KNOWING GOD THROUGH HIS NAMES

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What is God like?

Bible uses several names to describe the nature and character of God. Each of these names and titles (and other metaphors and similes), like different facets of a diamond, reveal to us a unique quality, character, and identity of God. Although, no single name reveals all that may be known about Him. Collectively, through these names, we can know God better and increase our knowledge of Him.

However, in our experiences, we are confronted with false notions/views about God. Also, there is growing ignorance of who God is. And undeniably, wrong concepts/perspectives of God lead to wrong behavior; the high or low perspectives of God affects our thinking, conduct, and attitudes.

Therefore, it is important for us today to think rightly about God. We can only achieve this not on our own but based on the revealed word of God.

Biblical knowledge of God, through his revealed names, will enable us to confront distorted views of God. It was Jesus’ prayer that we may know Him (Jn. 17:3); and it was Paul’s greatest desire to know him more (Phil. 3:10).

Today, we would like to look at two names of God, as revealed in the Bible, namely: Elohim and El-Olam. Admittedly, the English names: God and Lord, furnish us with little information about His character and ways. That is why looking at these two names in the Hebrew language is instructive.

  1. Elohim (See Gen. 1)

The prefix (or shorter form) “El” was both the word for “god” and the name of the original high god among the Semitic peoples of the ancient Middle East. But among the Hebrews, the name Elohim was prominently used. El means God (of heaven), mighty one, strong. The ancient people depicted El as the great God; as opposed to a weak, passive, or powerless God. The plural rendering of the name is a plural of majesty.

In the Bible, the name Elohim is second in use (used about 2,570) after the name Yahweh. Sometimes these two names (Jehovah-Elohim) are combined. So, in what contexts are these names used, and what qualities of God do these names highlight.

Instances where the name Elohim is used in the Bible

God the Creator– The use of the name Elohim in Genesis 1 (appearing 32 times) depicts him as the Creator who causes things that are not to be. He spoke into existence things that were not. He fills the emptiness, brings out light out of darkness, form out of formlessness, and order out of disorder. Importantly, he creates man our of his image and likeness. By him, all things were created (Acts 17:24ff; Col. 1:16). He existed before the creation of all things. He is the source and sustainer of all things. In creation, Elohim speaks of himself as us (Gen. 1:26)

God the Deliverer– He delivered Israel up out of Egypt (Num. 23:22). He is the Savior of his people (Gen. 26:24).

God the Sovereign One– He is depicted as God of all the kingdoms of the earth (Isa. 37:16). The Lord of heaven and the earth (Gen. 24:3). The God of gods, the Lord of lords who is great and mighty (Deut. 10:17). He is all-powerful.

How big is your God? Is your God sovereign over every area of your life?

God of Relationships– Elohim is depicted as God who is near to his people (Jer. 23:23) and is the God of mercy (Ps. 59:17). He is the God who seeks a relationship with those who believe in him; he calls himself the “God of Abraham.”

He is the Lord of a second chance, Elohim established a covenant with Noah after the flood (Gen. 6:18; 9:15,16). He is the Lord who is faithful to his covenant; he remembered his covenant with Abraham when he judged Sodom, and saved Lot and his family (Gen. 19:29). He is the God who fulfills his word; in his deathbed, Joseph told his brothers, “I am about to die, but God (Elohim) will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Gen 50:24).

Implications of the name Elohim for us Today

Elohim as creator, deliverer, sovereign, and God who seeks an intimate relationship with his people….

2. El-Olam (Gen 21:33)

This is a description of a quality of God, bringing out the concept of eternity of God. He is limitless.

The Lord is the everlasting God (Isa 40:28). Moses wrote, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2).

His rule and dominion endure through all generations (Ps. 145:13).

He has no beginning and no end. He is Alpha and Omega.

He makes things work at his appointed time. He is not limited by time. He can accomplish his purposes even when we think the time is not (no longer) right or favorable.

Implications of the name El-Olam for us Today

Since God is eternal and everything else around us is passing away, we can then anchor our lives on him. We can shelter and find refuge in him (Ps. 90:1).

It is possible to be imprisoned by fear, but the eternity of God reminds us that God eternal has already lived in our tomorrows.

We need to embrace the life that Jesus gives. He proclaimed that he had come to abolish death and to give us life.

Concluding Thoughts

What (picture/concept) comes into your mind when you think about God?

We need to recognize two temptations concerning what we’ve talked about. First, is the temptation to create God in our own image. It could be fashioning God in line with our own personal, conventional, or cultural beliefs. And certainly, this leads to wrong views about God.

Since everything rises or falls with our concept of God, we need to probe long-held false views of God, unlearn then, and rediscover Him; so that we can worship him as he is.

It has been said that God is not what we believe, rather, we believe in what God…

Second, there is the temptation to suppress the truth that has been revealed to us about God. Paul noted that although creation testifies the there is a creator (Rom 1:19, 20), human beings in their unrighteousness have suppressed this truth (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:18). In rebellion, human beings suppress and reject this knowledge. Paul writes that “although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom 1:21).

God is not a mysterious being to us, he’s has revealed himself specifically through his Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2).

So, has the knowledge of the Holy one transformed the way we live?

Finally, may the knowledge of Elohim enable us to embrace God’s power over our lives. And may the knowledge of the eternity of God help us anchor our lives on Christ, who gives life in abundance.

5 thoughts on “KNOWING GOD THROUGH HIS NAMES”

  1. Thanks Passy for this. I’m asking what is the meaning of Psalm 82 when God says you are gods. I’ve heard from some sources that the word gods there is translated from the word elohim. Would you help me understand?

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    1. Lornah, Thanks for your question.
      The name Elohim (God) is in plural. In the Hebrew studies, we call it a plural of majesty. This kind of plural was used when someone wanted to talk about God’s the greatness of God i.e above all; usually this kind of praise was rendered in plural rather than in singular.
      Also note that the name El (like Ngai) was used in ancient East societies; the Hebrews prominently used Elohim. In cases where the two (El or Elohim) are used it is all translated as God. The decision to render it as God or god, is based on the context of a text. That is, is the context/the author talking about God the Yahweh or gods in the use of Elohim. So Bible translators would always make a simple decision here.
      Concerning Psalm 82, (an especially your specific question on verse 6), you need to note that that the psalmist here presents Elohim (God) as the great and Supreme Judge against all the earthly Elohim(’s) (gods). In verse 2, the earthly gods/rulers/elohims judge unjustly. Why are these human leaders called gods/elohim?- your guess can be as good as mine, these people oppressing the poor and orphans seem to be gods to those under them; or wrongfully think they are so by themselves, they think they control all things and are above all. However, these false gods/Elohim (in verse 3-5) are commanded by the great Elohim (God) to defend the poor and fatherless. So in verse 6, it is unsurprising that these unjust leaders are IRONICALLY called gods/Elohim. Indeed, they are small elohim (lords over their people, not lording over God’s people as Elohim himself would; in another sense, we can say that in their injustice they might have also projected themselves as gods). These leaders were men like you and me, but they set themselves as gods over God’s people; and so, the great God ironically calls them by their assumed title, elohim. So, in verse 7 and 8, God, the true and mighty Elohim, judges these false earthly men (pretending to be gods).

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