GOD . The object of this article is to give a brief sketch of the history of belief in God as gathered from the Bible. The existence of God is everywhere assumed in the sacred volume; it will not therefore be necessary here to consider the arguments adduced to show that the belief in God’s existence is reasonable. It is true that in Psalms 14:1
; Psalms 53:1
the ‘fool’ ( i.e. the ungodly man) says that there is no God; but the meaning doubtless is, not that the existence of God is denied, but that the ‘fool’ alleges that God does not concern Himself with man (see Psalms 10:4
1. Divine revelation gradual . God ‘spake,’ i.e. revealed Himself, ‘by divers portions and in divers manners’ ( Hebrews 1:1
). The world only gradually acquired the knowledge of God which we now possess; and it is therefore a gross mistake to look for our ideas and standards of responsibility in the early ages of mankind. The world was educated ‘precept upon precept, line upon line’ ( Isaiah 28:10
); and it is noteworthy that even when the gospel age arrived, our Lord did not in a moment reveal all truth, but accommodated His teaching to the capacity of the people ( Mark 4:33
); the chosen disciples themselves did not grasp the fulness of that teaching until Pentecost ( John 16:12
f.). The fact of the very slow growth of conceptions of God is made much clearer by our increased knowledge with respect to the composition of the OT; now that we have learnt, for example, that the Mosaic code is to be dated, as a whole, centuries later than Moses, and that the patriarchal narratives were written down, as we have them, in the time of the Kings, and are coloured by the ideas of that time, we see that the idea that Israel had much the same conception of God in the age of the Patriarchs as in that of the Prophets is quite untenable, and that the fuller conception was a matter of slow growth. The fact of the composite character of the Pentateuch, however, makes it very difficult for us to find out exactly what were the conceptions about God in patriarchal and in Mosaic times; and it is impossible to be dogmatic in speaking of them. We can deal only with probabilities gathered from various indications in the literature, especially from the survival of old customs.
2. Names of God in OT . It will be convenient to gather together the principal OT names of God before considering the conceptions of successive ages. The names will to some extent be a guide to us.
( a ) Elohim; the ordinary Hebrew name for God, a plural word of doubtful origin and meaning. It is used, as an ordinary plural, of heathen gods, or of supernatural beings ( 1 Samuel 28:13
), or even of earthly judges ( Psalms 82:1
; Psalms 82:5
, cf. John 10:34
); but when used of the One God, it takes a singular verb. As so used, it has been thought to be a relic of pre-historic polytheism, but more probably it is a ‘plural of majesty,’ such as is common in Hebrew, or else it denotes the fulness of God. The singular Eloah is rare except in Job; it is found in poetry and in late prose.
( b ) El , common to Semitic tribes, a name of doubtful meaning, but usually interpreted as ‘the Strong One’ or as ‘the Ruler.’ It is probably not connected philologically with Elohim (Driver, Genesis , p. 404). It is used often in poetry and in proper names; in prose rarely, except as part of a compound title like El Shaddai , or with an epithet or descriptive word attached; as ‘God of Bethel,’ El-Bethel ( Genesis 31:13
); ‘a jealous God,’ El qannÃ¢’ ( Exodus 20:5
( c ) El Shaddai . The meaning of Shaddai is uncertain; the name has been derived from a root meaning ‘to overthrow,’ and would then mean ‘the Destroyer’; or from a root meaning ‘to pour,’ and would then mean ‘the Rain-giver’; or it has been interpreted as ‘my Mountain’ or ‘my Lord.’ Traditionally it is rendered ‘God Almighty,’ and there is perhaps a reference to this sense of the name in the words ‘He that is mighty’ of Luke 1:49
. According to the Priestly writer (P
), the name was characteristic of the patriarchal age ( Exodus 6:3
, cf. Genesis 17:1
; Genesis 28:3
). ‘Shaddai’ alone is used often in OT as a poetical name of God ( Numbers 24:4
etc.), and is rendered ‘the Almighty.’
( d ) El Elyon , ‘God Most High,’ found in Genesis 14:18
ff. (a passage derived from a ‘special source’ of the Pentateuch, i.e. not from J
, or P
), and thought by Driver ( Genesis , p. 165) perhaps to have been originally the name of a Canaanite deity, but applied to the true God. ‘Elyon’ is also found alone, as in Psalms 82:5
into Greek, Luke 1:32
; Luke 1:35
; Luke 1:76
; Luke 6:35
), and with ‘Elohim’ in Psalms 57:2
, in close connexion with ‘El’ and with ‘Shaddai’ in Numbers 24:15
, and with ‘Jahweh’ in Psalms 7:17
; Psalms 18:13
etc. That ‘El Elyon’ was a commonly used name is made probable by the fact that it is found in an Aramaic translation in Daniel 3:26
; Daniel 4:2
; Daniel 5:18-21
and in a Greek translation in 1Es 6:31
etc., Mark 5:7
, Acts 16:17
, and so in Hebrews 7:1
, where it is taken direct from Genesis 14:18
( e ) Adonai (= ‘Lord’), a title, common in the prophets, expressing dependence, as of a servant on his master, or of a wife on her husband (Ottley, BL 2 p. 192 f.).
( f ) Jehovah , properly Yahweh (usually written Jahweh ), perhaps a pre-historic name. Prof. H. Guthe ( EBi
ii. art. ‘Israel,’ Â§ 4 ) thinks that it is of primitive antiquity and cannot be explained; that it tells us nothing about the nature of the Godhead. This is probably true of the name in pre-Mosaic times; that it was then in existence was certainly the opinion of the Jahwist writer ( Genesis 4:25
), and is proved by its occurrence in proper names, e.g. in ‘Jochebed,’ the name of Moses’ mother ( Exodus 6:20
). What it originally signified is uncertain; the root from which it is derived might mean ‘to blow’ or ‘to breathe,’ or ‘to fall,’ or ‘to be.’ Further, the name might have been derived from the causative ‘to make to be,’ and in that case might signify ‘Creator.’ But, as Driver remarks ( Genesis , p. 409), the important thing for us to know is not what the name meant originally, but what it came actually to denote to the Israelites. And there can be no doubt that from Moses’ time onwards it was derived from the ‘imperfect’ tense of the verb ‘to be,’ and was understood to mean ‘He who is wont to be,’ or else ‘He who will be.’ This is the explanation given in Exodus 3:10
ff.; when God Himself speaks, He uses the first person, and the name becomes ‘I am’ or ‘I will be.’ It denotes, then, Existence; yet it is understood as expressing active and self-manifesting Existence (Driver, p. 408). It is almost equivalent to ‘He who has life in Himself’ (cf. John 5:26
). It became the common name of God in post-Mosaic times, and was the specially personal designation.
We have to consider whether the name was used by the patriarchs. The Jahwist writer (J
) uses it constantly in his narrative of the early ages; and Genesis 4:26
(see above) clearly exhibits more than a mere anachronistic use of a name common in the writer’s age. On the other hand, the Priestly writer (P
) was of opinion that the patriarchs had not used the name, but had known God as ‘El Shaddai’ ( Exodus 6:2
f.); for it is putting force upon language to suppose that P
meant only that the patriarchs did not understand the full meaning of the name ‘Jahweh,’ although they used it. P
is consistent in not using the name ‘Jahweh until the Exodus. So the author of Job, who lays his scene in the patriarchal age, makes the characters of the dialogue use Shaddai,’ etc., and only once (12:9) ‘Jahweh’ (Driver, p. 185). We have thus contradictory authorities. Driver (p. xix.) suggests that though the name was not absolutely new in Moses’ time, it was current only in a limited circle, as is seen from its absence in the composition of patriarchal proper names.
‘Jehovah’ is a modern and hybrid form, dating only from a.d. 1518. The name ‘Jahweh’ was so sacred that it was not, in later Jewish times, pronounced at all, perhaps owing to an over-literal interpretation of the Third Commandment. In reading ‘Adonai’ was substituted for it; hence the vowels of that name were in MSS attached to the consonants of ‘Jahweh’ for a guide to the reader, and the result, when the MSS are read as written (as they were never meant by Jewish scribes to be read), is ‘Jehovah.’ Thus this modern form has the consonants of one word and the vowels of another. The Hellenistic Jews, in Greek, cubstituted ‘Kyrios’ (Lord) for the sacred name, and it is thus rendered in LXX
and NT. This explains why in EV
‘the Lord’ is the usual rendering of ‘Jahweh.’ The expression ‘Tetragrammaton’ is used for the four consonants of the sacred name, YHWH, which appears in Greek capital letters as Pipi , owing to the similarity of the Greek capital p to the Hebrew h , and the Greek capital i to the Hebrew y and w
( g ) Jah is an apocopated form of Jahweh , and appears in poetry ( e.g. Psalms 68:4
, Exodus 15:2
) in the word ‘Hallelujah’ and in proper names. For Jah Jahweh see Isaiah 11:2
; Isaiah 26:4
( h ) Jahweh TsÄbÃ¢Ã´th (‘Sabaoth’ of Romans 9:29
and James 5:4
), in Ev ‘Lord of hosts’ (wh. see), appears frequently in the prophetical and post-exilic literature ( Isaiah 1:9
; Isaiah 6:3
, Psalms 84:1
etc.). This name seems originally to have referred to God’s presence with the armies of Israel in the times of the monarchy; as fuller conceptions of God became prevalent, the name received an ampler meaning. Jahweh was known as God, not only of the armies of Israel, but of all the hosts of heaven and of the forces of nature (Cheyne, Aids to Devout Study of Criticism , p. 284).
We notice, lastly, that ‘Jahweh’ and ‘Elohim’ are joined together in Genesis 2:4
to Genesis 3:22
; Genesis 9:26
, Exodus 9:30
, and elsewhere. Jahweh is identified with the Creator of the Universe (Ottley, BL p. 195). We have the same conjunction, with ‘Sabaoth’ added (‘Lord God of hosts’), in Amos 5:27
. ‘Adonai’ with ‘Sabaoth’ is not uncommon.
