The Names of God

The Names of God

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Psalm 91:14 has a very special set of promises by God to those who are his redeemed people.

Psalm 91:14, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.”

One of the blessings God promises is to give his people special deliverance and protection. Then God gives a reason for that protection. He says, “because he knows my name.” As his covenant children, we are set in a safe place and are confident there because we know the nature of God. His nature is our assurance, our confidence and certainty that he can never fail us. This is why we love him and hold fast to him. It’s evidence of hearts transformed by God’s redeeming grace.

Certainly atheists and pagans can know the names used for God in the Bible. But that’s not what’s meant in this Psalm. Just being aware of the words used for “god” in any particular language only means you have those words in your vocabulary. But to really “know” the name of God means that you personally understand what his names mean about who he is and what he reveals about himself.

The first petition in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) asks for our Heavenly Father’s name to be “hallowed”. The Greek word for “hallowed” in the original text of Matthew is “hagiasthaeto” (ἁγιασθητω). It’s based upon the word “hagios” (ἁγιος), which is usually translated by the word “holy”. When something is holy it is set aside or marked out as special in a good way. In this case, Jesus tells us that when you pray you should ask for God’s name to be respected as very special.

Every language has general words used for “god”.

They often refer to the True God of the Bible. But at times they are used to refer to human leaders with authority over communities or nations, or to angels, or to other supernatural beings dreamed up by false religions and the imaginations of the lost soul.

In the Old Testament the general Hebrew word for God is the singular noun “el” (אל). It’s often used in the plural form “elohim” (אלהים). The plural doesn’t mean there are more gods than one. Elohim is a “majestic plural”. It’s usually used with singular rather than plural verbs. The Hebrew majestic plural indicates that its object is of a high order. For example, the common Hebrew word for “heaven” is in the majestic plural, “Shamayim” (שׁמים).

When the word for God is in this form, it means the person referred to is of a higher order. Some use this form to support the idea of a Trinity in the Old Testament. Though well intentioned this interpretation reflects a lack of awareness of Hebrew grammar. More importantly the Trinity is not made up of three gods. It is One God eternally existing in three persons equal in power and glory.

Since these were general words for “god” the context has to clarify who is meant by each use of the term. Psalm 82 begins by mentioning God taking his place in the midst of the “gods” to hold judgment.

Psalm 82:1, “… God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (ESV)

My expanded translation of Psalm 82:1 attempts to be more carefully literal, “God (elohim) stands (stations himself) in the assembly of God (el), he judges among (in the midst of) gods (elohim).”

These general Hebrew words for “god” are sometimes used to mean an angel, or a person with high authority such as rulers of some kind over nations or other assemblies. For example in Exodus 21:6 the word “elohim” is translated as “judges” (King James Version). In Psalm 8:5 the King James translates “elohim” as “angels”. In each case the context clarifies who is being referred to.

Commentator John Gill explains about the use of “elohim” in Psalm 82:1. He points out that some translate it as “angels” as in Psalm 8:5. But here he says it refers to civil magistrates, the rulers and judges of the people. They are referred to by this word “elohim”, or “gods”, in Exodus 21:6. Gill says that these in Psalm 82:1 are called “elohim” because they are human leaders commissioned by God. They are to be God’s representatives, “viceregents and deputies under him.”

In the New Testament the common Greek word for God is “theos” (θεος). It’s from that Greek word that we get the word “Theology” the “Study of God”. Again, the context tells what kind of person the word refers to. Though not always, it’s most commonly used in the Bible as the word for the True God, Creator and Lord of all things, our Redeemer and Good Shepherd.

God revealed his special covenant name to Moses.

God’s Covenant name is the Hebrew “tetragrammaton” (four consonants: יהוה) which corresponds with “Y-H-V-H”. The original vowels weren’t written in Ancient Hebrew, just the 4 consonants. It’s often translated as “Jehovah”.

European Scholars writing in German used different consonant letters because their Alphabet is different than the one we use for English. The “Y” and “V” sounds were represented by the German letters “J” and “W”. This produced an academic pronunciation of the name which differs from scholar to scholar. It was sort of a “re-brew” of Hebrew. They range from “Jehovah” to “Yahweh” and some other academic variations.

