Part One - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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God - El...


"Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven." Ps.148:13

The Names of God – Part One

Reading: Jer.32:16-35

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays is the story of two lovers – Romeo and Juliet. Their affair is doomed from the start because they come from two feuding families. A marriage just can’t be allowed between such rival families and so Miss Juliet Capulet and Mr. Romeo Montague are stuck.  

"What’s in a name?" lamented Juliet "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

Does a name really matter? Juliet suggests that a name is no more than a mere label and that it didn’t carry any more significance than that. But Shakespeare’s play indicates otherwise and that Romeo’s name was all wrong.

In Old Testament times, a name was used not only for purposes of identification, but also as a description of character. While we might agree that a rose would smell the same if it carried an entirely different name that hardly helps us when it comes to God for we cannot smell him or indeed access him through any of our physical senses. Our actual knowledge of him comes in very large measure from the names by which he reveals himself to us.

It is easy to see that names are used in this character-descriptive manner in the Bible because there are so many examples that illustrate it. Here are just a couple of them:

  • Samuel. The name means ""his name is El". Hannah had prayed earnestly to the LORD for a son and finally he answered her prayers and Hannah gave birth to a boy. Interestingly it was Hannah who gave the boy his name explaining just why she chose it:

1Sam.1:20 "she called his name Samuel, for she said, "I have asked for him from the LORD."

  • Nabal. We mentioned Nabal this morning and his example illustrates this descriptive element very well. His name meant "fool" and he was a big one!

"this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him." 1Sam.25:25

As we read through the Bible we find that God reveals himself not only by what he does but also through a number of different names. If we want to understand who God is and what he is really like we must take these names seriously – they are much more and they tell us about the central personality and nature of the One.

Who is God to you?
When you stop to think about God what thoughts come into your mind?

Perhaps you think of him as the Most High God, the All sufficient One, the Maker and Sustainer of all things. Or maybe you think of him as your Master, the One who provides for you, your Father.

When we do think about God we must be careful not to somehow depersonalise him treating him as an "it" or a "thing". He is not a machine nor is he a doctrinal system.

This God knows all about us, including our names, and it is appropriate that we should know him by his. Jesus taught how to address him and also what we should ask for:

Mt.6:9 "Our Father in heaven" hallowed by your name"

When we do pray like this, what we are really saying is that we want to set God’s name apart and regard him with complete devotion and loving admiration. It also means that we want others to do so too. God's name is special:

Neh.9:5 "Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise."

Because God’s name is so important we should not take it lightly, but we should always rejoice in it and think carefully about what it really means.
And so, with God’s help, that is what we are going to do for the next few weeks.

God – the simple name
El is the simplest name that is translated as "God" in the Bible. Sometimes it is used as a stand-alone name and sometimes it is used in conjunction with other words to focus on a particular aspect of God's character.

You will be most familiar with el as it appears as part of a personal name eg. Ishma-el, Isra-el, Samu-el etc. When Dani-el was taken away from the Promised Land to Exile in Babylon his name was changed in an attempt to separate him from his spiritual heritage. The same was true for each of his three contemporaries who also had their names changed removing any reference to the God of the Israelites.

  • Dani-el became Belteshazzar

  • Misha-el became Meshach

In both cases the name –el disappeared

As for the other two their names contained not the name –el but the name yah (Jehovah, Yahweh or LORD) but that too had to go:

  • Hanan-iah became Shadrach

  • Azar-iah became Abednego

The fundamental meaning of –el is power.

Closely associated with –el is another word that is also usually translated simply as "God" is the word elohim which is used well in excess of 2,000 times in the OT. The word itself is a plural intensive form which nevertheless has a singular meaning. As with -el the fundamental meaning of this word is "strong". This is the first name used of God in the Bible appearing in the opening sentence of Genesis where we read: "In the beginning, God..." (Gen.1:1).

The combination of these two words both translated as "God" point therefore to the fact that God is powerful. Thus whenever it is the revealed God of the Bible who is in view any thought of weakness or inability is totally out of the question:

Ps 115:3 "Our God (elohim) is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases."

Thus this name shows us that God is the majestic ruler. It sets him far above all other gods which are in, reality, not gods at all. The plural nature of the name foreshadows the later revelation of the triune Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

El Shaddai (God Almighty)
As we mentioned earlier the name –el is sometimes used along with another word. When it used with Shaddai the meaning moves on a little from mere power to a consideration of God as the All-Sufficient One. This name appears seven times in the OT is translated as either God Almighty of Almighty God. (5 out the 7 occurrences are to be found in the Book of Genesis.)

The name God Almighty refers to refers to God completely nourishing, satisfying, and meeting the needs of his people as a mother would her child. He is our sustainer.  A similar name which appears just a couple of times is –el Gibbor, the Mighty God.

El Elyon (The Most High God)
The Hebrew word "Elyon" means "most high". It is used as an adjective as in this expression where it means "the most high God" or "God most high". It is also used as a stand-alone substantive where the name God is dropped and we are left simply with "the Most High".

This particular name, "The Most High God" describes his position as the sovereign majestic preeminent God. He is above everyone and everything.
This name is frequently found in the Book of Psalms where God is celebrated. What a comfort for God’s people to know that their God is God Most High.

Ps.57:2-3 "I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me."

Nothing and no-one can stop him fulfilling the purpose he has for his people!

With such a God who is "rooting" for his people it is understandable that the apostle Paul could write with such confidence to the Christians in Rome and encourage them by saying:

Rom.8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Being powerfully sovereign in his rule and reign over all none can prevent him from securing this good for us! Praise his name!

El Olam (The Everlasting God)
So far we have been focussing upon names that served to highlight and develop different aspects of God’s powerful and uncontestable sovereignty and now the emphasis shifts just a little.

olam derives from a word whose basic meaning is eternity. So when joined to the word –el we are now being told that the God we know to be the all-powerful God is also:

  • The Everlasting God

  • The God of Eternity

Eternity is often ascribed to God and the actual name El Olam appears first in the mouth of Abraham:

Gen.21:33 "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God."

This too should be a source of real encouragement to the believer knowing that his God is the everlasting God implies that:

  • Our God is the God of history

  • Our God is self-sufficient and dependent on no-one

  • Our God has everlasting energy

  • Our God lives forever

  • Our God knows the beginning from the end

  • Our God’s ways are everlasting

  • Our God never changes

  • Our God’s covenant stands forever

  • Our God’s love lasts forever

Jeremiah described God in this way:

Jer.10:10 "But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king"

Again what a source of encouragement for the believer to know all this about his God!

When we turn to the NT we learn yet more about the identity of this God for we learn that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever"(Heb.13:8).

When we put two and two together we are forced to conclude that our God is Jesus Christ! What a wonderful Saviour we do have!

El-Roi (The God of Seeing)
Finally for this evening as we think about the names of God based around the use of the word –el we must mention one last example.

This name El-Roi means the God of seeing or more practically ‘the God who sees me". The name was used by Hagar who had fled from her mistress Sarai. Sarai had been unable to give her husband Abram a child and gave him her servant Hagar so that Abram might have offspring through her. It wasn’t a good plan, it wasn’t God’s plan and it led to some real complications. Hagar became pregnant and Sarai treated her harshly causing Hagar to run away. God met Hagar and instructed her as to what she should do. Hagar was struck by the fact that God saw and that God cared hence the name she used for him:

Gen.16:13 NIV "She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."

There are several other expressions which include –el but which remain descriptions rather than being treated as names.

So what’s in a name?

An awful lot of encouragement for the Christian believer who knows the name of his God!

"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might."


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