3. Pre-Mosaic conceptions of God . We are now in a position to consider the growth of the revelation of God in successive ages; and special reference may here be made to Kautzsch’s elaborate monograph on the ‘Religion of Israel’ in Hastings’ DB
, Ext. vol. pp. 612 734, for a careful discussion of OT conceptions of God. With regard to those of pre-Mosaic times there is much room for doubt. The descriptions written so many centuries later are necessarily coloured by the ideas of the author’s age, and we have to depend largely on the survival of old customs in historical times customs which had often acquired a new meaning, or of which the original meaning was forgotten. Certainly pre-Mosaic Israel conceived of God as attached to certain places or pillars or trees or springs, as we see in Genesis 12:6
; Genesis 13:18
; Genesis 14:7
; Genesis 35:7
, Joshua 24:26
etc. It has been conjectured that the stone circle, Gilgal ( Joshua 4:2-8
; Joshua 4:20
ff.), was a heathen sanctuary converted to the religion of Jahweh. A. B. Davidson (Hastings’ DB
ii. 201) truly remarks on the difficulty in primitive times of realizing deity apart from a local abode; later on, the Ark relieved the difficulty without representing Jahweh under any form, for His presence was attached to it (but see below, Â§ 4 ). Traces of ‘Totemism,’ or belief in the blood relationship of a tribe and a natural object, such as an animal, treated as the protector of the tribe, have been found in the worship of Jahweh under the form of a molten bull ( 1 Kings 12:28
; but this was doubtless derived from the Canaanites), and in the avoidance of unclean animals. Traces of ‘Animism,’ or belief in the activity of the spirits of one’s dead relations, and its consequence ‘Ancestor-worship,’ have been found in the mourning customs of Israel, such as cutting the hair, wounding the flesh, wearing sackcloth, funeral feasts, reverence for tombs, and the levirate marriage, and in the name elohim ( i.e. supernatural beings) given to Samuel’s spirit and (probably) other spirits seen by the witch of Endor ( 1 Samuel 28:13
). Kautzsch thinks that these results are not proved, and that the belief in demoniacal powers explains the mourning customs without its being necessary to suppose that Animism had developed into Ancestor-worship. Polytheism has been traced in the plural ‘Elohim’ (see 2 above), in the teraphim or household gods ( Genesis 31:30
, 1 Samuel 19:13
; 1 Samuel 19:16
: found in temples, Judges 17:5
; Judges 18:14
; cf. Hosea 3:4
); and patriarchal names, such as Abraham, Sarah , have been taken for the titles of pre-historic divinities. Undoubtedly Israel was in danger of worshipping foreign gods, but there is no trace of a Hebrew polytheism (Kautzsch). It will be seen that the results are almost entirely negative; and we must remain in doubt as to the patriarchal conception of God. It seems clear, however, that communion of the worshipper with God was considered to be effected by sacrifice.
4. Post-Mosaic conceptions of God . The age of the Exodus was undoubtedly a great crisis in the theological education of Israel. Moses proclaimed Jahweh as the God of Israel, supreme among gods, alone to be worshipped by the people whom He had made His own, and with whom He had entered into covenant. But the realization of the truth that there is none other God but Jahweh came by slow degrees only; henotheism , which taught that Jahweh alone was to be worshipped by Israel, while the heathen deities were real but inferior gods, gave place only slowly to a true monotheism in the popular religion. The old name Micah (= ‘Who is like Jahweh?’, Judges 17:1
) is one indication of this line of thought. The religion of the Canaanites was a nature-worship; their deities were personified forces of nature, though called ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ ( Baal, Baalah ) of the place where they were venerated (Guthe, EBi
ii. art. ‘Israel,’ Â§ 6); and when left to themselves the Israelites gravitated towards nature-worship. The great need of the early post-Mosaic age, then, was to develop the idea of personality . The defective idea of individuality is seen, for example, in the putting of Achan’s household to death ( Joshua 7:24
f.), and in the wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites. (The defect appears much later, in an Oriental nation, in Daniel 6:24
, and is constantly observed by travellers in the East to this day.) Jahweh, therefore, is proclaimed as a personal God; and for this reason all the older writers freely use anthropomorphisms. They speak of God’s arm, mouth, lips, eyes; He is said to move ( Genesis 3:8
; Genesis 11:6
; Genesis 18:1
f.), to wrestle ( Genesis 32:24
ff.). Similarly He is said to ‘repent’ of an action ( Genesis 6:6
, Exodus 32:14
; but see 1 Samuel 15:29
.), to be grieved, angry, jealous, and gracious, to love and to hate; in these ways the intelligence, activity, and power of God are emphasized. As a personal God He enters into covenant with Israel, protecting, ruling, guiding them, giving them victory. The wars and victories of Israel are those of Jahweh ( Numbers 21:14
, Judges 5:23
The question of images in the early post-Mosaic period is a difficult one. Did Moses tolerate images of Jahweh? On the one hand, it seems certain that the Decalogue in some form or other comes from Moses; the conquest of Canaan is inexplicable unless Israel had some primary laws of moral conduct (Ottley, BL p. 172 f.). But, on the other hand, the Second Commandment need not have formed part of the original Decalogue; and there is a very general opinion that the making of images of Jahweh was thought unobjectionable up to the 8th cent. b.c., though Kautzsch believes that images of wood and stone were preferred to metal ones because of the Canaanitish associations of the latter ( Exodus 34:17
, but see Judges 17:3
); he thinks also that the fact of the Ark being the shrine of Jahweh and representing His presence points to its having contained an image of Jahweh (but see Â§ 3 above), and that the ephod was originally an image of Jahweh ( Judges 8:26
f.), though the word was afterwards used for a gold or silver casing of an image, and so in later times for a sort of waistcoat. In our uncertainty as to the date of the various sources of the Hexateuch it is impossible to come to a definite conclusion about this matter; and Moses, like the later prophets, may have preached a high doctrine which popular opinion did not endorse. To this view Barnes (Hastings’ DB
, art. ‘Israel,’ ii. 509) seems to incline. At least the fact remains that images of Jahweh were actually used for many generations after Moses.
5. The conceptions of the Prophetic age . This age is marked by a growth, perhaps a very gradual growth, towards a true monotheism. More spiritual conceptions of God are taught; images of Jahweh are denounced; God is unrestricted in space and time ( e.g. 1 Kings 8:27
), and is enthroned in heaven. He is holy ( Isaiah 6:3
) separate from sinners (cf. Hebrews 7:26
), for this seems to be the sense of the Hebrew word; the idea is as old as 1 Samuel 6:20
. He is the ‘Holy One of Israel’ ( Isaiah 1:4
and often). He is Almighty, present everywhere ( Jeremiah 23:24
), and full of love. The prophets, though they taught more spiritual ideas about God, still used anthropomorphisms: thus, Isaiah saw Jahweh on His throne ( Isaiah 6:1
), though this was only in a vision. The growth of true monotheistic ideas may be traced in such passages as Deuteronomy 4:35
; Deuteronomy 4:39
; Deuteronomy 6:4
; Deuteronomy 10:14
, 1 Kings 8:60
, Isaiah 37:16
, Joel 2:27
; it culminates in Deutero-Isaiah ( Isaiah 43:10
‘Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me’; Isaiah 44:6
‘I am the first and I am the last, and beside me there is no God’; so Isaiah 45:5
). The same idea is expressed by the teaching that Jahweh rules not only His people but all nations, as in the numerous passages in Deutero-Isaiah about the Gentiles, in Jeremiah 10:7
, often in Ezekiel ( e.g. Jeremiah 35:4
; Jeremiah 35:9
; Jeremiah 35:15
of Edom), Malachi 1:5
; Malachi 1:11
; Malachi 1:14
, and elsewhere. The earlier prophets had recognized Jahweh as Creator (though Kautzsch thinks that several passages like Amos 4:13
are later glosses); but Deutero-Isaiah emphasizes this attribute more than any of his brethren ( Isaiah 40:12
; Isaiah 40:22
; Isaiah 40:28
; Isaiah 41:4
; Isaiah 42:5
; Isaiah 44:24
; Isaiah 45:12
; Isaiah 45:18
; Isaiah 48:13
We may here make a short digression to discuss whether the heathen deities, though believed by the later Jews, and afterwards by the Christians, to be no gods, were yet thought to have a real existence, or whether they were considered to be simply non-existent, creatures of the imagination only. In Isaiah 14:12
(the Babylonian king likened to false divinities?) and Isaiah 24:21
the heathen gods seem to be identified with the fallen angels (see Whitehouse, in Hastings’ DB
i. 592); so perhaps in Deutero-Isaiah ( Isaiah 46:1
f.). In later times they are often identified with demons. In Eth. Enoch (19:1) Uriel speaks of the evil angels leading men astray into sacrificing to demons as to gods (see Charles’s note; and also xcix. 7). And the idea was common in Christian times; it has been attributed to St. Paul ( 1 Corinthians 10:20
; though 1 Corinthians 8:5
f. points the other way, whether these verses are the Apostle’s own words or are a quotation from the letter of the Corinthians). Justin Martyr ( Apol . i. 9, 64, etc.), Tatian ( Add. to the Greeks , 8), and IrenÃ¦us ( HÃ¦r . iii. 6:3
), while denying that the heathen deities are really gods, make them to have a real existence and to be demons; Athenagoras ( Apol . 18, 28), Clement of Alexandria ( Exh. to the Greeks , 2f.), and Tertullian ( Revelation 10 Revelation 10 ) make them to be mere men or beasts deified by superstition, or combine both ideas.
6. Post-exilic conceptions of God . In the period from the Exile to Christ, a certain deterioration in the spiritual conception of God is visible. It is true that there was no longer any danger of idolatry, and that this age was marked by an uncompromising monotheism. Yet there was a tendency greatly to exaggerate God’s transcendence , to make Him self-centred and self-absorbed, and to widen the gulf between Him and the world (Sanday, in Hastings’ DB
ii. 206). This tendency began even at the Exile, and accounts for the discontinuance of anthropomorphic language. In the Priest’s Code (P
) this language is avoided as much as possible. And later, when the LXX
was translated, the alterations made to avoid anthropomorphisms are very significant. Thus in Exodus 15:3
the name ‘Man of war’ (of Jahweh) disappears; in Exodus 19:3
Moses went up not ‘to Elohim,’ but ‘to the mount of God’; in Exodus 24:10
the words ‘they saw Elohim of Israel’ become ‘they saw the place where the God of Israel stood.’ So in the Targums man is described as being created in the image of the angels , and many other anthropomorphisms are removed. The same tendency is seen in the almost constant use of ‘Elohim’ rather than of ‘Jahweh’ in the later books of OT. The tendency, only faintly marked in the later canonical books, is much more evident as time went on. Side by side with it is to be noticed the exaltation of the Law, and the inconsistent conception of God as subject to His own Law. In the Talmud He is represented as a great Rabbi, studying the Law, and keeping the Sabbath (Gilbert, in Hastings’ DCG
Yet there were preparations for the full teaching of the gospel with regard to distinctions in the Godhead. The old narratives of the Theophanies, of the mysterious ‘Angel of the Lord’ who appeared at one time to be God and at another to be distinct from Him, would prepare men’s minds in some degree for the Incarnation, by suggesting a personal unveiling of God (see Liddon, BL ii. i. Î² ); even the common use of the plural name ‘Elohim,’ whatever its original significance (see Â§ 2 above), would necessarily prepare them for the doctrine of distinctions in the Godhead, as would the quasi- personification of ‘the Word’ and ‘Wisdom’, as in Proverbs, Job, Wisdom, Sirach, and in the later Jewish writers, who not only personified but deified them (Scott, in Hastings’ DB
, Ext. vol. p. 308). Above all, the quasi-personification of the ‘Spirit of God’ in the prophetical books (esp. Isaiah 48:16
; Isaiah 63:10
) and in the Psalms (esp. God
God's kingly rule or sovereignty. The Old Testament contains no references to the kingdom of God. However, in the Old Testament God is spoken of as ruling (for example, Psalm 47:2
; Psalm 103:19
; Daniel 4:17
:25-37 ). The Old Testament emphasis on God's sovereign power over all kings and kingdoms sets the stage for the New Testament teaching. Jesus made the kingdom of God central in His preaching. More than a hundred references to the kingdom appear in the Gospels, many in Jesus' parables. See Parable.
