Writer: Hailey Malay; Doxology Journal
What is your name? Why did your parents choose it, and what does it mean? My first name, Hailey, means “field of hay.” Our names are the clearest ways we identify ourselves and others. They are what we use to introduce ourselves and what we easily forget after meeting someone new.
God is not like us in this. God has many names, and He unveils these at specific moments in redemptive history to show His people who He is. The names of God tell us not only about God’s character but how God chooses to reveal His attributes to His chosen people. We know God by how He reveals Himself in His Word, and His Old Testament names impart who He is to Israel and the Church.
The first name of God revealed in Scripture is Elohim, as Genesis 1:1 states: In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth. It is translated from Hebrew as “God.” Elohim speaks of God as Creator, and the plural form of the word in Hebrew refers to God’s high esteem and majesty. Hebrew etymology pluralizes words to emphasize greatness.(1) Many theologians argue that the plurality of Elohim refers to God as three in one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Let us bow down and worship the Creator God, present and active at creation in three persons.
The second name affirmed by God in Scripture is Yahweh, meaning “Lord” or “Jehovah.” This name of God, too holy to be voiced in Jewish tradition, is spelled “YHWH” without any vowels.(2) It is used first in Genesis 2:4 to finish the creation account: These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh made the earth and the heavens. Yahweh is the promised name of God, given to the Jews in Exodus 3 as a sign to Moses to show the Jews who had sent him. The promise to the Jews of God’s presence, lordship, and love was ultimately fulfilled in Christ, our one true Lord. Let us draw near to Yahweh who draws near to us.
God is proclaimed as El Elyon, “the Most High God.” It expresses the extreme sovereingty and majesty of God in His highest preeminence.(3) After Abram rescues Lot by God’s hand in Genesis 14, Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High blesses him (Genesis 14:18-20). El Elyon speaks of God as sovereign, before whom we can only bow down when we truly know His highness. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon recognizes God as such in Daniel 4:34: At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed El Elyon, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
God also confirms Himself to Abram as Adonai, meaning “Master.” Abram recognizes God as Adonai in Genesis 15:2 when he asks how God could promise descendants to Abram though he is childless. He knows God is the sovereign Lord and Master, through whom all things come to be. In ancient Jewish culture, Adonai was often used verbally instead of Jehovah or Yahweh to avoid infringing on the covenant, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).(4) Adonai speaks to God’s place as Master of all creation, including all people. Though some do not recognize God as such, He is ruler and Lord over all.
God is next declared El Roi, “the God who sees me,” in Genesis 16. Hagar, the slave of Abram and Sarai, flees to the wilderness after Sarai deals harshly with her for bearing Abram’s first child, Ishmael. She calls out to God after He reveals Himself to her: So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13). In Hagar’s most invisible, neglected, forgotten moment, God sees her. So He is with His people. He knows our sitting down and rising up, He sees our thoughts afar off, and He sees us in every moment (Psalm 139). Hagar realized that El Roi saw her in her distress, and she testified that God is a God who sees all. The Angel of the Lord named her child Ishmael, meaning “God hears” (Genesis 16:11). God saw and heard Hagar in her suffering, and He was present with her. He saved and redeemed her, as He has done for all of those who know Him.
God reveals Himself to Abram as El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty God” or “Self-Sufficient God.” Shaddai translates literally to “breast,” referring to God’s complete, nourishing satisfaction as a mother would provide her child.(5) Connected with El (“God”), El Shaddai denotes a God who freely sustains and blesses His children. The name appears in Genesis 17:1: When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,“I am El Shaddai; walk before Me and be blameless.” He then calls to attention the unconditional covenant He made with Abram, promising him a multitude of descendants who will walk with God. God is reliant on none, but we are utterly dependent on Him for every breath and morsel of food; and He provides lovingly for His people. Let us draw near to Him as a nursing infant would to his mother; He is glorified when we are satisfied in Him.(6)
The next name of God professed is El Olam, meaning “The Everlasting God.” In Genesis 21:33, Abraham plants a tamarisk tree in Beersheba after making a covenant with King Abimelech of Shechem. There he called on the name El Olam. This name of God speaks to the unbreakable and unconditional covenant God had made with Abraham and His people. God is outside of time and space; He is before all things and after all things. He is eternal. El Olam is everlasting to everlasting.
Jehovah-Jireh is God’s name found in Genesis 22:14 after Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son Isaac, the son of the covenant. God spares Isaac and provides a ram for a burnt offering instead. So Abraham called the name of that place,“The Lord will provide;” as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” This mount is Moriah, and Abraham gives it the name Jehovah-Jireh to memorialize the intercession of God and His provision of a sacrifice for Abraham instead of Isaac. The Lord provides for His glory, and He reveals Himself unceasingly to His people so we know Him.
God’s unique name announced in Exodus 3:14 is Ehyeh. Ehyeh is the name God uses to reveal Himself when Moses asks who he should say sent him to the Israelites before the Exodus. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘Ehyeh has sent me to you.’” The I AM is God, as He is and as He always will be. Ehyeh is God’s name revealed to Moses, yet He uses Yahweh when revealing Himself to all of Israel. Ehyeh is God in Himself, the first person, and Yahweh is God in the third person, as Moses refers to Him as Lord to all of Israel. The intimacy of Ehyeh with Moses is God’s self-revelation to His son, pointing to how He is and communes with us. Ehyeh is as Yahweh, a promise. He is Lord, Creator, and Savior of His people in the person of Jesus.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. (Psalm 148:13). What can we take from knowing God’s names? Each name of God reveals a different attribute to the original audience of the biblical passage and to us for all time. When we study these names, we will better understand who He truly is. We should never take His name lightly or in vain, but always rejoice in it and think deeply upon its meaning.(7)
Jesus, worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us
Son of God and Man
You are high and lifted up
That all the world will praise your great name.(8)
(1) Britannica, “Elohim: Hebrew god,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Elohim.
(2) Blue Letter Bible, “The Names of God in the Old Testament,” https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/name_god.cfm.
(6) This is the mission statement of Desiring God. John Piper states, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” See Desiring God (Multnomah).
(8) Your Great Name, Music and Words by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale. ©2008 Integrity’s Praise! Music (BMI) / TwoNords Music (ASCAP) / adm. Capitol CMG Publishing.
Hailey Malay serves as an Air Force Public Affairs Officer at Beale AFB, CA. She loves her husband Daniel, reading, building deep relationships, and God’s global mission of taking His name to the nations.