Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Names of God

How many of you have problems with remembering names? When you meet a person, how do you remember their name? One method I use to help me remember someone’s name is through association. I use mnemonics to help me remember names like using Roy G. Biv to help me remember the colors of the rainbow. A similar method of identification is used in the Bible. God gives us pegs to help us to remember His name.

Why is a name important? In the 21st century, we use names to distinguish one person from another. There is little consideration in the naming of our children as far as identification is concerned. When Nicole and I gave our children names, we looked through the “The Complete Book of Baby Names.” We did name our daughter Lillian because she was born on Easter (our Easter Lily).

Names also identify. Many people call me “Pastor Don” to identify me as a leader in the church. My daughters call me daddy which identifies me as their father. We even have nicknames that we use for people as well. Spouses have special terms of endearment for one another.

Unlike our way of identification through names, a person’s name in Scripture stood for something specific. Ex: God came to Abraham and Sarah and tells this couple who by the way are beyond child-bearing years that they will have child (Genesis 18:1-15; 21). Sarah who was in the tent laughed. When they had a son, they named him Isaac (laughter). God changed people’s names in Scripture (Jacob which means “supplanter” to Israel “power of God” when he wrestled with the angel all night. Jesus changed Simon’s name which means “God has heard” to Peter “rock.” See Genesis 32:28 and John 1:42).

When it comes to the names of God in the Bible, they are important because they become miniature portraits of who God is. Names identify God to us and become pegs so that we will remember His nature and personality. The ability to call upon the name of God was extremely important in the Ancient Near East because this meant that the person had the ability to invoke His presence and call upon His help.

Why do we need to know and understand the names of God? As a believer, you represent the name of God. Paul tells us that we have been bought with a price; you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). You belong to God and wherever you go you represent Him in your words and actions. This is very important.

Ken Hemphill gives a powerful illustration of when he was going off to college. As his dad was walking him out to the car to wish him well, he thought, “Oh great, my dad is walking out to the car to give me the list of the do’s and dont’s while I am gone.” When they reached the car, his dad put his hand on his shoulder and said, “I’ve got one piece of advice for you. Remember this: You have my name. Don’t take my name anywhere I wouldn’t take it, and don’t do anything with my name that I wouldn’t do with it. That is my only request.”

No list of rules. Just one statement that changed his life forever. Instead of God giving us a book full of rules (by the way imagine how enormous a book it would be to cover every little sin and wrongdoing!) God gave us one instruction about His name: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

A second reason why it is important to know and understand God’s name is for the benefits that come with such a study. Through His Word, God reveals His character and nature to us resulting in worship and praise of our great God.

Based upon Psalm 8, Sandy Patty wrote the following song on the name of God.

O, Lord, our Lord / How majestic is Your Name in all the earth
O, Lord, our Lord / How majestic is Your Name in all the earth
O, Lord, we praise Your Name / O Lord, we magnify Your Name
Prince of peace, mighty God / O, Lord God Almighty

Through knowing God’s name, we receive salvation (John 1:12), we worship together through His name (Matthew 18:20), pray through His name (John 14:12-14), and receive power through His name (Proverbs 18:10). Knowing the name of God produces great benefits for every believer. Let’s take a look at the various names of God used in the Bible:

1. Yahweh: Though not the first instance of this name for God, Exodus 3 is the most significant passage for the understanding this name. At the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, Israel was in bondage under the thumb of Pharaoh and Egypt. Because of the tyranny, the people of Israel begin to cry out against Egypt and plead with God for deliverance. At this time, God speaks to Moses who was a shepherd on the other side of the desert. God appears to Moses in a burning bush and commissions Moses with the task of delivering Israel from the hand of Pharaoh.

Reluctant to return to Egypt, Moses gives a series of excuse of why he is the wrong man for the mission. One of the reasons that Moses gives for his reluctance is the people will not know who this God is. They will not know God’s name. In Exodus 3:14, God reveals His name to Moses: Yahweh.

