We live in a time when the LORD’s name is taken more in profanity than in praise. Most reading this article will think that we seldom, if ever, use the Lord’s name in profanity or swearing. But what about using it with little thought for its deep meaning (taking it in vain via casual or empty thought)?
Countless times in scripture we are told to “Praise the LORD.” In fact, Psalms ends in a great crescendo as the last five Psalms all begin and end with that admonition, “Praise the LORD.” But Psalm 148:5 and 13 specifically tell us to “praise the name of the LORD.” Why His name? Because God’s name (or I should say names) are unique and provide great revelatory insight into who He is, His nature, and His character.
God’s uniqueness is shown in many ways not the least of which are His names. And unlike us, God chooses His own names. For us, names are often just labels, something to identify us from others. But in the Hebrew culture they carried significant meaning. The names God chose for Himself are neither random nor arbitrary but carefully considered by Him to reveal to us more of His nature and character, so that we may know Him better and draw closer to Him.
By sharing with us these names, God also expresses a desire for us to know Him. So when we see His names we should ask: what is God trying to show us with each name He has revealed? When in Psalm 23:3 it says “for His name’s sake,” God does not need to save His reputation, but it is telling us that God is acting in conformity to His own nature. Each name shows us more of that majestic nature.
In the Old Testament, three primary names for God are given: ELOHIM, YHWH and ADONAI. Other compound extensions from these three names are given, but let us focus on these primary three.
ELOHIM is the name we are first given in Genesis 1. God’s first revelation to us is that He is our Creator. In fact, it is the only name used for God throughout Genesis 1. It is not until Genesis 2:4 that we are given another name for God. ELOHIM is the Creator God. And it is the one found with the creation. It is used approximately 2,600 times in the Old Testament and is translated “God.” When we read “God” in the Old Testament, it is almost exclusively from ELOHIM.
ELOHIM is also in the plural form which is consistent, if not proof, of the triune nature of God, commonly called the trinity. In Genesis 1, we see all three personages of God: the Spirit hovering over the deep and the Father and Son saying “let us make man in our image.”
When we come to Genesis 2:4, God gives a second name for Himself: “YHWH.” YHWH is now often seen as YAHWEH with the addition of vowels. The KJV renders YHWH as Jehovah in a few places. This is the most used name for God in scripture, appearing nearly 7,000 times. It was also the most sacred name to the Jews. So sacred, they feared writing or speaking it lest they would profane the name of God (Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 19:12). YHWH (often called the “Tetragrammaton” meaning “four letter word”) is seen as LORD (all capital letters) in reliable English translations. It carries the meaning of the “self-existent one, to be.” It is the root of God’s claim “I am that I am” in Exodus 3, signifying that God has always existed and is self-existent.
Yes, God is the creator (ELOHIM) but He is more than that; He is the eternal one (YHWH). YHWH also carries the essence of a God revealing Himself to us so that we could have a relationship with Him. It expresses His desire to have a relationship with us. So when we look at Genesis 2:4 and see YHWH ELOHIM (LORD God) we are being told that God is not only our creator but an eternal God who wants to have a relationship with man. Genesis 2 is not simply a further explanation of the 6th day of creation, but we see God and man developing a relationship. God forms (creates) man but then gives him a place to live (the Garden), work to do (tend the Garden), name the animals, the beginning of rules to live by and finally the establishment of the family.
The third dominant name for God in the Old Testament is “ADONAI,” and it carries the idea of Owner and Master. It is used about 438 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. While not used as often as ELOHIM or YHWH, its impact is great. We first encounter it in Genesis 15:2. From Genesis 12 to 22 Abraham’s faith is growing to the climax seen in Genesis 22. Part of Abraham’s growth is in his acknowledgment that God is his Owner/Master. Another example of man’s growth is seen in Exodus 4:10 where we see Moses acknowledging this name of God for the first time in recorded scripture. Moses is struggling with God’s assignment for him to return to Egypt to lead the Exodus. As part of Moses coming to grips with this, he acknowledges that God is his owner/master. What a lesson for us. Before God can truly use us, we have to acknowledge He is also our master, our ADONAI, and submit to Him.
There are many additional names God uses, often compound derivations from these basic three names. From ELOHIM we get El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam, etc. From YHWH we get Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Nissi, Yahweh Rohi, Yahweh Shalom, etc. What can we learn from these names? The brevity of this article will not allow us to examine each of them here, but I encourage you to revel in the study of them.
When we recognize these names as presented in the original text, we learn much more about the nature and character of our God. How blessed we are to have a God who created us in His image (ELOHIM), who reveals Himself so we can have a relationship with Him (YHWH), and who cares enough for us to be our overseeing and protecting master. (ADONAI).
“Oh LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1). Understanding the names of God allows us to praise and worship Him more effectively and intimately. His name is like a fort that provides protection for the believer: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
And then we come to Jesus (JESUS= Jehovah/YHWH saves). We also find great insight in the names Emmanuel, Savior, Christ, the Word, Alpha and Omega, Son of God, etc. Of course, the New Testament words are Greek rather than Hebrew. But the glory of His name continues.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
In a society which uses His name with such disrespect, let us remember He is our Elohim, our YHWH and our Adonai. Let the profanity end and let the praise begin!
~ John Lee