Biblical Names of God
When people introduce
themselves to others, they usually tell their names. In ancient times, individuals
were often associated with names having particular characteristics. Characteristics
of God may be realized from names associated with Him. When God stayed the hand
of Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He provided a ram for the offering. Abraham then
named the place “The LORD will provide” (i.e., Jehovah-Jireh, Genesis 22:14). After the Israelites had escaped
from Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, God promised them that if they would “keep
all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought
on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you” (i.e., Jehovah-Roph’echa, Exodus 15:26). After Joshua had defeated the
Amalekites who fought against Israel shortly after they had crossed over the
Red Sea, Moses “built an altar and called its name, The LORD is My Banner”
(i.e., Jehovah-Nissi, Exodus 17:15).
At Mt. Sinai, God instructed the Israelites to “keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (i.e., Jehovah-M’qaddishchem, Leviticus 20:8).
Gideon built an altar to the LORD in Ophrah of the Abiezrites, and called it
“The LORD is Peace” (i.e., Jehovah-Shalom,
Judges 6:24). Jeremiah predicted the coming safety of Judah and Jerusalem,
saying, “And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR
Jeremiah 33:16). David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd” (Jehovah-Rohi, Psalm 23:1). After Ezekiel described the city of
significant designation of God during Patriarchal times was God’s introduction
of Himself to Abram as “Almighty God”
(i.e., El Shaddai, Genesis 17:1). Isaac wanted “God Almighty” to bless
Jacob as he journeyed to Paddan
When God appeared to Moses at a burning bush, and
commissioned him to lead the Israelites out of
God thus designates Himself as “I AM WHO I AM” and as the “LORD God.” The English word “LORD” (all capitals) in some English Bibles, and as “Jehovah” in others, comes from the Hebrew term Yahweh, or YHWH (without vowel points). Used over sixty-eight hundred times in the Old Testament, YHWH was thought by the Israelites to be too sacred to pronounce. Therefore, when reading Scripture, they substituted the word Adonai (translated as “Lord” without all capitals) for YHWH. In their writings, they inserted vowel points used with Adoni under the consonants of YHWH. Eventually, this practice contributed to YHWH coming into English as “Jehovah.” YHWH first occurs in Genesis 2:4 (“. . . in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”). The word YHWH (the LORD) is frequently used together with the word Elohim (God) – thus, ‘the LORD God’ or as transliterated from Hebrew, ‘YHWH Elohim’ (e.g., Genesis 2:4; Exodus 3:14-16; Deuteronomy 6:4, etc.).
Elohim is the first Hebrew term that is translated as God in the Bible. “In the beginning, God (Elohim) created . . . .” (Genesis 1:1). Elohim is masculine plural. (Like “s” in English, Hebrew words ending with “im” generally indicate plurality.) Elohim is used occasionally in reference to creatures, angels and people in authority, and often in reference to idolatrous gods (plural). But whenever Elohim refers to the true God, verbs, pronouns, or adjectives associated with it are always singular. Elohim is used over twenty-five hundred times in the Old Testament. Whenever Elohim is associated with the true God, it contains ideas that He is creator, preserver, transcendent, mighty and strong. Because El was a common word for god, including idolatrous gods, the true God was sometimes referred to as “God most high” (Genesis 14:18-20; 22, Psalm 57:2) or as the “most high God” (El Elyon, Psalm 78:35, 56; Daniel 3:26; 4:2; 5:18, 21; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; Acts 16:17; Hebrews 7:1).
The designation “I AM WHO I AM” is not essentially different from the designation “the LORD God,” i.e., Jehovah God, or YHWH Elohim. God’s proper name, YHWH (i.e., Jehovah), is derived from the fundamental idea of ‘Being’ (i.e., “I AM”), around which are prismatic ideas, such as causation of being, independence of creation, self-identity in will and purpose, eternal existence, self-revealing and gracious, living personality, covenantal fidelity, and mystery. Hence, God’s name, YHWH, indicates that He is changeless in His purposes, faithful to His promises, able and certain to fulfill them. God’s claim to Moses – “This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations” – underscored the significance of the name YHWH, i.e., Jehovah (Exodus 3:15).
Just as one might know the name of a person but not know the person, one could know a name of God but not know God. Samuel ministered before YHWH, Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:18; 3:1) but he “did not yet know Jehovah, i.e., YHWH” (1 Samuel 3:7). To “know” (yadah, in Hebrew) was to experience. So also one might know (experience) a characteristic of God by one name, but not know (experience) God as designated by another name. God told Moses, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name LORD (YHWH) I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:3). In fact, the Patriarchs knew that the name YHWH applied to God (Genesis 15:7; 22:14, 24:35, 40, 42, 48, 50-51, 56; 26:22; 27:20; 49:18; etc.) but they had not experienced the ‘I AM’ nature of God’s being. Whenever God said that “you shall know that I am the LORD (YHWH) your God” (e.g., Exodus 6:7; 16:11-12; 29:46; Isaiah 52:5-6; Jeremiah 16:21), the statement was always connected with some activity of God that caused people to know (i.e., to experience) the power and person of God.
Before God gave the Ten Commandments at
Copyright ©, October, 2006, by Robert L. Waggoner. Permission is granted to copy and distribute this document for non-profit educational purposes if reproduced in full without additions or deletions. Why not distribute this document to others? For other essays about God and additional information regarding biblical theism, go to the website www.biblicaltheism.com