The kingdom of God was the central image in Jesus' preaching as clearly seen in Mark 1:14-15
, a summary of the preaching of Jesus. The kingdom of God is the heart of the summary.
In His parables Jesus spoke of the kingdom in many different ways. He said that the kingdom is like a farmer (Matthew 13:24
), a seed (Matthew 13:31
), a yeast (Matthew 13:33
), a treasure (Matthew 13:44
), a pearl merchant (Matthew 13:45
), a fishnet (Matthew 13:47
), an employer (Matthew 20:1
), a king inviting people to a marriage feast (Matthew 22:2
), and ten young women (Matthew 13:44-46
51 ). He spoke also of the glad tidings of the kingdom (Luke 8:1
) and of the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11
Jesus spoke Aramaic; the Gospel writers translated Jesus' sermons and parables into Greek. Mark, Luke, and John translated Jesus' words as “kingdom of God.” Matthew sometimes used this phrase too, but often he preferred to translate Jesus' Aramaic words as “kingdom of heaven.” The two phrases mean exactly the same thing, because they are translations of the same Aramaic words of Jesus. See Aramaic ; Greek.
What did Jesus mean when he spoke of the kingdom of God? He meant, quite simply, the rule of God. The kingdom of God is the reign of God.
This is best understood if it is distinguished from what Jesus did not mean. He was not speaking of a geographical area such as the Holy Land or the Temple. He was not speaking of a political entity such as the nation of Israel or the Sanhedrin. He was not speaking of a group of people such as His disciples or the church.
Rather, the kingdom of God is God's ruling. It is the sovereign reign of God. This rule is independent of all geographical areas or political entities. It is true that the rule of God implies a people to be ruled, and Jesus called upon people to enter the kingdom. The kingdom itself should be distinguished from the people who enter it.
Jesus taught that the kingdom of God looks unimpressive, but it is going to grow into something tremendous. The kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed which grows into a bush large enough to provide shelter for God's creatures (Mark 4:30-32
Jesus never said that people are to build the kingdom of God. On the contrary, the establishment of the kingdom is a work of God. God will reign, and people can contribute nothing to that reigning of God.
When will God establish his kingdom? In one sense, the kingdom will not come until some unspecified time in the future (see, for example, Matthew 25:1-46
). There is a sense in which modern Christians may still look forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, Jesus also said that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God had come in His own time. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15
). He said in an even more explicit way: “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20
So the kingdom of God was the rule of God which He extended over human lives through the ministry of Jesus; and it also is His rule which will be consummated or made complete in the future. See Eschatology ; Future Hope .
Since people cannot build the kingdom of God, what response are they to make to Jesus' message about the kingdom? First, they can make the kingdom their priority and seek it ahead of everything else (Matthew 6:33
). It is a pearl of such value that they should sell everything else they have in order to be able to purchase it (1618067048_2 ). Second, they can repent and believe the good news of the kingdom (Mark 1:14-15
), and so enter the kingdom like little children (Mark 10:14
). Third, they can pray for the rule of God to come soon: “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10
; compare 1 Corinthians 16:22
). Finally, they can be ready when the kingdom does finally come (Matthew 25:1-46
The Lord's Prayer contains three requests, as follows: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10
). These three phrases mean just about the same thing, and they tell us a lot about the kingdom of God. “Hallowed be thy name” means: “Let Your name be hallowed, or honored”; or, “Bring all people to respect and reverence You.” “Thy kingdom come” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives.” “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means: “Extend Your rule over human lives here and now so that they will reverence and respect You.” See Lord's Prayer.
In His preaching Jesus regularly invited people to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to open their lives to the ruling of God. It is important to notice whom He invited.
He invited everyone. That is the great surprise. He did not restrict the invitation to the respectable people, or the religious, or the wealthy or powerful (in Jesus' day wealth and power were often thought to be signs of God's blessing). Jesus included everyone without distinction. He spoke of God sending His servants out to highways and hedges to urge people to come in to the kingdom. He even said that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24
). He said that the tax-collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom before the moral and religious people (Matthew 21:31
). In brief, God is very gracious and loving toward all people, and His kingdom is offered to everyone.
After Jesus had returned to heaven, the apostles did not continue to make the kingdom the central theme of their preaching. Instead, they began to speak of eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and other themes. In doing this, they were not deserting Jesus' concern for the kingdom of God. They were simply expressing the same idea in their way. To speak of salvation is to speak of the kingdom. We might express it as follows: God is graciously giving salvation as a free gift (extending His kingdom) to anyone who will receive it (enter the kingdom) through His Son Jesus Christ, and this salvation begins now (the kingdom is in the midst of you) and will be completed in the future (the kingdom will come like a thief in the night). As Paul put it, the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17
). See Jesus; Christ; Salvation .
Holman Bible Dictionary
- Names of God
The name of God holds an important key to understanding the doctrine of God and the doctrine of revelation. The name of God is a personal disclosure and reveals His relationship with His people. His name is known only because He chooses to make it known. To the Hebrew mind, God was both hidden and revealed, transcendent and immanent. Even though he was mysterious, lofty, and unapproachable, He bridged the gap with humankind by revealing His name. See Naming .
The truth of God's character is focused in His name. The divine name reveals God's power, authority, and holiness. This accounts for Israel's great reverence for God's name. The Ten Commandments prohibited the violation of God's name (Exodus 20:7
; Deuteronomy 5:11
). Prophets spoke with authority when they uttered God's name. Oaths taken in God's name were considered binding, and battles fought in the name of God were victorious. Other nations would fear Israel, not because it was a mighty nation, but because it rallied under the Lord's name. In the New Testament, God's name is manifested most clearly in Jesus Christ. He is called “the Word” (John 1:1
), and Jesus himself makes the claim that he has revealed the name of God (John 17:6
). God's name is His promise to dwell with His people.
God of the Fathers Before Moses' encounter with God in the Midianite desert, God was known generally as the God of the Fathers. Various names were used for God under this conception, most of which were associated with the primitive Semitic word El .
El is a generic term for God or deity. It appears in ancient languages other than Hebrew. One can see the similarities to the modern Arabic word for God, Al or Allah. The word El refers to an awesome power that instills within humankind a mysterious dread or reverence.
Even though El was a term for God in pagan or polytheistic religions, it is not a designation for an impersonal force like one would find in animism. Pagans worshipped El as a high and lofty God. He was the chief God in the Canaanite pantheon. See Canaan.
The word El in the Bible is often a reference to deity as opposed to the particular historical revelation associated with the name “Yahweh” (see below). More often than not, however, it is used interchangeably as a synonym for Yahweh, the God of Israel, and translated God.
One of the most interesting uses of El is its alliance with other terms to reveal the character of God. Some of these combinations are:
El-Shaddai “God of the Mountains” or “The Almighty God.” This term is more closely associated with the patriarchal period and can be found most frequently in the Books of Genesis and Job. John 10:1-18
50 underlines El-Shaddai as the name revealed to the patriarchs. God used it to make His Covenant with Abraham ( Genesis 17:1-2
El-Elyon “The Most High God” or “The Exalted One” ( Numbers 24:16
; 2 Samuel 22:14
; Psalm 18:13
). Melchizadek was a priest of El-Elyon and blessed Abraham in this name (Genesis 14:19-20
), refering to El-Elyon as “Maker of heaven and earth.” Canaanites at Ugarit also worshiped god as El-Elyon. El-Elyon seems to have had close ties to Jerusalem.
El-Olam “God of Eternity” or “God the Everlasting One” ( Genesis 21:33
; Isaiah 26:4
; Psalm 90:2
). God's sovereignty extends through the passing of time and beyond our ability to see or understand.
El-Berith “God of the Covenant” ( Judges 9:46
) transforms the Canaanite Baal Berith (Judges 8:33
) to show God alone makes and keeps covenant.
El-Roi “God who Sees me” or “God of Vision” ( Genesis 16:13
). God sees needs of His people and responds. Elohim A plural form for deity. It is a frequently used term and the most comprehensive of the El combinations. The plurality of this word is not a hint of polytheism. It is a plural of majesty. It is a revelation of the infinite nature of God. In the creation narrative, we read: “Then Elohim said, “Let us make man in our image.” (Genesis 1:26
) This name suggests that there is a mystery to the Creator-God which humankind cannot fully fathom. God is absolute, infinite Lord over creation and history. The Christian sees in this term a pointer to the trinitarian reality of creation.
Other Uses The name El is frequently combined with other nouns or adjectives. Some examples are: Israe-el (One who is ruled by God), Beth-el (House of God), Peni-el (Face of God). In the crucifixion narrative ( Mark 15:34
), Jesus employed a form of El when he cried from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi,” “my God, my God,” quoting Psalm 22:1
The Covenant Name The covenant name for God was “Yahweh.” Israel's faith was a new response to God based on His disclosure. This name was so unique and powerful that God formed a covenant with His people based upon his self-revelation. See YHWH .
Yahweh Titles appear in English translations as Jehovah. See YHWH .
Yahweh-Jireh “The Lord will Provide” ( Genesis 22:14
). This was the name given to the location where God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in the place of Isaac. This name is a testimony to God's deliverance.
Yahweh-Nissi “The Lord is my Banner” ( Exodus 17:15
). Moses acribed this name to God after a victory over the Amalekites. The name of God was considered a banner under which Israel could rally for victory. The Lord's name was the battle cry.
Yahweh-Mekaddesh “The Lord Sanctifies” ( Exodus 31:13
). Holiness is the central revelation of God's character. God calls for a people who are set apart.
Yahweh-Shalom “The Lord is Peace” ( Judges 6:24
). This was the name of the altar that Gideon built at Ophrah signifying that God brings well-being not death to His people.
Yahweh-Sabaoth “The Lord of Hosts” ( 1 Samuel 1:3
; Jeremiah 23:5-6
; compare 1 Samuel 17:45
). This can also be rendered, “The Lord Almighty.” It represents God's power over the nations and was closely tied to Shiloh, to the ark of the covenant, and to prophecy. The title designates God as King and ruler of Israel, its armies, its Temple, and of all the universe.
Yahweh-Rohi “The Lord is my Shepherd” ( Psalm 23:1
). God is the One who provides loving care for His people.
Yahweh-Tsidkenu “The Lord is Our Righteousness” ( Jeremiah 11:20
; Jeremiah 33:16
). This was the name Jeremiah gave to God, the Righteous King, who would rule over Israel after the return from captivity. He would establish a new kingdom of justice.
