Friday, May 11, 2007
The Names of God
Identify three primary names of God found in the Old Testament (not including El, Elohim, Adonai). Using a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, indicate what is the theological significance of each of these names. What do these names tell us about God’s character? In what way do they inform our understanding of God's relationship to us? How can they be used in a pastoral setting or in the development of one’s spiritual life?

God has revealed many names for himself in Scripture. These names do far more than simply identify a divine being—they teach us more about the God who is revealing himself. This rich abundance of insight can be demonstrated through identifying and briefly studying three primary names of God found in the Old Testament.

One name of God is ’El Shaddai. The Tyndale Bible Dictionary (TBD) explains: “God as ’El Shaddai is presented as the all-powerful One, totally self-sufficient, absolute ruler, and the One who can and does make final disposition.”[1] Essentially, ’El Shaddai expresses God’s sovereignty. Genesis 17 gives us the first recording of this name in Scripture: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty [’El Shaddai]; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’” (Genesis 17:1-2). God uses this name when entering into a covenant with Abraham, commanding him to follow God as the Sovereign One. Christians have the same responsibility, becoming children of Abraham through faith in Christ (Romans 4:11-12). As our Sovereign Creator, we owe God our love, our trust, and our submission. He has the absolute right to do all things in accordance with his own good pleasure.

Consequently, ’El Shaddai greatly instructs believers in the development of our spiritual life. Since Jesus is God incarnate, the Christian life is a life of submission to his lordship. There is no Christian faith without submission to the Savior. Pastors need to proclaim the whole gospel, including the need for converts to crucify themselves daily. Grace is not cheap—it cost Jesus Christ his very life! Believers’ spiritual lives are lived in repentance for our failures and trust in Christ’s atoning work for righteousness. Pastoral ministry must also be rooted in God’s Word, for it is in the Bible that Christians continually remember and apply the gospel as well as understand God’s purpose and will for our lives. Whether from the pulpit or in counseling sessions, the Bible is the foundation upon which God’s sovereignty is learned and observed.

Next, God is called ’El ‘Olam. This name is also clearly defined by the TBD: “’El ‘Olam is used to refer to God as the everlasting or eternal one, a clear instance where the name of God and an attribute of God are combined.”[2] It was also used during the life of Abraham: “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God [’El ‘Olam]” (Genesis 21:33). God’s eternal relationship to us is clearly portrayed in Psalm 90: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man! For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’” (Psalm 90:2-4). While God is eternal, our lives are short and then we die. God’s eternality demonstrates the fundamental difference between the natures of God and man. God necessarily and always exists whereas humanity’s existence is dependent on God and ends due to God’s wrath against sin (90:7-11).

Pastors also find a rich wealth of truth in ’El ‘Olam. Psalm 90 points us toward the practical significance of God’s eternity in its first verse: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” By having God as our dwelling place—our place of rest and security—our lives find meaning and purpose. In the New Testament, we see that this rest comes in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4). Therefore, church members can depend on the eternal God who has always existed, will always exist, and will never change. And Christ has taken the wrath we deserve upon himself, reconciling us to God. This truth enables believers to endure and even find joy in various trials and troubles, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Pastors should point to God’s eternal name and nature for security and comfort.

Third, Scripture refers to God as Yahweh-Rohi.[3] This name appears at the beginning of Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd [Yahweh-Rohi]; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Here, God’s name reveals himself as a shepherd. In Ezekiel 34, God further explains this truth, especially in verse 15: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.” Of course, God as a shepherd is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). God cares for his people and his creation, and as a shepherd he is intimately involved in his world. His supreme act of shepherding was in the sacrificial death of his Son.

God as Shepherd clearly displays his love and care for those made in his image. In a unique way, Jesus Christ shepherds his people as our chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). What comfort he provides! Thus, the well-known Psalm 23 points Christians to their Savior. David concluded by writing, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). Pastors rightly quote this biblical passage to show God as a shepherd. In him, whether in life or in death, we have true joy.

When one studies the names of God, he or she should praise God for the complementary ways in which his names function to reveal more of himself to us. God is sovereign (’El Shaddai), he is eternal (’El ‘Olam), and he is our shepherd (Yahweh-Rohi). May we rejoice in our God, proclaiming him to a world that needs to hear of him and of the redemption which he alone gives.

[1]Walter A. Elwell and Philip W. Comfort, ed., Tyndale Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 540.
[3]Ibid, 542.


posted at 10:00 AM  
Comments (1)

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin says...

Thanks for the names of God. I went through a book called "Praying the Names of God." It was very edifying, but I think it had some synergistic undertones.

Again, thank you for this post. I look forward to reading some more from you. :)


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