In the English language the word “god” is a general term for any deity. In English when we capitalize “God,” we are referring to a specific deity (most notably the Christian God). When we don’t capitalize “god,” we are referring to a god in general or a god who is not the God. Other languages also contain similar generic terms for deity.
El, Elohim, or Elyon is the general name for God in the Old Testament. This is the first name given to God in the Bible (Genesis 1:1). It carries the idea of being first, great, and worthy of fear. It is almost always in the plural form signifying fullness and power.
Adonai is used of God when reflecting his rule and Lordship. Adonai is used with Yahweh (below) to indicate LORD God.
El Shaddai signifies God’s power over nature and all things as well as his comfort and compassion to his people. Yahweh is the special name for God in the Old Testament. Its literal translation is “I AM WHO I AM.” While used throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh introduced himself publicly to Moses with this name in Exodus 3:14. Yahweh is the personal or covenant name for God. It is translated in our English Bibles as LORD in all capitals.
These are just a sample of the names, titles, and descriptions of God in the Old Testament. The importance of knowing God’s name cannot be overstated.
In religions in the ancient near east, knowing the name of a deity gave the adherent the rite to call upon or even control the deity. Being able to call upon or control a deity gave power to the follower of a particular religion. In this sense, knowing a name was like a talisman.
When Yahweh made his covenant name known to Moses, it was not like the other religions of the ancient near east. Knowing the name of God, Yahweh, does not give us control over him. The testimony of God’s works in the Bible make that obvious. Yahweh is in control, not us.
God is the Creator and giver of life. He sovereignly chose his people and redeemed them. And in the case of Moses at the burning bush, Yahweh called Moses and gave him an assignment impossible to fulfill. Moses was only successful because Yahweh accomplished the miraculous (the plagues on Egypt and rescuing the enslaved Israelites).
Often, during the Old Testament era, scribes and priests would not even speak the name of God, Yahweh, out of the fear that they would take his name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Instead, they would say “The Name,” in reference to God.
As we continue on this weekly theological journey, what can we learn from the Name of God, Yahweh, that will shape our faith? Here are several observations:
- God, along with his titles and Name, should bring us a sense of reverence and awe. While I don’t necessarily think we need to avoid speaking the Name of God, we could learn a lesson from the Old Testament believers who held the Name of God in honor and reverence. We must avoid carelessly and idly using God’s name.
- God’s Name should remind us that he’s in control, not that we can control him. The testimony of God’s work in the world and for his people in Scripture declares that he alone is in control. The LORD is not a genie in a bottle who responds to our wishes and whims. He’s not to be put on a shelf and pulled down when we need him. He is far more and far greater than we can imagine. We must submit to him.
- God’s Name is an invitation to know him. This truth is one of the great privileges of biblical Christianity. God is greater and more glorious than we can imagine, yet he is personal and knowable. The covenant name, Yahweh, is an invitation to know and to call upon him. The LORD invites us to into a relationship with him. God knows you and everything about you. He knows your name and cares about your life. And he invites you to know him, talk to him, and be in a personal relationship with him. That is an unbelievable privilege.
So, take a moment today and praise the LORD. Thank him for his greatness. Call out to him in your need. He knows you and wants you to know him.