Yahweh-Shammah “The Lord is There” ( Ezekiel 48:35
) This is the name of God associated with the restoration of Jerusalem, God's dwelling place.
Other Names Baal This was the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon. In some ancient religions, Baal and El could be used interchangeably. There were tendencies within Israel to identify Baal with Yahweh, but Baal worship was incompatible with Hebrew monotheism. Prophets, such as Elijah and Hosea, called the people away from these tendencies and back to the covenant.
Adon (or Adonairo ) This is a title of authority and honor. It can be translated “Lord.” It is not exclusively a title for deity because it is used in addressing a superior, such as a king or master. In this sense, it is used to ascribe the highest honor and worship to God. Adon or Adonai was often used in conjunction with Yahweh. In time, Adonai became a substitute for Yahweh. In the postexilic period, it took on the connotation of God's absolute lordship.
Symbolic Titles A prominent characteristic of Scripture is its use of figurative language. Many of the names for God are symbolic, illustrative, or figurative.
Ancient of Days ( Daniel 7:9
:13 ,Daniel 7:13,7
:22 ) The picture presented is of an old man who lived for many years. This, of course, is not a literal description of God, but a confession that He lives forever and His kingdom is everlasting. His rule encompasses the expanses of time. Unlike the portrait presented in other religions where the gods are bound within time, Yahweh is active in time and history. He gives history meaning and is drawing it to a conclusion. He is from “everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 90:2
Rock ( Deuteronomy 32:18
; Psalm 19:14
; Isaiah 26:4
) God is strong and permanent. Yahweh is sometimes identified as “The Rock of Israel.”
Refuge ( Psalm 9:9
; Jeremiah 17:17
) God is a haven from the enemy.
Fortress ( Psalm 18:2
; Nahum 1:7
) God is a defense against the foe.
Shield ( Genesis 15:1
; Psalm 84:11
) God is protection.
Sun ( Psalm 84:11
) God is the source of light and life.
Refiner ( Malachi 3:3
) God is purifier.
Political Names Many descriptions of God came from political life.
King In the Ancient East, it was common to address gods as king. Kingship was also ascribed to Yahweh. His covenant people were to obey Him as a Sovereign. This title is the key to understanding the kingdom of God, which is the most frequent title used in Scripture to describe God's rule.
Judge The Judge was the political ruler during the time of tribal confederacy. Yahweh is the Judge who arbitrates disputes, sets things right, and intervenes for Israel in its military campaigns.
Shepherd God is frequently described as a Shepherd. This was a nurturing term to describe the care given to His covenantal people. It also had political or ruling connotations. Yahweh is the Shepherd King ( Ezekiel 34:1
). In the New Testament, the image of God as shepherd is continued in parables (Luke 15:4-7
) and in John's portrayal of Christ as the Good Shepherd (1618067048_8 ).
God the Father In the Old Testament, the word father is used for God to describe the close kinship that He enjoys with His worshipers. There are many figurative references to God's fatherhood. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” ( Psalm 103:13
). God is a “father to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:9
) and speaks of Israel as His “son” (Exodus 4:22
; Hosea 11:1
Father is the distinguishing title for God in the New Testament. Jesus taught His disciples to use the Aramaic “Abba,” a term of affection that approximates our word Daddy , to address the heavenly Father. See Abba .
Father takes on a richer meaning when it is joined with other designations.
Our Father . Jesus taught His disciples to address God in this manner when they prayed (Matthew 6:9
Father of mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3
Father of lights (James 1:17
Father of glory (Ephesians 1:17
When the Father title is juxtaposed with the word Son , the significance of God's name in relation to Jesus Christ is understood. Christ's claim to have come in his Father's name reveals that He was God's unique representative (John 5:43
). He shares the Father's essential authority and works done in his Father's name bear witness to this special relationship (John 10:25
). Christ has provided a full revelation of God because He has clearly declared His name (John 12:28
; John 17:6
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
, Names of
Names are more than labels. In Old Testament times a name expressed identification, but also identity. Significant meaning often attached to a name. Names had an explanatory function (cf. Abigail's explanation about her husband, "He is just like his name — his name is Fool"
). Name changes were important, since a message attached to the name. Abram (great father) became Abraham (father of a multitude) (Genesis 17:5
; 32:28 ). In some sense a name was the expression of an inmost reality.
Scripture makes much of the name for deity because in the name lies a theology. "I am the Lord, that is my name!" (Isaiah 42:8
; cf. Exodus 15:3
). The name of God is a surrogate for God himself (Psalm 54:1
; Proverbs 18:10
; Jeremiah 23:27
). To give attention to the name (i.e., to God himself) is to put oneself in the place of blessing (Malachi 3:16
God ( Elohim [ Genesis 1:1
). Elohim [ Genesis 31:29
; cf. Nehemiah 5:5
). Job and Psalms have most of the 238 occurrences of El [ Numbers 23:19
; Deuteronomy 32:4
), jealousy (Deuteronomy 5:9
), and compassion (Nehemiah 9:31
; Psalm 86:15
), but the root idea of "might" remains.
The word Eloah
(60 times), occurring most often in Job, etymologically underscores the idea of "power." The term is also generic for "god, " and while it refers most often to the true God, it can refer in instances to any god.
(God), a plural of Eloah
, occurs more than 2,250 times, sometimes with an addition such as "God of Abraham/Israel, " but mostly it is free standing. Next to Lord (Yahweh), Elohim
is the major designation for God. Elohim
is generic, (as are El
) and refers to "deity" but comes virtually to be a name for the true God. All three are represented in the Septuagint as theos ("God"), which is also the New Testament term for God. Elohim
sums up what is intended by "god" or the divine.
The plural form (although used with verbs in the singular form) is likely a plural of majesty or perhaps of intensity, either of deity or of power to signify "highly or intensely powerful." The plural form is accommodating of the doctrine of the Trinity. From the Bible's first sentence the superlative nature of God's power is evident as God (Elohim [ Genesis 1:3,6,9
). His actions also bespeak his power, enabling barren women such as Sarah and Rebecca to conceive (Genesis 18:10,14
; 25:21 ), bringing an oppressed people out of Egypt (Exodus 20:2
), and with power raising Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 1:1-4
). Believers, Peter writes, are "shielded by God's power" (1 Peter 1:5
). In the name Elohim
is fullness of divine power.
Compounds with El . El Elyon . A pervasive compound is El 'Elyon (lit. God, most high). derives from the root "go up, " "ascend, " so that El 'Elyon may be thought of spatially as the highest. Abraham mentions El 'Elyon when addressing Melchizedek ( Genesis 14:18,19,20,22
). Closely linked to temple services, twenty of its forty-five occurrences are in the Psalter. Sometimes the compound is construed as a name: "It is good to make music to your name, O Most High" (Psalm 9:1
). El 'Elyon denotes exaltation and prerogative and belongs to "monarchical theology" for it speaks of absolute right to lordship. In the same vein may be found the question, "Who is like you?" ( Psalm 35:10
). Yet this pointer to hierarchy is not about a God of arbitrariness, but about power in the service of life.
El Shaddai . To Abraham God appears as God Almighty, El Shaddai ( Genesis 17:1
). The designation "Shaddai, " which some think is the oldest of the divine names in the Bible, occurs forty-eight times, thirty-one of which are in Job. The traditional rendering "God Almighty" is debated. A consensus of sorts holds that "shaddai" is to be traced, not to the Hebrew, but to an Accadian word that means "mountain" so that the expression produces a meaning like, "'El, the One of the mountains." If so, El Shaddai highlights God's invincible power. Or, the name may point to his symbolic dwelling. The juxtaposition of El Shaddai [ Numbers 24:16
; Psalm 91:1
) may suggest that El Shaddai is a God who is chief in the heavenly council, whose residence was sometimes broadly associated with mountains ( Habakkuk 3:3
Other Compounds with El . Some compounds with El register a significant encounter with Elohim or may be loosely associated with certain geographical sites. The list would include El Ro' ("God of seeing, " Genesis 16:13
), El Bethel ("God of Bethel, " house of God, Genesis 35:7
), El 'Olam , ("Everlasting God, " Genesis 21:33
), and El Berith ("God of Covenant, " Judges 9:46
Yahweh/Yah . yhwh, the tetragrammaton because of its four letters, is, strictly speaking, the only proper name for God. It is also the most frequent name, occurring in the Old Testament 6,828 times (almost 700 times in the Psalms alone). Yah is a shortened form that appears fifty times in the Old Testament, including forty-three occurrences in the Psalms, often in the admonition "hallelu-jah" (lit. praise Jah). English Bibles represent the name yhwh by the title "Lord" (written in capitals to distinguish it from "lord"
[ Philippians 2:11
In the postexilic period the Jews, for reverence reasons, did not pronounce the name but substituted for it the word adonai
(lord), and in written form attached these vowels to the tetragrammaton. The resulting misguided pronunciation of the name yhwh as a three-syllable word, Y
ehovah, continued in English Bible translations until early in the twentieth century. Evidence from Greek usage in the Christian era points to the two-syllable pronunciation, "Yahweh."
The meaning of the name yhwh may best be summarized as "present to act (usually, but not only) in salvation." The revelation of the name is given to Moses, "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14
), and later in a self-presentation, "I am the Lord" (Exodus 6:2-8
). The name yhwh specifies an immediacy, a presence. Central to the word is the verb form of "to be, " which points in the Mosaic context to a "being present, " and may in Israel's later history, as some suggest, have come to mean "I (and no other
) Am" (Isaiah 41:4
; 43:10 ). Such was Paul's understanding (1Col 8:4,6
; 1 Timothy 2:5
). Quite possibly we need to hear the Old Testament meaning for Yahweh behind the words of Jesus when he speaks of himself as "I am" ("It is I, " Matthew 14:27
; "I am the one, " John 8:24,28
, 58 ). For Moses and for Israel the question was not whether the Deity existed, but how that Deity was to be understood.
The name yhwh was probably given to Moses as a new revelation; the "faith" that came to be associated with the name yhwh, although in continuity with that of the patriarchs, was different from theirs. Mosaic Yahwism differed from patriarchal religion in that Mosaic Yahwism stressed, among other matters, divine intervention in oppressive situations and holinessfeatures not central to patriarchal religion.
The theological significance that attaches to the name yhwh is multiple. Judging from the etymology, but more particularly from the context in which the name is disclosed (Exodus 3:12,14
; 6:2-8 ), the name signifies "presence." God is "with, " he is near and among his people. This overtone of presence is reiterated in the naming of the wilderness structure as "tabernacle" (lit. dwelling), and in the promised name Immanuel ("God with us, " Isaiah 7:14
; Matthew 1:23
). Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on him (Psalm 145:18
) for deliverance (107:13
), forgiveness (25:11), and guidance (31:3). Yahweh is dynamically near, but as God (Elohim
) he is also paradoxically transcendent.
