to pronounce the name of God and by that performed his miracles. Still today Jews will not use this true name for God but use instead ‘Hashem’. Oh, that we would be bold enough to use the true name of God to set Him apart from all the false so called gods.
So let us take more care how we may use the name of God day by day, using it to increase our reverence for Him in our prayer and worship as we seek to deepen our walk with the very creator God of the universe.
Perhaps at a later date we shall examine the remaining eight names of God.