SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NAMES FOR DEITY

A. El (BDB 42, KB 48)

1. The original meaning of the generic ancient term for deity is uncertain, though many scholars believe it comes from the Akkadian root, "to be strong" or "to be powerful" (cf. Gen. 17:1; Num. 23:19; Deut. 7:21; Ps. 50:1).

2. In the Canaanite pantheon the high god is El (Ras Shamra texts)

3. In the Bible El is often compounded with other terms.  These combinations became a way to characterize God.

a. El-Elyon ("God Most High," BDB 42 & 751 II), Gen. 14:18-22; Deut. 32:8; Isa. 14:14

b. El-Roi ("God who sees" or "God who reveals Himself," BDB 42 & 909), Gen. 16:13

c. El-Shaddai ("God Almighty" or "God of all compassion" or "God of the mountain," BDB 42 & 994), Gen. 17:1; 35:11; 43:14; 49:25; Exod. 6:3

d. El-Olam ("the Everlasting God," BDB 42 & 761), Gen. 21:33. This term is theologically linked to God's promise to David, 2 Sam. 7:13,16

e. El-Berit ("God of the Covenant," BDB 42 & 136), Jdgs. 9:46

4. El is equated with

a. YHWH in Ps. 85:8; Isa. 42:5

b. Elohim in Gen. 46:3; Job 5:8, "I am El, the Elohim of your father"

c. Shaddai in Gen. 49:25

d. "jealousy" in Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15 

e. "mercy" in Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:31

f. "great and awesome" in Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Neh. 1:5; 9:32; Dan. 9:4

g. "knowledge" in 1 Sam. 2:3

h. "my strong refuge" in 2 Sam. 22:33

i. "my avenger" in 2 Sam. 22:48

j. "holy one" in Isa. 5:16

k. "might" in Isa. 10:21

l. "my salvation" in Isa. 12:2

m. "great and powerful" in Jer. 32:18

n. "retribution" in Jer. 51:56

5. A combination of all the major OT names for God is found in Joshua 22:22 (El, Elohim, YHWH, repeated)

B. Elyon (BDB 751, KB 832)

1. Its basic meaning is "high," "exalted," or "lifted up" (cf. Gen. 40:17; 1 Kgs. 9:8; 2 Kgs. 18:17; Neh. 3:25; Jer. 20:2; 36:10; Ps. 18:13).

2. It is used in a parallel sense to several other names/titles of God.

a. Elohim – Ps. 47:1-2; 73:11; 107:11

b. YHWH – Gen. 14:22; 2 Sam. 22:14

c. El-Shaddai – Ps. 91:1,9

d. El – Num. 24:16

e. Elah – used often in Daniel 2-6 and Ezra 4-7, linked with Illair (Aramaic for "High God") in Dan. 3:26; 4:2; 5:18,21

3. It is often used by non-Israelites.

a. Melchizedek, Gen. 14:18-22

b. Balaam, Num. 24:15

c. Moses, speaking of the nations in Deut. 32:8

d. Luke's Gospel in the NT, writing to Gentiles, also uses the Greek equivalent Hupsistos (cf. 1:32,35,76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17)

C. Elohim (plural), Eloah (singular), used primarily in poetry (BDB 43, KB 52)

1. This term is not found outside the Old Testament.

2. This word can designate the God of Israel or the gods of the nations (cf. Exod. 3:6; 20:3).  Abraham's family were polytheistic (cf. Jos. 24:2).

3. It can refer to Israeli judges (cf. Exod. 21:6; Ps. 82:6).

4. The term elohim is also used of other spiritual beings (angels, the demonic) as in Deut. 32:8 (LXX); Ps. 8:5; Job 1:6; 38:7.

5. In the Bible it is the first title/name for Deity (cf. Gen. 1:1).  It is used exclusively until Gen. 2:4, where it is combined with YHWH.  It basically (theologically) refers to God as creator, sustainer, and provider of all life on this planet (cf. Psalm 104).

It is synonymous with El (cf. Deut. 32:15-19).  It can also parallel YHWH as Psalm 14 (Elohim, vv. 1,2,5; YHWH, vv. 2,6; even Adon, v. 4).

6. Although plural and used of other gods, this term often designates the God of Israel, but usually it has the singular verb to denote the monotheistic usage. 