The name yhwh defines him as involved in human struggle. Yahweh's name is forever tied, through the exodus event, with salvation and liberation (Exodus 15:1-13
; 20:2-3 ). The salvation promise given in Exodus 6:6-8
is an expansive one, including intimacy with God and blessings of abundance, but is decidedly bracketed first and last with "I am Yahweh." The name yhwh is prominent in salvation oracles ( Zephaniah 3:14-17
) and in petitions (Psalm 79:5,9
; 86:1 ). The salvation dimension of the name recurs in the announcement of the incarnation: the one born is to be called "Jesus" for (as an echo of the name yhwh) "he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21
). In the name yhwh God's character as the savior of a people is revealed.
Theologically the name of Yahweh resonates with covenant, partly because in the explication of the name in Exodus 6:6-8
the covenant formula is invoked ("I will be your God and you will be my people"). The name yhwh is a name to which Israel can lay particular claim. In covenant, matters such as justice ( Isaiah 61:8
) and holiness (Leviticus 19:2
) have an extremely high profile.
The name yhwh is anything but empty. The name carries overtones of presence, salvation defined as deliverance and blessing, covenantal bondedness, and integrity.
Compounds with Yahweh . Yahweh of Hosts . The most pervasive compound with Yahweh is "Lord of hosts, " which occurs 285 times in the Bible and is concentrated in prophetic books (251 times) especially in Jeremiah and Zechariah. The hyphenation has a double-edged meaning. As a military term it signifies that Yahweh is, so to speak, "Commander-in-chief" (1 Samuel 17:45
). The "hosts" or "armies" may be heavenly beings, part of the "heavenly government" (1 Kings 22:19
), the astral bodies of sun, moon, and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19
), or Israel's armies (1 Samuel 17:45
). As a military title, it signifies that God is equal to any adversary and well able to achieve victory. The Septuagint sometimes translates the compound as kyrios pantokrator
(Lord Almighty); this designation appears also in the New Testament.
A second "edge" to the compound is more royal than military, since it is monarchs who in the ancient Near East and Scripture are said to be "enthroned upon the cherubim" (1 Samuel 4:4
; 2 Kings 19:15
; Psalm 80:1
). The expression "Lord of hosts, " frequent in worship-type psalms (especially those that mention Mount Zion), emphasizes God's royal majesty. It designates God as the regnant God (Psalm 103:19-21
), the enthroned God whose royal decrees will carry the day (Isaiah 14:24
; Jeremiah 25:27
The title addresses religious pluralism, both past and present. God retains exclusive prerogative as deity. Any competing ideology is idolatry, whether that be the ancient worship of Baal or the modern preoccupation with technique, nationalism, or militarism. The title underscores God's presence, but also the force behind divine decisions affecting political history (Isaiah 19:12,17
; Jeremiah 50:31
Less Frequent Compounds with Yahweh . Several hyphenations or compounds are attached, for the most part, to some notable experience, as with Yahweh-Nissi ("The-Lord-is-my-Banner") where "banner" is understood as a rallying place. This name commemorated the desert victory of Israel against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:15
). From the wilderness experience of bitter waters at Marah emerges another such "name": Yahweh Rophe ("The Lord who heals, " Exodus 15:26
; cf. Psalm 103:3
). Abraham memorialized God's provision of a sacrifice in the name Yahweh-jireh ("The Lord will provide, " Genesis 22:14
). Jeremiah identifies the name of the "Righteous Branch" as "The Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:5-6
). Names for structures in which hyphenated Yahweh names occur include Gideon's altar, named Yahweh-shalom ("The Lord is peace, " Judges 6:24
) and the temple Yahweh-samma ("The Lord is There, " Ezekiel 48:35
Yahweh and Elohim . The combination, "Yahweh Elohim " (Lord God), is found in Genesis 2,3 (nineteen times; twenty-one times elsewhere). A double name was not strange for deities in the ancient Near East. The double name in Genesis 2:4
b-3:24 , may be to emphasize that the majesty of God that attaches to the name Elohim
in Genesis 1 is not to be separated from the immediacy of a Yahweh in the garden. (English Bibles commonly also employ "lord God" to translate adonai Yahweh
The Deity named Yahweh (Lord) is identical with Elohim [ Deuteronomy 6:4
) underscores that identity, as do expressions like "Yahweh your/our God." Yahweh as God is exclusively God: "This is what the Lord saysIsrael's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 44:6
Titles, Epithets, Figurative Language . There are over one hundred descriptive "names" for God. The subject is large and the adjectives are overpowering.
Holy One . Of the fifty-six lexical attestations to God's holiness in the Old Testament, many include the name/title of "The Holy One" or "Holy One of Israel, " which occurs thirty-one times in the Old Testament, twenty-five occurrences being in Isaiah. The demand for human holiness is rooted in divine holiness or cleanness (Leviticus 19:2
; 21:6 ). The "entrance liturgies" stress the importance of moral and ritual cleanness (Psalm 15 ; 24:3-6 ). Holiness speaks of God as supraworldly, as "Other, " and as one virtually unapproachable in majesty (1 Samuel 6:20
; Isaiah 6:3
; 33:14-16 ).
Ruler . A highly significant epithet for God, which is strikingly metaphorical, is "Ruler." The term occurs forty-three times. It is clustered in poetic passages in the prophets and the Psalter. The idea of rule is expressly asserted in the enthronement psalms (93,96-99), but is already found in Psalm 2 . This suggests that the entire Book of Psalms should be read with an emphasis on God's rulership. The origin of the epithet precedes the Israelite monarchy. It signals rulership and sovereignty, and so reinforces the names for God such as El Elyon and Lord of hosts ( Psalm 84:3
). Kingly rule, however, also called for defense of the poor and needy (72:4) and deliverance of those victimized by wickedness (98:9). Around it cluster other epithets/metaphors, such as Judge (Isaiah 33:22
; cf. Psalm 99:4
Father . The Old Testament designation of God as Father (Deuteronomy 32:6
; Isaiah 63:16
; 64:8 ; Jeremiah 3:4,19
; 31:9 ; Malachi 2:10
) is employed often in the New Testament: by Paul (Ephesians 1:3
; 3:14-19 ; 4:6 ; 5:20 ; 6:23 ; cf. Romans 1:7
; 8:15 ; 15:6 ; 1Col 8:6
); by Jesus (Mark 8:38
; 11:25 ; 13:32 ; cf. "Abba , Father, " Mark 14:36
). It is the word for God in the Lord's prayer (Luke 11:2
). The epithet is strikingly frequent in John (108 times) and also in Matthew (forty times). The range of meanings include those of authority and discipline, but also those of compassion, care, protection, and provision.
Other Titles, Epithets, Figurative Language . "God of the ancestors (fathers)" is a title associated with the patriarchs, and especially with God's promises to them (Exodus 3:13
). Other titles are "God of Abraham" (Genesis 28:13
; 31:53 ; 1 Chronicles 29:18
), "Fear of Isaac" (Genesis 31:42,53
), "Mighty One of Jacob" (Genesis 49:24
), and especially (more frequent than the foregoing three) "God of Israel" (Numbers 16:9
; 1 Samuel 5:8
; Psalm 41:13
Rich symbolism is also found in role descriptions that include language pictures like judge (Isaiah 33:22
), warrior (Exodus 15:3
), and shepherd (Psalm 23 ). God is also pictured as a mother who gives birth, nurtures, and trains (Deuteronomy 32:18
; Isaiah 49:15
; Hosea 11:1-4
). God is spoken of in metaphors such as Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18,31
), the stability of which is proverbial.
Honoring the Name of God/Lord . That God discloses his name means that his name can be invoked, but it should not be invoked "in vain, " carelessly or glibly as in an oath (Leviticus 19:12
), or misused in other ways (Exodus 20:7
). Jesus instructed us to pray, "Hallowed be your name" (Luke 11:2
). In stressful times one calls on the name of the Lord (Psalm 79:5
; 99:6 ; Zephaniah 3:9
). Foremost among the ways God's name is to be invoked is honorifically. His name is to be praised (Psalm 7:17
; 9:2 ). Other admonitions call for blessing the name (103:1
), offering thanks to the name (106:47
), or ascribing glory or blessedness to the name (96:8; 113:2
Elmer A. Martens
See also Fatherhood of God ; God ; God, Name of ; Presence of God
Bibliography . S. Dempster, Revue Biblique 98 (1991): 170-89; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament ; D. N. Freedman, Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God, pp. 5-107; J. Goldingay, Tyn Bul 23 (1972): 58-93; C. D. Isbell, HUCA 2 (1978): 101-18; J. G. Janzen, Int 33 (1979): 227-39; G. A. F. Knight, I AM: This Is My Name ; L. Koehler, Old Testament Theology ; H. J. Kraus, Theology of the Psalms ; H. Kleinknecht, et al., TDNT, 3:65-123; G. T. Manley and F. F. Bruce, IBD, 1:571-73; E. A. Martens, Reflections and Projection: Missiology at the Threshold of 2001, pp. 83-97; T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God: The Meeting and Message of the Everlasting Names ; R. W. L. Moberley, The Old Testament of the Old Testament ; J. A. Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name ; G. H. Parke-Taylor, Yahweh: The Divine Name in the Bible ; M. Riesel, The Mysterious Name of YHWH ; H. Rosin, The Lord Is God: The Translation of the Divine Names and the Missionary Calling of the Church ; J. Schneider, et al., NIDNTT, 2:66-90; H. T. Stevenson, Titles of the Triune God: Studies in Divine Self-Revelation ; N. J. Stone, Names of God ; W. A. Van Gemeren, JETS 31 (1988): 385-98; R. de Vaux, Proclamation and Presence, pp. 48-75; W. Zimmerli, Old Testament Theology in Outline ; W. Elwell, TAB, pp. 10-34.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- Kingdom of God
The heart of Jesus' teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3,5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2
); Jesus' earliest announcement, "The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15
; cf. Matthew 4:17
; Luke 4:42-43
); the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, "your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10
); in the Beatitudes, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3,10
); at the Last Supper, "I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25
); and in many of Jesus' parables (Matthew 13:24,44
, 45,47 ; Mark 4:26,30
; Luke 19:11
It was once popular in certain circles to argue that the expressions "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" referred to two different realities. It is now clear, however, that they are synonyms. This is evident for several reasons. For one, the two expressions are used in the same sayings of Jesus, but where Matthew uses "kingdom of heaven, " Mark or Luke or both use "kingdom of God." Second, Matthew himself uses these two expressions interchangeably in 19:23-24,
"it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Finally, we know that "heaven" was frequently used as a circumlocution for "God" by devout Jews. Due to respect for the third commandment ("You shall not misuse the name of the Lordyour God"
), pious Jews used various circumlocutions for the sacred name of God (YHWH) in order to avoid the danger of breaking this commandment. One such circumlocution was the term "heaven." This is seen in the expression "kingdom of heaven" but also in such passages as Luke 15:18,21
("Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you") and Mark 11:30
Various Interpretations Despite the centrality of this expression in Jesus' teachings, there has been a great deal of debate over the years as to exactly what Jesus meant by it. One reason for this is that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists ever defined exactly what they meant by this expression. They simply assumed that their hearers/ readers would understand.
