Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 3 Page 16 March 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

The Names of God


By D. Gene West


Surely every person who is worthy of the name Christian desires to know more and more about God. It seems that there should be such an insatiable desire to know God that one would never be satisfied with the knowledge that he has. The more one learns about our God the more closely he is drawn to him, and the more deeply he can love him, and the greater will be the desire to serve him. Since our subjective faith is based upon knowledge, one reason there is such a limited faith in God is because there is such a limited knowledge of him.


One of the ways for us to get to know more and more about God is to study his nature, or the characteristics of his nature that are revealed in Scripture. We can only know about God what he has chosen to reveal about himself in nature and in special revelation. Nature anyone can see, investigate and study, thus learning some important things about our God, but it is by special revelation, that is, through a study of the Scriptures, that we can come to know God as he would have us know him.


Another way for us to come to know God is to come to know the names by which he has chosen to reveal himself in Scripture. Since no single name can possibly reveal God, the Scriptures use several names, or we should say that in the Scriptures God has revealed himself using several names, and as a result of this we can come to know him better, love him more deeply and serve him more reverently.


The first name through which God has chosen to reveal himself in Scripture is the only name that is used for God in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. This name is plural in its nature and actually reveals to us that the Godhead was involved in the creation of the universe in which we live. (By Godhead we mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.) The name is Elohim, which is sometimes spelled Alehim. This name is a plural noun and is used in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis with singular verbs and adjectives, which indicates that while there is one true and living God in our universe, he is made up of more than one personality. This same name is used in the original of Isaiah 45:5, in which Elohim said to the prophet, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God beside Me. I will gird you though you have not known Me.” Though this concept is hidden from the English reader of the Bible, and is one we have difficulty understanding, it is used over and over again in the Hebrew Bible. For example, a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to us is found in Ecclesiastes 12:l, which says in the KJV, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth . . .”  But the literal rendering of these words would be, “Remember thy Creators in the days of thy youth . . .” indicating that the three personalities of the Godhead each had his part in the creation of the universe and of man. Hence, Elohim, while plural in personality is the one true God. (Incidentally, the plural use of names for God could be multiplied many times in the Old Testament.)


Furthermore, this name Elohim, or Alehim, is formed from the Hebrew “Alah,” which means “to swear.” From this we learn that Elohim is a covenant making God. This gives us an insight into the events of creation that we might otherwise overlook, and that is that the creation came about as the result of an oath of God, or it came about as a result of an oath that Elohim had taken to make a covenant with man. This God did in the very beginning, in the giving of the law of Moses, and in the creation of the Christian era. God is a covenant making God, and as such he has a right to expect man to conform to the agreements that he has made with us, and for our good. We also learn, from the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis, that God’s covenant with man has always remained in tact until man has done something to break that covenant. In the case of the Genesis record, he sinned and fell from God’s grace by cooperating with God’s arch-enemy Satan.


Another passage that indicates that Elohim is a covenant making God is found in Genesis 6:13 &18, when God (Elohim) said to Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold I will destroy them with the earth. . . . But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the arkľyou, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” So, we can see that the name Elohim pledges that God is one who makes covenants with man for the blessing of man. We should note here that every covenant God has made with man from the time of the creation, including those made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and others has been for the blessing of man that man might be a serving and worshipful creature in his relationship to God. Is it not strange how we have always rebelled against that which is good for us and good to us in order to turn to something that is ugly and sinful? The perfect covenant made by God is the one that was sealed with the blood of Christ. Praise the name of Elohim!


In the English translations of the Bible, the names by which God is called in the Holy Scriptures are indicated by different English words such as God, Lord, Almighty God, etc. But it is of great interest to study these names as they are found, especially in the Old Testament, and see what shades of meaning can be found that are lost to us in the translation from one language to another. We already looked at the name Elohim, and noted that it is a plural Hebrew word by which the Godhead is called, and refers to the “Us” and “Our” spoken of in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. We also pointed out that the name, due to the background from which it comes, indicates that Elohim is a covenant making God with people in the world.


Now, we turn to a second name by which God is called in the Old Testament, and that name is Yahweh, or Jehovah. This name is most commonly translated by the word Lord in the King James Version of the Bible, while other versions, such as the American Standard, uses the name Jehovah. This name, like all other names for God, shows us qualities, or characteristics about God that can hardly be expressed in other names such as Elohim. As a matter of fact, every name used as a designation for God reveals something of his character to us that some other does not. If this were not true there would be no value in calling him by more than one name.


The name Yahweh, or Jehovah, is found dozens of times in the Old Testament, and denotes a love relationship that God has with those who are his children. It is translated by the word Lord because that word suggests a master-servant relationship, or a father-child relationship. Yahweh is the one who acts on behalf of his children, caring for them, looking out for them, and keeping them from danger by command and counsel. God, who is love, has always had a special place in his heart for the most special of all his creation, namely, man. We alone have occupied the mind of Elohim from the time he planned to create us down to this present time.


The name Yahweh first appears in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis where it is connected with the word Elohim. It was Yahweh Elohim who made the earth and the heaven, who sent no rain upon the earth because there was no man to till the soil, and it was Yahweh Elohim who formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so that he became a living soul. It was Yahweh Elohim (Lord God) who planted the garden in Eden, and placed man in it, and commanded him to till and care for the garden, and forbid him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. All these things were acts of love on the part of Yahweh Elohim, and none of these things were done to create any hardship so far as man was concerned. Hardship, so far as man was concerned, was created by man himself when he chose to reject the love of the Lord God and cooperate with the enemy of God and man known as Satan.


Yahweh Elohim had a deep concern for the happiness and well-being of man, because it was he who looked upon the solitary crown to his creation and said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” Here again we see the love of God demonstrated toward this creature whom he had made, in that he wanted him to have a helper fitting for him so that he would not have to bear the loneliness that he could experience, and so he could bring forth after his own kind, and have beings like himself to love and care for even as God loved and cared for man, the being made in his own image.


The name Yahweh, according to Hebrew scholars comes from two tenses of the Hebrew word “Havah,” which means “One who is what He is.” This name contains the substance of the well-known statement that God made to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” Yahweh or Jehovah is the Being who is always in the present tense, and has no concern with what we call time. It is always now to God, it has always been now, and it always will be now. So, the name Yahweh tells us, not only that God is a God of love, but he is the God always present. Man has always had a living, loving, God who ever lives in the present with him, and who cares for him, and looks after him. Yahweh Elohim is the God of providence!


In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis the names Yahweh Elohim are used for God in every instance except when Satan asked Eve if God permitted the couple to eat of all the trees of the garden. In this instance Satan just called him Elohim, indicating that he did not recognize the love, providence, and concern that God has for man. When Eve replied to the Serpent she too omitted the word Yahweh from the name of God, indicating that she was not as deeply appreciative of the love and devotion of God as she might have been. Let us honor The Lord God with all our hearts and not make the same mistake that was made by our mother Eve. Don’t forget the power, the holiness and the ever present love of God!

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