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. Exodus 6:3
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” ( Jeremiah 23:5-6
4 ; 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 11:20
; 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” ( 1618169853_19 ; 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 (John 10:1-18
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