If you look at the verse, you will notice that the letter of the word LORD is all capitalized. Many translations will capitalize the word to distinguish it from other names for God (the word Lord with the first letter capitalized is the word Adonai “Lord.” The word means “master, owner” and stresses one’s relationship to God as his master and Lord (Gen. 18:2; 40:1; 1 Sam. 1:15; Ex. 21:1-6; Josh. 5:14). In Hebrew, the word Yahweh is written with four consonants. The Jews highly regard this name for God so much so that they will use another pen to write this name then discard the pen never to be used again. (Note: When the Masoretes, Jewish scholars, added vowels to the Hebrew consonants, they added the vowels of the name Adonai to the letters YWHW translated JHVH in German which gives us the name Jehovah).

The Hebrew name Yahweh comes from the Hebrew verb “to be or exist.” The name refers to God as being independent and self-existent. In and of Himself, God exists apart from anything or anyone else. All of life remains in Him. There are wonderful applications to the believer in this name. God is the one who exists in the past, present, and future. Moses had heard of the historical record of God through the stories and songs of his people. He knew that this God was the God of his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But now, Moses needed to know that this God who existed in history also works in the present (calling and commissioning of Moses) and works in the future (deliverance of Israel from Egypt). The name Yahweh confirms to us that this God is the One who acts powerfully and redemptively in your life past, present, and future.

Several times in the New Testament, Jesus used this name to refer to Himself as God. The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Yahweh is ego eimi “I am.” In John 8, Jesus speaks to the Jews about the gladness of Abraham who rejoiced to see the day of Christ. When the Jews asked how Abraham could have possibly seen Christ, Jesus responded, “…before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). The verb is to be translated in the present tense not in the historical present as some may suggest rendering it “I have been.” The only instances of eimi used in the historical present tense in the New Testament are in the third person (see Daniel Wallace, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 515, 530-531). There are other statements that Jesus used with ego eimi “I am” (John 6:51; 8:12, 23; 10:9, 11, 36; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; 19:2). What Jesus was saying in these “I am” statements is He is God in the flesh.
Several combinations of Yahweh are used in Scripture to reveal greater understanding of God.

a. Yahweh Jireh. In Genesis 22, God pus Abraham’s faith to the test. God tells Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, on the altar. As Isaac is lying on the altar and Abraham has his hand drawn to kill the young boy, God stops him before the knife is wielded. God speaks to Abraham and tells him to take the ram in the thicket as the sacrifice. Abraham calls the place Yahweh Jireh “the Lord provides.” Because of Abraham’s obedience, God rewards Him with blessings. God will provide for your needs. You need to obey and trust.

b. Yahweh Nissi. In Exodus 16, the people grumbled against the Lord because they missed the delicious meals in Egypt. They complained about the quality of food in the wilderness and the direction of their leader Moses. They questioned Moses’ intent to bring them out into the wilderness to die. Later in the chapter, the Lord provided bread and quail from heaven. In Exodus 17, Israel’s faith was tested again with a lack of water. They grumbled against Moses and God because they were thirsty. The Lord directs Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and water gushed out giving the people drink. Then we are told about a battle between Israel and the Amalekites. As Joshua led the people out to battle, the Lord stationed Moses on a hill with his staff. Whenever Moses held the staff up in the air, Joshua and Israel prevailed. Over time Moses’ arms became tired and when he would lower the staff, the Amalekites would prevail. In order to keep the staff of God in the air, Aaron and Hur assisted Moses by keeping the staff aloft until Israel defeated the Amalekites. After the battle, Moses built an altar and named the place Yahweh Nissi “the Lord is my banner” (Exodus 17:15). The name is a reference to the staff which was used and seen as a symbol of God’s power.

c. Yahweh Shalom. In Judges 6, the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and tells him that God will use him to defeat the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, he realized that he was incapable of standing in the presence the messenger of God as a mere man. The angel of the Lord assured him that there was no need of fear, so Gideon built and altar and named it Yahweh Shalom “the Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24).

d. Yahweh Sabbaoth. Usually rendered “Lord of hosts” in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 17, David approaches Goliath who is armed with a sword, spear, and javelin, but David comes to Goliath in the name of Yahweh Sabbaoth “the Lord of hosts” referring to the Lord as a commander of armies in heaven and on earth (1 Samuel 17:45).

e. Yahweh M'kaddesh. God is the One who purifies, cleanses, and sanctifies His people (Ex 31:13; Lev 20:8).