The Political Kingdom . According to this view Jesus sought to establish a Davidic-like kingdom in Jerusalem. This kingdom was political in nature and sought to free Israel from the Romans. Jesus was in essence a political revolutionary who sought to arm his disciples (Luke 22:35-38
), entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as a king (Mark 11:11
), challenged the political establishment by cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-18
), urged people to rebel by not paying their taxes (Mark 12:13-17
; is reread to teach the opposite of its present meaning ), enlisted zealots as disciples (Mark 3:18
), used the taking up of the cross (which was a symbol of zealot sacrifice for enlisting disciples Mark 8:34
), and was crucified as a political rebel (Mark 15:26
) between two other rebels (Mark 15:27
This interpretation has found few supporters over the years, but it is continually raised. It is an impossible view, however, for the evidence against it is overwhelming. The presence of a tax collector among the disciples is impossible to explain if Jesus were a revolutionary, for tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the Romans and hated by zealots. Such teachings as Matthew 5:9
("Blessed are the peacemakers"); 38-42 ("If someone
forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles"); 43-47 ("Love your enemies"); Matthew 26:52
("all who draw the sword will die by the sword"); Mark 12:13-17
("Give to Caesar what is Caesar's") simply do not permit such an interpretation. To claim that all such sayings in the Gospels are inauthentic or to reconstruct their supposed original form in a radical way is to manipulate the evidence to sustain a thesis, rather than to allow the evidence to determine the thesis.
The "Liberal" or Spiritual Kingdom . During the height of theological liberalism the kingdom of God was understood as God's rule in the human heart. One of the favorite passages used to support this was Luke 17:20-21
, "the kingdom of God is within you." Any eschatological thoughts associated with this expression were seen as unrefined, primitive, Jewish apocalyptic thinking that Jesus never outgrew and that was only the "husk" and not the "kernel" of his teachings. Or they were interpreted as symbols of the inner rule of God in the heart. The kingdom of God was God's spiritual reign in the life of the believer that resulted in an inner moral ethic. This ethic focused on Jesus' teachings concerning the universal Fatherhood of God, the infinite value of the human soul, and the love commandment.
Liberal theology, which was built upon a belief in continual evolutionary progress and the ultimate goodness of humanity, was dealt a mortal blow with the coming of World War I, and the subsequent years have done nothing to revive its naive optimism in humanity. This, along with the rediscovery of the eschatological element in the teachings of Jesus, brought about the demise of this interpretation. Like the liberal interpretation of the nineteenth century, modern attempts to eliminate the eschatological dimensions of Jesus' teachings by seeing them as symbols to which the present reader gives his or her own meaning, are also impossible to accept. One simply cannot eliminate the eschatological dimension of Jesus' teachings. The biblical evidence will not permit it.
The "Consistent" or Future Kingdom . At the turn of the nineteenth century the eschatological dimension of Jesus' teachings was rediscovered. It became evident that Jesus was not a nineteenth-century liberal but a first-century Jew. As a result it was clear that Jesus must have thought to a great extent like a first-century Jew. Since the kingdom of God was seen by most Jews in Jesus' day as a future, supernatural kingdom that would bring history to a close, it was logical to think that Jesus thought similarly. Jesus' sayings concerning the kingdom of God would have been understood by his audience as referring to such a kingdom, and since Jesus made no radical attempt to correct such thinking, we must understand his teachings on the kingdom of God as eschatological.
According to this view Jesus taught that the kingdom of God, which would bring history to its end, was future. Yet this event lay not in the far distant future. On the contrary, it was very near. It had not yet arrived, but it was to appear momentarily. Signs and powers of the kingdom were already at work, and prefigurements of its glory were already present. As a result Jesus taught along with announcement of the kingdom of God's nearness an "interim ethic" for this brief in-between period of history. Soon the Son of Man would come, the final judgment would take place, and world history as we know it would cease. During this in-between period believers were to live a heroic ethic. They were to avoid divorce, refrain from marriage, love their enemies, turn the other cheek, not retaliate, give to whoever had a need.
It is clear that this interpretation takes seriously the future dimension of Jesus' sayings concerning the kingdom of God. On the other hand, it ignored another kind of saying found in the Gospels, which involves the announcement that the kingdom has already in some way come. These sayings involving the arrival of the kingdom of God were usually seen as inauthentic and later creations of the church by advocates of this view.
The "Realized" or Present Kingdom . In response to the former view, which arose in Germany, there arose in England an opposing view. According to this view Jesus did announce the coming of the awaited kingdom. However, he did not announce that it was coming in the near future. On the contrary, he announced that it had already arrived. Now in Jesus' ministry the kingdom of God had already come. There was therefore no need to look for something in the future. The Son of Man had already come, and he had brought with him the kingdom. Nothing is still awaited. In its entirety the kingdom of God was realized in the coming of Jesus.
This view, like the "consistent" view, has the benefit of taking seriously certain biblical data. There is no doubt, as we shall see, that there are in the Gospels sayings of Jesus that announce that the kingdom has come. They do not announce simply that it is near. They announce that it is here . It is evident that these last two views, unless modified in some way, contradict one another. Yet both offer convincing biblical evidence in support of their views. (This cannot be said of the first two views.) Like the "consistent" view, this view also tends to see the biblical data that contradicted it as being inauthentic. Only in this instance it was the sayings that spoke of the kingdom of God being future that were inauthentic.
The Biblical Evidence It is evident that there is biblical evidence to support both the "consistent" and "realized" views. In certain passages, for example, it is clear that the kingdom of God is future. In the Lord's prayer we pray "Your kingdom come" ( Luke 11:2
), and the kingdom must as a result be future. Jesus' saying that "Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord, ' will enter the kingdom of God" must also refer to a future event, for he continues "Many will say to me on that day " (Matthew 7:21-23
). Jesus' institution of the Last Supper also looks forward to "that day when I
drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25
). Other passages associate the coming of the kingdom of God with the final judgment (Matthew 5:19-20
; 8:11-12 ; 25:31-46 ; Luke 13:22-30
). It cannot be denied therefore that there are numerous passages in the Gospels that indicate that Jesus understood the kingdom of God to be still future.
In other passages, however, it is equally clear that the kingdom of God is already present. Jesus told his hearers "if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Luke 11:20
; cf. Matthew 12:28
). In four of the other instances where the same verb "has come" (ephthasen ) is used in the New Testament it clearly means "has arrived, " is "now present" (Romans 9:31
; 2Col 10:14
; Philippians 3:16
; 1 Thessalonians 2:16
). In the other instance where it is future, however, the tense is future (phthasomen , 1 Thessalonians 4:15
). Elsewhere Jesus declared that his coming marked the end of the old era when he said "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached" (Luke 16:16
). Here two distinct periods of history are distinguished. The former is referred to as the period of the Law and the prophets. The second is the period of the kingdom of God. John the Baptist is seen as a bridge who both brings the "old" to its conclusion and announces the breaking in of the "new." This "new" thing, which cannot be mixed with the old (Mark 2:21-22
), which gathers the outcasts (Matthew 11:4-6
) and the lost tribes of Israel (Mark 3:13-19
; Matthew 19:28
), which manifests signs and marvels (Matthew 13:16-17
), which inaugurates a new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25
), is nothing other than the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus also announced that now already the long-awaited messianic banquet had begun (Luke 14:15-24
). The kingdom of God was now in their presence (Luke 17:20-21
— "among" is a better translation than "within" ).
How should one deal with this apparently contradictory data? Should we decide the issue by majority vote? If so, the "future" interpretation would win over the "present" one, because there are more examples in its support in the Gospels. Yet rather than claim that one group of these sayings is "authentic" whereas the other is not, we should first analyze carefully exactly what the word "kingdom" means. Perhaps this will provide the key for understanding what Jesus meant by the "kingdom of God." How is the term "kingdom" to be understood? Should it be understood statically as denoting a realm or place? If this is correct and "kingdom" refers to a territory or piece of real estate, then it is evident that the kingdom of God cannot have arrived. There has been no geographical or cosmic changes that have taken place in the coming of Jesus. The planet remains today essentially as it was in the time of Christ. No new territory exists. No place on this planet can be designated "the kingdom of God." On the other hand, should we understand the term dynamically as referring to the rule or reign of a king?
Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the term "kingdom" (malkut
) is understood as dynamic in nature and refers primarily to the rule or reign of a king. It is seldom used in a static sense to refer to a territory. As a result, in the vast majority of instances it would be better to translate the expression "kingdom of God" as the "rule of God." That Jesus understood it this way is evident from such passages as Luke 19:12
("A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king, " literally "to receive a kingdom
"; cf. also v. 15); Matthew 6:33
("seek first his kingdom"); and Mark 10:15
("receive the kingdom of God like a little child").
Understood as the "reign of God" it is possible for Jesus to announce that in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises the reign of God has arrived. In Jesus' coming Satan has been defeated (Luke 10:18
; 11:20-22 ), the outcasts of Israel are being gathered as predicted (Mark 2:15-16
; Luke 14:15-24
), the Old Testament promises are fulfilled (Luke 10:23-24
), the resurrection of the dead has begun (1 Corinthians 15:20
), a new covenant has been inaugurated (1 Corinthians 11:25
), the promised Spirit has come as the prophets foretold (Mark 1:8
). Indeed the kingdom is "already now" realized in history.
However, the consummation of the "already now" still lies in the future. The coming of the Son of Man, the final resurrection, faith turning to sight, are "not yet." The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. Thus the kingdom of God is "realized" and present in one sense, and yet "consistent" and future in another. This is not a contradiction, but simply the nature of the kingdom. The kingdom has come in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. A new covenant has been established. But its final manifestation and consummation lie in the future. Until then we are to be good and faithful servants (Luke 19:11-27
Implications If the kingdom is both already now and not yet, the believer must be on guard against the danger of emphasizing one aspect of the kingdom at the expense of the other. A one-sided emphasis on the "already now, " which emphasizes miracles, healing, victory over sin, and gifts God has given his church, and ignores the "not yet" may lead to an optimistic triumphalism that will result in disillusionment. Jesus' teachings concerning the tribulation(s) that lay ahead ( Mark 13 ; Matthew 24-25 ; Luke 21 ) warn against such optimism. The symbol of discipleship Jesus gave to his disciples is that of bearing a cross! The crown awaits the consummation. The enjoyment of the firstfruits of the kingdom must be tempered by the fact that we still live by faith and not sight. We still long for the perishable to become clothed with the imperishable, the mortal with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53
). In the meantime we are called to endure to the end.
On the other hand, a one-sided emphasis on the not yet may lead to defeatism and despair in this life and a neglect of the joy and victory over sin and death in the Spirit's having already come. The "gates of Hades" (Matthew 16:18
) shall not overcome the church! Even in this life because the kingdom has come, we can be "transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18
). The now and the not yet must be held in tension. Believers can rejoice in having passed from death into life and in the abiding presence of the Spirit of God. But the victories in the present life, are also accompanied with all too many defeats.