7. It is strange that a common name for the monotheistic God of Israel is plural!  Although there is no certainty, here are the theories.

a. Hebrew has many plurals, often used for emphasis.  Closely related to this is the later Hebrew grammatical feature called the plural of majesty, where the plural is used to magnify a concept.

b. This may refer to the angelic council, whom God meets with in heaven and who does His biding (cf. 1 Kgs. 22:19-23; Job 1:6; Ps. 82:1; 89:5,7).

c. It is even possible this reflects the NT revelation of the one God in three persons.  In Gen. 1:1 God creates; Gen. 1:2 the Spirit broods, and from the NT Jesus is God the Father's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3,10; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 2:10).

D. YHWH (BDB 217, KB 394)

1. This is the name which reflects deity as the covenant-making God; God as savior, redeemer!  Humans break covenants, but God is loyal to His word, promise, covenant (cf. Psalm 103).

This name is first mentioned in combination with Elohim in Gen. 2:4.  There are not two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2, but two emphases:

a. God as the creator of the universe (the physical)

b. God as the special creator of humanity.

Genesis 2:4-3:24 begins the special revelation about the privileged position and purpose of mankind, as well as the problem of sin and rebellion associated with the unique position.

2. In Gen. 4:26 it is said "men began to call upon the name of the Lord" (YHWH).  However, Exod. 6:3 implies that early covenant people (the Patriarchs and their families) knew God only as El–Shaddai.  The name YHWH is explained only one time in Exod. 3:13-16, esp. v. 14.  However, the writings of Moses often interpret words by popular word plays, not etymologies (cf. Gen. 17:5; 27:36; 29:13-35). There have been several theories as to the meaning of this name (taken from IDB, vol. 2, pp. 409-11).

a. from an Arabic root, "to show fervent love"

b. from an Arabic root "to blow" (YHWH as storm God)

c. from a Ugartic (Canaanite) root "to speak"

d. following a Phoenician inscription, a causative participle meaning "the One who sustains," or "the One who establishes"

e. from the Hebrew Qal form "the One who is," or "the One who is present" (in future sense, "the One who will be")

f. from the Hebrew Hiphil form "the One who causes to be"

g. from the Hebrew root "to live" (e.g., Gen. 3:21), meaning "the ever-living, only-living One"

h. from the context of Exod. 3:13-16 a play on the imperfect form used in a perfect sense, "I shall continue to be what I used to be" or "I shall continue to be what I have always been" (cf. J. Wash Watts, A Survey of Syntax in the Old Testament, p. 67).  The full name YHWH is often expressed in abbreviation or possibly an original form.

(1) Yah (e.g., Hallelu - yah, BDB 219, cf. Exod. 15:2; 17:16; Ps. 89:8; 104:35)

(2) Yahu ("iah" ending of names, e.g., Isaiah)

(3) Yo ("Jo" beginning of names, e.g., Joshua or Joel) 

3. In later Judaism this covenant name became so holy (the tetragrammaton) that Jews were afraid to say it lest they break the command of Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11; 6:13.  So they substituted the Hebrew term for "owner," "master," "husband," "lord"—adon or adonai (my lord).  When they came to YHWH in their reading of OT texts they pronounced "lord." This is why YHWH is written Lord in English translations.

4. As with El, YHWH is often combined with other terms to emphasize certain characteristics of the Covenant God of Israel.  While there are many possible combination terms, here are some.

a. YHWH – Yireh (YHWH will provide, BDB 217 & 906), Gen. 22:14

b. YHWH – Rophekha (YHWH is your healer, BDB 217 & 950, Qal participle), Exod. 15:26

c. YHWH – Nissi (YHWH is my banner, BDB 217 & 651), Exod. 17:15

d. YHWH – Meqaddishkem (YHWH the One who sanctifies you, BDB 217 & 872, Piel participle), Exod. 31:13

e. YHWH – Shalom (YHWH is Peace, BDB 217 & 1022), Jdgs. 6:24

f. YHWH – Sabbaoth (YHWH of hosts, BDB 217 & 878), 1 Sam. 1:3,11; 4:4; 15:2; often in the Prophets

g. YHWH – Ro'I (YHWH is my shepherd, BDB 217 & 944, Qal participle), Ps. 23:1

h. YHWH – Sidqenu (YHWH is our righteousness, BDB 217 & 841), Jer. 23:6

i. YHWH – Shammah (YHWH is there, BDB 217 & 1027), Ezek. 48:35

 

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