When Israel was set up as a modern nation after World War 2, a lot of research went into restoring the ancient Hebrew pronunciation. More accurate research in the field of Orthoepy shows that the ancient Hebrew pronunciation was probably “yăh-VĔH”. (See: “Ben-Yehuda’s English-Hebrew Hebrew-English Dictionary” first printed in 1961 based upon the pronunciation guide in the “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” of 1947, 1951 – “Conversation Manual – Hebrew” a Living Language Course text book first printed in 1958, and “Hebrew in 10 Minutes a Day” by Sunset Series printed in 1992. Article at “Hebrew for Christians” about pronouncing this name of God. Video on the pronunciation of the Hebrew letter “vav” as opposed to “wow” by Nehemia Gordon.)

Out of respect, God’s people in the Old and New Testaments generally didn’t pronounce this special name. It was read as “Lord” [In Hebrew “adonai” (אדני), and in the New Testament the Greek “kurios” (κύριος)]. For example: Jesus in Matthew3:3 said “Lord” when quoting Isaiah 40:3. The same with Paul in Romans 9:29 when quoting Isaiah 1:9. There are many more examples where the Holy Spirit led the New Testament writers to use the Greek word for “Lord” when the word “YHVH” appeared in the Old Testament text they were quoting. This is why most English translations represent this covenant name as “LORD” written in all capitol letters (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, ASV, ERV, ISV, and so on …).

It’s not the words themselves that are important or that need to be hallowed. It’s what these names represent. In Exodus 34:6-8 God explains his own name. The name “YHVH” is represented here as “LORD”.

6. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7. keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
8. And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (ESV)

Moses was humbled and moved to worship when he was reminded of all that God is. God’s name is to be hallowed because he is unique above all else. We reverence the words because of what they mean and represent.

Both Testaments sometimes refer to God
by a variety of appropriate titles.

He is called: Lord, King, Savior, Judge, Creator, Sustainer, and many other titles. He is our Father, our Good Shepherd, our BrideGroom, and life giving Holy Spirit.

The simple words for “God” were sometimes used in combination with other words describing God’s attributes. The list below shows five of the compound names in the Old Testament combined with the Hebrew word “El” (אל):
El Elyon (אל עליון): “God Most High” (Genesis 14:19)
El Gibor (אל גבור): “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) describing the Messiah
El Olam (אל עולם): “God Everlasting” (Genesis 21:33)
El Ro-i (אל ראי): “God Seeing” (Genesis 16:13)
El Shaddai (אל שׁדי): “God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Exodus 6:1; Psalm 91:1)

This next list shows ten of the compound names in the Old Testament combined with the Hebew Covenant name of God, Yahveh (יהוה)< which was commonly read as "LORD" Yahveh Elohi Yisrael (יהוה אלהי ישׂראל): "LORD God of Israel." (Judges 5:3; Isaiah 17:6) Yahveh Maqaddesh (יהוה מקדשׁ): "The LORD Sanctifies" (Ezekiel 37:28) Yahveh Nissi (יהוה נסי):"The LORD my Banner" (Exodus 17:15) Yahveh Rapha (יהוה רפא): "The LORD Heals" (Exodus 15:26) Yahveh Ro’-i (יהוה רעי): "The LORD my Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1) Yahveh Sabbaoth (יהוה צבאות):"The LORD of Hosts." (1 Samuel 1:3; 17:45; Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 46:7) Yahveh Shalom (יהוה שׁלום):"The LORD is Peace" (Judges 6:24) Yahveh Shammah (יהוה שׁמה): "The LORD is There." (Ezekiel 48:35) Yahveh Tsidkenu (יהוה צדקנו): "The LORD our Righteousness." (Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16) Yahveh Yireh (יהוה יראה): "The LORD provides" (Genesis 22:14)

God’s name is precious to us as his people.

These names of God give us great comfort and encouragement to know he is all these things for us his people. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that the comfort, forgiveness, and direction God gives us is for the sake of his name. We are here and redeemed to display the amazing nature of our Creator and Savior.

Psalm 23:1-3, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Bob Burridge ©2017
Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted

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