Believers are thus encouraged both by the victories of the already now and the defeats of the not yet. The former having provided a taste of the glory which is to be revealed (1 Peter 5:1
) causes us to long all the more for the not yet. Similarly, because of the experience of defeat, sorrow, and in seeing the corruption of the world around us, we also long all the more for the not yet that awaits. Thus Christians continue to look longingly toward the blessed hope (Titus 2:13
), when the Son of Man will return and bring the kingdom to its consummation. Having tasted of the firstfruits that are already realized, the believer prays all the more earnestly "your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10
) and "Marana tha" ( 1 Corinthians 16:22
; cf. Revelation 22:20
Robert H. Stein
See also Jesus Christ
Bibliography D. C. Allison, Jr., The End of the Ages Has Come ; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God ; B. Chilton and J. I. H. McDonald, Jesus and the Ethics of the Kingdom ; O. Cullman, Christ and Time ; R. H. Hiers, The Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Tradition ; W. G. K mel, Promise and Fulfillment ; G. E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom ; G. Lundstršm, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus ; N. Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus ; R. Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom ; R. H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings ; W. Willis, ed., The Kingdom of God in 20th-Century Interpretation .
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
The Old Testament . In the Old Testament the plural form elohim
became the favored generic term for God. This development is lost in obscurity, but the evidence from ancient literature contemporary with the Old Testament attests to the use of the plural form in other cultures around Israel as the designation of a single deity that embodies the entirety of divine life. Some have taken the plural form as a plural of intensity, representing the indescribable, or as an abstract plural, corresponding to our words "Godhead" or "divinity, " and there is justification for both views.
Precisely when and why the Israelites took this title for their God, rather than the singular el
or eloh , is not known. However, based on the Book of Genesis and the story of the revelation of the divine name in Exodus 3:14
, we suspect that elohim
, along with other terms, was widely used by the Israelites from the earliest times as a designation for God.
In the course of time, however, God revealed his distinctive divine name, Yahweh, by which Israel should know him. This name, according to Genesis 4:26
, was known in the prepatriarchal era, but Exodus 3:14
leads us to the conclusion that it assumed a new and more distinctive meaning in the Mosaic era.
As a general rule, the literary context has a great deal to do with which of the terms (Elohim
or Yahweh ) the text used to designate Israel's God. Elohim
seems more appropriate for contexts that require a universal view of the deity, or contexts that connote his power and omnipotence, while Yahweh may be more appropriate for those contexts that deal with Israel and Israel's historical experience, or the deity's personal presence and involvement in Israel and the world. For example, the creation narrative of Genesis 1 employs Elohim
since the creation of the universe is in view and God is acting in his sovereign role, but the parallel narrative of Genesis 2 introduces the dual name Yahweh God (Lord God), in view of Yahweh's personal involvement in the creation of man and woman.
God as Creator . It is significant that the first impression of God the Bible gives is God as Creator of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1
). The phrase "heavens and earth" is a merismus, which means that everything in the universe as we know it was created by God.
The Bible makes no attempt to prove that God exists. Rather, the universe is the affidavit of his existence. Moreover, the fact that he is the Creator means that the world belongs to him. So when God offers Abraham the land of Canaan, it is his right to give it because he created the world.
The gods of Canaan represented natural forces; there was no clear dividing line between nature and the divine. On the other hand, the creation narratives of Genesis 1-2 , which are best understood as depicting twenty-four-hour days, establish the theological premise that God is distinct from nature, that he brought nature into existence, and that he controls nature. In addition to being God's supreme witnesses in the world, human beings are also his representatives to bring the natural world into the service of God ("Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground, " Genesis 1:28
). Thus the God of the Old Testament is from the beginning the God who stands apart from nature and rules over it. As the story of the Old Testament unfolds, it is appropriate to describe him as the God of history.
The creation narrative puts forward what is perhaps, along with the doctrine of the incarnation in the New Testament, the most remarkable concept for making God known in all of Scripture, the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27
; 9:6 ). This distinctive of creation meant that God related to humankind personally and imparted something of his own nature to his creation. While the history of interpretation has offered no unanimity on the meaning of this phrase, the most satisfactory explanation is a comprehensive one. The image of God implies all that is distinctive to human nature: the spiritual, psychological, sociological, and physical aspects, all of which are reflections of God's nature. The spiritual implies that human beings are made to relate to their Creator; the psychological, that they are reasoning and emotional creatures; the sociological, that they are created to relate to one another; and the physical, that man's corporal form reflects an essential aspect of God's—not in the sense that he has a body, but in the sense that his being is multifaceted and multifunctional. He speaks, sees, hears, and walks, for example, without requiring the physical organs that human beings must have to enable these activities. The ultimate expression of this attribute of God's being is his incarnation in human flesh. So the image of God is not limited to one aspect of human nature, like the mind or the spirit, but is comprehensive. Therefore, when God created man in his image, he left the indelible stamp of his nature on human beings. They were not divine, but reflected the nature of the deity.
The view of God as personal is grounded in the image of God. He is a self-conscious being, who has will and purpose. The parallel creation narrative of Genesis 2:4
b-25 further communicates this view of God as personal in anthromorphic terms as he forms man from the dust of the ground, breathes the breath of life into his nostrils, makes the birds and beasts of the field, fashions woman from the man, and finally plants a garden for their habitat in Eden. This initial portrait of God, therefore, invests the biblical story with a view of God who is personal. Regardless of whether the creation narrative is early or late in its composition, its canonical position in the Old Testament gives it anterior advantage, and the biblical reader proceeds through the Old Testament with this view of the Creator God who was personally involved in the world he created. So one is not surprised to find him walking in the garden, addressing Adam and Eve, laying out plans to save a morally debased world, covenanting with Abraham, intervening on Moriah to spare Isaac's life, speaking to Jacob in a dream, and preserving Joseph in a foreign and hostile environment in order to procure his will for the people he had chosen to bear his name in the world.
God of the Fathers . With the introduction of the patriarchs of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), God became known as the "God Almighty, " El Shaddai ( Genesis 17:1
; 28:3 ; 35:11 ; 48:3 ; 49:25 ; Exodus 6:3
; Ezekiel 10:5
), and less frequently "God everlasting" (El Olam ), "God of seeing" (El Roi ), and "God most high, " El Elyon ( Genesis 21:33
; 16:13 ). The latter two terms arise out of specific historical situations and suggest something about God's involvement in the lives of his people.
The name of God is personalized in the general title "God of your fathers, " referring to the patriarchs (Exodus 3:13-16
; Deuteronomy 1:11,21
; 4:1 ; 6:3 ; 12:1 ; 27:3 ; Joshua 18:3
, etc. ). He is also called the "Shield of Abraham" (Genesis 15:1
), the "Kinsman of Isaac" (Genesis 31:42,53
), and the "Mighty One of Jacob" (Genesis 49:24
). As a rule, the Canaanite deities were named by the place where they were worshiped, but in this personal form, the God of the patriarchs is revealed as an omnipresent God who is involved in history and the lives of those whom he chooses.
God of Israel's National Events. The Exodus . Perhaps the single most important era for the shaping of Israel's God-concept, despite the opinions of the historical critics, was the Mosaic era, and no text is more important in this regard than Exodus 3:14
, where God identifies himself to Moses as I am who I am . This text stands alongside Romans 2:4-5
in theological importance. Its complementary text is Exodus 6:2-9
. Numerous explanations have been offered for this enigmatic statement. The key word is the verb "to be" (haya
), occurring here in the imperfect form (lit. I will be who I will be), but the Hebrew imperfect verb can bear both the future and the present senses ("I am who I am"). The shortened form of the name occurs at the end of the sentence, "I am has sent me to you." And Exodus 3:15
equates I am with the God of the fathers: "The Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacobhas sent me to you."
The most satisfactory explanation of this name is one that grows out of the context. Recognizing this, Walter Eichrodt suggested that its significance lies in the promise of God's presence. When Moses objected to Yahweh's plan that he should go to Pharaoh, Yahweh said, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12
). This meaning not only takes seriously the immediate context, but the larger context of the Old Testament as well. Yahweh (the vocalization of the name is the contribution of modern scholars) will be with the Israelites. This promise of God's presence became a crucial factor during the Mosaic era and was the point of contention in Exodus 33 , when Yahweh responded to the golden calf episode by first declaring that his presence would not accompany Israel into Canaan. Moses thereupon pleaded with God to go personally with them, or otherwise not take them into Canaan at all. God acceded to this request and promised his personal presence. This promise of divine presence with Israel reaches its summit in the Old Testament text of Isaiah 7:14
, when God promises that a child would be born and that his name would be Immanuel, which means "God is with us."
The sum of the matter is that God or Yahweh is a God who is present with his people, present in the world he made, present in peace and war, present in crisis and serenity, especially present in the soon-occurring exodus from Egypt toward which Exodus 3:14
God as the saving God can be seen on a universal scale in the story of the flood (Genesis 6-9 ), and on a personal scale in the stories of the patriarchs (Genesis 12-50 ). This notion of God is raised to a national level in the exodus from Egypt, a narrative for which the Joseph story serves as an appropriate transition from the view of God as personal Savior to national Savior. God's saving Israel from Egypt becomes the paradigm of saving in the Old Testament, so that when Israel faces the national crisis of exile to Babylonia, the imagery of God's saving Israel from Egypt is the standard with which the return to Judea is compared. In the historical books, God as the saving God delivers his people from national oppression and humiliation, and in the psalms, delivers Israel and individuals from personal danger, sickness, and other threatening circumstances. While God's saving action in the Old Testament is largely set in time and space, it is the foundation on which the New Testament builds the doctrine of eternal salvation that transcends time and space. Further, already in the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13-53
:12 ), God's saving action becomes passive suffering and thus forms a link between the Old Testament view of God and the New Testament view of the suffering Messiah.
Sinai . What God had done on behalf of the patriarchs, he had done on Israel's behalf. Sinai was a summing up of his work that preceded it and that aimed to make Israel Yahweh's special people and shape them into a community loyal to him. God began this work when he created the world, and continued it in his work of grace executed in the lives of the heroes and heroines of faith, like Enoch who walked with God (Genesis 5:22,24
), Noah who found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8
), Abraham whose faith God counted as righteousness (Lamentations 4:13-16
6 ), and Joseph whom God sustained in Egypt through adversity and success (Genesis 39:23
). Sinai was the place where God revealed himself to Israel. This revelation took the form of Torah (law ). The reconciling work God had engaged in since the fall (Genesis 3 ) assumed institutional status in the Torah. God instituted an agent (priesthood) to serve as an intermediary of reconciliation between himself and Israel, a place (tabernacle) where he and Israel should meet each other in worship, and a means (sacrificial system) that provided the formal expression of Israel's and the individual's desire to do God's will and to live in obedience to his commandments.