f. Yahweh Rohi. In Psalm 23:1, David explained the character of God in terms that the people would readily understand. To an agrarian culture whose means of economic support would be through shepherding, David explains that God is our Shepherd who cares for his people.

g. Yahweh Tsidkenu. The Hebrew word Tsidkenu comes from the Hebrew root meaning “stiff or straight.” The word is used in Leviticus God is the One who provided righteousness to men through His Son Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16).

h. Yahweh Shammah. The name renders “The Lord is there.” Ezekiel uses this name for God to describe His personal presence in the millennium (Ezekiel 48:35).

i. Yahweh Elohim. The combination of the personal name of God and Elohim highlights the character of Israel’s God compared to other counterfeit gods (Judges 5:3).

j. Yahweh Rapha. In Exodus 14, God delivers Israel from the hand of Pharaoh by dividing the Red Sea allowing Israel to cross on dry land. As Pharaoh and his army pursue Israel through the sea, God delivered His people from Pharaoh once and for all as the waters collided with the Egyptian army drowning them all. Though Israel responded with joy over the deliverance, they soon turned to grumbling and complaining against the Lord. The Israelites complained and grumbled about the lack of food and water. They did not trust God to take care of their physical needs. The Lord promised that if they choose to obey Him, then their obedience would result in blessings. He would not send any of the plaques or diseases that Egypt experienced because the Lord is Yahweh Rapha “the one Who Heals" (Exodus 15:26).

2. Elohim. The Hebrew word el (or eloah) means “strong or mighty one.” The word is used in the generic sense to refer to a deity. The Old Testament uses the plural form of the word to refer to the one God of the Bible (elohim) specifically that the God of the Bible is the true one and only God compared to the many false deities. Some have suggested that the plurality of the word is used to refer to the triune nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Though possible, the name Elohim does not necessarily point to the triune nature of God. Plural forms of Hebrew words often intensify the meaning of the word. In this sense, the plural form of el may refer to the majesty or splendor of God rather than to His triune nature. Indeed, the God we serve is a mighty and powerful God. He is One who created the world and the universe (Genesis 1:1) and created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26).
Several combinations of Elohim are used in Scripture to reveal greater understanding of God:

a. El Shaddai. In Genesis 17:1, the Lord appeared to Abraham who was 70 years old man with no children, yet God promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. What looked like an impossibility in the eyes of Abraham, God reveals Himself as El Shaddai “God Almighty.” He is the One who has ultimate power over everything.

b. El Elyon. The Hebrew root of elyon means “go up or ascend.” When used with the name of God, it is rendered the “very highest God” (Deuteronomy 26:19).

c. El Roi. In Genesis 16, Abraham’s wife, Sarah, coerced Abraham to bear a child through her handmaid Hagar. Once Hagar conceived and bore Abraham a child, Sarah despised Hagar and compelled Abraham to send Hagar out of the camp. While Hagar was alone in the desert, God appeared to her with a prophetic message about her son Ishmael. After seeing the angel of the Lord, she referred to Him as El Roi “the One who sees” her in her distress (Genesis 17:13).

d. El Gibhor. Isaiah uses this title of God to refer to the coming of the Messiah who would reign over God’s enemies and establish rule on earth (Isaiah 9:6).

e. El Olam. The Hebrew phrase is rendered “from everlasting to everlasting.” The psalmist speaks of God as one who is without beginning and end. He is not defined or limited by space or time (Psalm 90:1-3).

3. Theos. Theos is translated “God” in the New Testament. The name is used in Romans 3:29-30 to refer to the one true God who is the God of both the Jews and the Gentiles. God is transcendent and immanent and holy (God is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3. Also see Acts 17:24-31). This name is used of Christ as God in John 1:1, 18; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Tit. 2:13; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1.

4. Kurios. The name Lord is translated kurios in the New Testament. The word is used in a broad sense to refer to someone in a place of authority (used to refer to an owner in Luke 19:33, to husbands in 1 Peter 3:6, to masters in Colossians 3:22, or to Christ as “Sir or Rabbi” in Matthew 8:6. Also kurios is used to refer to Jesus as God (John 20:28; Romans 10:9).

5. Father. In the Old Testament, the term Father was used in the corporate sense of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. The New Testament makes the name Father more personal because each believer in Jesus Christ now has a personal and loving relationship with God (Hebrews 12:5-11).

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