Expressing God's Incomparable Nature

( [email protected] ) Jul 30, 2004 08:37 AM EDT


From Genesis to Revelation, the writers of the 66 books used a mind-boggling number of names for God, in their attempt to reveal the vastness of His character. That amazing number of names is not so evident in English, because our language is not as expressive as the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Modern, and not-so-modern translators of the Bible have done as best they can to communicate those names to us in English, but the full impact can slip past us unless we’re aware of the “tools” the translators used to convey those many names.

In the Old Testament, especially, we can find myriad numbers of names for God, each one denoting just one of the astonishing number that are there – each one a descriptive name for the one and only God.

If you have a good concordance – like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance – one that has both a Greek and a Hebrew lexicon in the back – you can look for yourself and see how many names you can find. Today, let’s look at just a few of those names…

There are three primary names for God used in the Old Testament. The first mentioned is Elohim, which is translated as “God” in our English language Bibles. Another is Jehovah (or Yahweh) which is noted by LORD – in all capital letters (KJV, NIV, NASB all use this method). The third is Adonai, which is printed Lord – caps and lower case (KJV, NIV and NASB).

The name Elohim - which means "the supreme God" – occurs 31 times in Genesis 1, where it emphasizes His strength and creative power. This particular term is used 2,570 times in the Old Testament. It is a plural noun, but when used in reference to the one God Almighty, it will be accompanied by a singular verb. When Elohim is used to refer to God, it denotes the intensification of His majesty and power. For instance, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. In this sentence, the original language (Hebrew) name is Elohim, a plural noun, while the singular verb (bara) is used for "created”.

The most significant name for God in the Old Testament is Yahweh (or Jehovah), appearing 6,823 times. The Hebrew spelling of the name is YHWH. It is a name which expresses God's self-existence, particularly in relation to humanity. The definition of Yahweh (Jehovah) is "self-existent One". It’s interesting to note that “Jehovah” was originally an accidental misspelling of Yahweh, and is actually an incorrect word. However, it has come to be commonly used, so we’ll use it here, too, in order to prevent confusion. The first time Jehovah is used is in Genesis 2:4, which reads, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…” Often, both Jehovah and Elohim occur together, as in this verse, indicating that they refer to the same God. Another of the hundreds of occurrences like this one is in Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” If we replace the English words with the Hebrew, this verse reads, “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Elohim, Jehovah is one.”

Yahweh (Jehovah) refers to God as the self-existent active One, as it is related to the verb *to be* in Exodus 3:14. It also indicates Israel's Redeemer in Exodus 6:6. The name Yahweh (Jehovah) is associated with God's holiness in Leviticus 11:44, 45, His hatred of sin in Genesis 6:3-7, and His graciousness in providing redemption for all in Isaiah 53:1, 5, 6, and 10. In contrast to Elohim, which is used to the exclusion of other names for God in Genesis 1 and indicates His omnipotence, the name Yahweh (Jehovah) emphasizes His care and personal concern for His creation and His intimate and close relationship to it.

Because the name Yahweh (Jehovah) denotes redemption and the personal and intimate nature of God, this name refers to the pre-incarnate Christ, or God the Son. The *humanity* of God in the human form of Jesus was NOT pre-existent. Jesus - the incarnation of God - began 2000 years ago. However, God the Son - the second person of the Trinity – has always existed.

Adonai means "master" and underscores the authority of God. In Genesis 18:27, Abraham uses the term Adonai (printed in the KJV, NIV or NASB as Lord). It is not the intimate name LORD. Rather, in Genesis 18:27, Abraham is appealing to Adonai as "Judge of all the earth".

In the well-known scene with Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, God calls Himself "I AM WHO I AM". This name expresses His character as the dependable and faithful God who desires the full trust of His people. It also reveals God as the Being who is absolutely self-existent, and who, in Himself, possesses essential life and permanent existence. In Hebrew, "to be" does not just mean to exist, but to be active, to express oneself in active being. God is the One who acts. When you understand this, the imperfect tense of the verb becomes clear. God's manifestation to Israel is in the future at the time of the burning bush incident. The "I AM" or "I will be" is God's promise that He will redeem the children of Israel. The people wanted to be reassured that this God would meet them in their time of need, proving His Character and promises. Jesus applied this same name to Himself in John 6:35 and 8:58, thereby revealing Himself to be God. When He did so, the people picked up stones in order to stone Him to death for blasphemy, but He slipped away.

As mentioned earlier, there is a mind-boggling number of names for God , especially in the Old Testament. Let’s look at just a few…

In Genesis 21:33, the name is El Olam, which means Everlasting (or Eternal) God.

In Genesis 17:1 and Job 5:17, the name is El Shaddai, which means God Almighty (or God of Hosts).

In Genesis 14:19 and Deuteronomy 32:8, the name used is El Elyon, or God Most High.

In Exodus 15:26, Deuteronomy 32:39, and Isaiah 45:6-7, the name used is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes two names stand together to refer to God, as in Yahweh Sabaoth (LORD of Hosts or LORD Almighty). When the term El Shaddai is used, it is translated God Almighty.

This list can go on and on and on, so when you have time, you might begin a search on your own, just to discover as many names as you can. Or you can pick up one of the many books that have been written on this subject, which go into much more detail on the myriad names for God to be found in His Word.

Why should you do this? It’s quite simple… so you can become more closely acquainted with the myriad facets to God’s glorious and boundless nature. When you do, you’ll learn some very interesting things, like the fact that Jehovah created the earth. And so did Elohim, El Shaddai, El Elyon, Adonai, Yahweh Sabaoth, and Jehovah Rapha, and all the many other names you’ll find in God’s Word for the one and only Triune God. When you absorb all this, it will bring you one step closer to that wonderful, intimate, one-on-one relationship that you should have with Jesus, and make you better able not only to express His vast, incomparable nature, but to be awed by it.

From Newsong Ministries

Used with Permission