While the Torah was the broad revelation of God's will and Israel's responsibility toward God, God put his signature on the Torah in a more formal arrangement called a covenant (berit
). The covenant he made with Abraham was activated on a national level at Sinai and designed with particulars that formalized the relationship between Israel and Yahweh. Not only did God commit himself to Israel, but he called Israel to a binding commitment to him.
In this covenant, God established the theological premise of his oneness: "The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4
). While this premise distinguishes him from the pluralistic notion of deity so common in the ancient Near East, it also makes a statement about his inner unity, involving his unity of both person and purpose. Although the Old Testament can speak of God in plural terms (e.g., "let us make man in our image, " Genesis 1:26
), his plurality of inner being, perhaps indicative of the interactive and complex nature of his person, functions with a unity of purpose. He should not be conceived of, therefore, like the ancient pantheon of gods and goddesses who sometimes worked against one another's purposes. Rather, he is one in person and purpose. Thus, Israel was called to worship God with a singleness of devotion, giving their loyalty to him and to no other gods (Exodus 20:3-6
). The prophets later helped Israel understand that this undivided loyalty was in fact directed to the only God who existed (e.g., Isaiah 45:5
). The other gods were mere figments of the imagination.
The Sinai covenant had a dual purpose, stipulating how God would relate to Israel and how Israel should relate to God and the world. The same vocabulary that describes God in the Old Testament is used to call Israel to covenant loyalty.
For example, God calls Israel to be holy premised on his being holy: "Be holy, for I am holy" ( Leviticus 11:44-45
; 19:2 ; 20:26 ; 21:8 ). The Sinai legislation provides no more distinctive concept of God than God as holy. This character of God by extension applies to the high priestly garments, the tabernacle, the Sabbath, and Israel. The Book of Leviticus is so devoted to the concept of holiness that chapters 17-20 have been called the Holiness Code. Basically the word "holy" connotes separation from the profane and appointment to Yahweh's service. Yahweh's holiness involves his power (1 Samuel 6:20
), transcendence, and moral perfection (Isaiah 6:3
; 35:8 ). His commandment to be holy does not imply the assumption of his incommunicable attributes by human beings such as transcendence and omnipotence, but requires one to fear him and to seek moral perfection. Isaiah, deeply moved by his encounter with the holy God (Isaiah 6:3
), sensed his own uncleanness (v. 5). His recognition of God's holiness is confirmed by his frequent reference to God as the Holy One of Israel.
The moral core of the covenant, however, was described by another word, hesed, a rich concept requiring multiple terms in translation, such as "steadfast love, " "lovingkindness, " "mercy, " "faithfulness, " "trustworthiness, " and "loyalty." This "trustworthiness" or "loyalty" that characterized God is set down in the ethical centerpiece of the law, the Ten Commandments, where God declares that he will show hesed "to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:6
). In some instances, it also carries the idea of compassion (Jeremiah 16:5
Whereas God related to Israel with a steadfastness of love and compassion, Israel should also relate to him with the same kind of loving loyalty. The prophet Micah (6:8) articulated it most clearly: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (hesed ), and to walk humbly with your God."
Thus, at Sinai God spells out his holy and loving character toward Israel and calls Israel to the same kind of holy living and loving loyalty toward him and toward their neighbors.
Wilderness Wanderings and Conquest . The Old Testament God as a God of war becomes prominent in the era between the exodus and the monarchy. Already at the exodus from Egypt the Israelites proclaimed him as "warrior" (Exodus 15:3
), and the writer of Samuel speaks of Israel's battles belonging to the Lord (1 Samuel 18:17
; 25:28 ).
The Book of Judges operates on the thesis that Joshua tried to carry out the commandment to destroy the Canaanites, but the period of the judges operated by a new principle, allowing the Canaanites to remain in the land in order to test Israel's resolve to follow the Lord (Judges 2:20-23
). In Judges, God intervenes in history at critical moments and manifests his sovereignty over nations.
Yet we must admit that the command to wage war against the Canaanites and God's involvement in such wars pose a challenge to Old Testament theology. At the same time, we also have to remember that the Old Testament speaks out of an ancient context in which survival was most often the survival of the fittest. War was part of life. When human beings reject God's kindness, he resorts to methods that characterize sinful human naturenot to redeem the methods, but to redeem Israel and the world. Paul articulated this principle clearly in Genesis 1:27
. Another dimension of the command to exterminate the Canaanites is that they posed a threat to Israel's faith (Exodus 23:23-33
; Numbers 33:50-56
; Deuteronomy 7:1-6
; Judges 2:2
). Even in the time of Abraham, the Lord noted that the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) was not yet full (Genesis 15:16
Thus, God's presence was critical to the success of the conquest of Canaan. He involved himself personally (Joshua 6:8
; 10:11,12-14 ) and the writer of Joshua took account of this in his statement, "the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel" (10:42).
Exile and Restoration . Israel's history concludes with the fall of Samaria in 722 b.c., and Judah's history dips into a hiatus called the exile with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. In these national crises, God is seen as a God of judgment and wrath, but in the return from exile and the restoration, the Old Testament presents him as the God of compassion and salvation.
From the time of Moses to Malachi, God sent his servants the prophets, as his messengers. Whereas he had spoken to the patriarchs in dreams and visions, and to Moses directly, he spoke to Israel through the prophets. Elijah was the exemplary prophet, calling Israel to return to Yahweh's covenant and worship only him. Through these intermediaries God again took the initiative in revelation and action as he had done in Israel's past, choosing the time and place where he would speak to his people. Just as he had entrusted his word to Moses, he also gave his word to the prophets and equipped them to speak it boldly (Isaiah 6:6-13
; Jeremiah 1:9-10
Their message was basically twofold. First, God is Judge . The sins of Israel had earned God's just punishment, which came ultimately in the form of conquest and the exile of Israel (722 b.c.) and Judah (586 b.c.), a series of events that the prophets were inclined to call the day of the Lord ( Amos 5:18-20
). Yahweh was not a despot whose actions were irrational, but he acted according to the principles of justice that he had set forth in the Torah, and he required that Israel operate by the same standard of justice. At the heart of that system was the demand for undeviating loyalty to God and his will. This meant, as the Torah had commanded, that the Israelites should have no other gods besides Yahweh. Thus, the disloyalty for which the prophets indicted Israel was best summed up in their blatant idolatry. The Book of Lamentations stands as an assessment of Judah's fall and a witness to Yahweh's mercy, which is renewed every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24
). The writer attributes the disaster to the failure of the prophets and priests, who were more interested in personal gain than the souls for whom they were responsible (1618067048_18 ). The restoration, originating in God's mercy, would be hastened by the people's despairing of their sin and hoping in the Lord. With a prayer for restoration the book closes (5:19-22).
Second, God is compassionate . The final word in prophetic theology is grace. No prophet knew that better than Isaiah, who announced the era of restoration as a time when Yahweh would comfort his people and proclaimed Yahweh's forgiveness of Judah's sins (40:1-2). God's actions to restore Judah after the exile to Babylonia would be as mighty and compassionate as his deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt; that is, he would perform a second exodus (Isaiah 35 ; 45 ). This miraculous era would manifest Yahweh's greatness in ways that would summon the nations to turn to him for salvation (Isaiah 45:22
). So deep was God's compassion for Israel and the world that he would assume the form of a servant and take on himself Israel's suffering and sin (Isaiah 53:4-6
The God of Israel's Sages and Singers. God of Israel's Sages (Wisdom) . God is known in the Old Testament as the God of wisdom in the Torah and Prophets, but this attribute never receives the kind of emphasis it does among the wise men (sages) and in the Wisdom Literature they produced (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes). The idea of God's wisdom implies his understanding of the universe and its operation, both on the broad scale and the personal level. Thus, the wisdom of God includes his knowledge and administration of the created order (Job 38-39 ). It further implies that God implanted a certain orderliness and regularity in the universe, and that same design should be reflected in human life. It is this latter dimension of wisdom that contributes to the personal and practical expressions of wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. Thus, one must live an orderly (moral) life in society so that society might become a reflection of the orderly universe, which in turn reflects something important about the nature of God.
Rather than emphasizing the precepts of the Torah or the oracles of the prophets, wisdom stresses the design of nature as a means of divine revelation. Since God, then, speaks more indirectly through nature than the Torah and prophets, it is not surprising that the Book of Ecclesiastes describes him as sometimes elusive, particularly in revealing to men and women the meaning of life. Yet to the persistent, a modicum of meaning can be found in the routine and work of life (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
The God of wisdom operates on the principle of just rewards and punishment. That is, he rewards the righteous and punishes the wickeda principle promoted by Job's friends and espoused by the Book of Proverbs. Yet the view of Wisdom Literature is broad enough to consider those cases when the innocent suffer and the wicked prosper. This is the problem of Job; even though the principle of retribution is basic to an orderly universe, Job insists that God does not always honor that principle. When Yahweh finally speaks to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1-42
:6 ), he does not defend the principle or explain the breath of it, but proclaims his majestic knowledge and expert operation of the universe he made, and expounds the finite understanding of man. While human beings would argue the issue on the level of justice, God would prefer to argue it on the level of grace. So in the epilogue of Job (42:7-17), he not only restores Job's possessions but doubles them.
God of Israel's Singers (Psalms) . To sum up the view of God in psalms poses the same difficulty as the Torah and the Prophets. In the psalms God is so multifaceted and multifunctional that any summary is inadequate. Yet the psalms are a microcosm of Old Testament religion. They contain some law, some prophecy, and some wisdom. Whatever portrait of God one finds in these genres of the Old Testament can generally also be identified somewhere in the psalms. God is Creator and Sustainer (Psalm 104 ), Redeemer and Savior (Genesis 15:6
), Vindicator of the Innocent (Psalm 26 ), and Giver of mercy to the guilty (Psalm 51 ). Although they portray God as the God of Israel who Acts on their behalf in history, the psalms are the basic Old Testament witness to personal religion. They are indeed Israel's hymnbook of worship, but they also document God's responsiveness to the devout worshiper who comes to him for mercy and help.
The New Testament . From the Christian point of view, the God of the Old Testament is the same God as in the New, except he manifests himself in different ways, most importantly in the incarnation. Yet the basic attributes of God are the same as those of the Old Testament. In one sense, the study of God in the New Testament is a study of Christology, even though that is not the focus of this article.
The generic term for God in the New Testament is theos, but kurios , the Greek rendering of the Hebrew YHWH, is frequently used instead of the generic term. Long before the Christian era, the Jews had stopped pronouncing the divine name so as not to disrespect of defame it. Instead, they gave to this four-consonant name (YHWH) the vowels of another Hebrew word, Adonai, which means "my Master" or "my Lord." Rather than pronouncing it, they pronounced the loan word, Adonai . When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the name YHWH or Adonai was rendered by the Greek word kurios, which means "Lord." So the God of the New Testament is frequently called kurios or Lord, as is Jesus.
The New Testament, like the Old, does not try to prove God's existence. Rather it declares, also like the Old Testament, that he exists and manifests himself in