We call him lots of things. Some of them he even approves of.
New Christians tend to be fascinated by the fact God has a lot of different names in the bible. There’s “God,” there’s “the Lord” (in capital letters or not), there’s “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “I Am,” there’s “the Most High” and “the Almighty”…
James Nesbit is selling this poster of God’s names. Without the watermark, I expect. jnesbit.com
And I haven’t even got to the titles yet. Like Mighty God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega, Lord of Hosts, and so on. Go to your average Christian bookstore (if it hasn’t closed up shop yet) and they’ve even got a poster covered in these titles.
Bust out some Hebrew to go along with it, and some Christians will get sloppy with excitement. I can write about the attributes of God till my fingers go numb, but there’s just nothing like God’s names. Because, as many Christians teach, there’s power in God’s name.
But of all I should point out these many names of God are not necessarily God’s idea. He named himself, and yes I’ll get to what he named himself. But before he gave us his name, humans had to come up with terms to describe him.
Like “God.” In nearly every ancient culture, a
Well, we Christians are
The ancient Hebrews did likewise. Their generic words for gods—el, eloáh, or elohím (which is one of those words which can be singular or plural, like “pants” or “deer”) signifies the One God, the only God, their God. Capitalized ’cause it’s his title. (Some Christians go bonkers when it’s written in lowercase, ’cause they think it’s disrespectful. Yeah, like the President feels slighted when people refer to him as “the president.” Of all the dumb things to fret about.)
But “God” isn’t really his name; it’s his species. It’s as if God refers to any of us as “human,” or “son of man”—like he did Ezekiel,
What God calls himself.
GOD ALMIGHTY (El Shadda’í/“God [the] almighty”). When God introduced himself to Abram and changed the man’s name to Abraham, he referred to himself as God Almighty.
The translators of the Septuagint defined shadda’í as panto-krátor, “all-powerful.” It’s an indication of the power God wields. He can do whatever he wants; he’s all-powerful. It’s where we get our word almighty.
In recent times, linguists speculate shadda’í means something else. Ordinarily shaddáyim, its plural, means “breasts.” So linguists wonder whether this was meant to represent God’s provision to his people, kinda like a mother provides milk for her newborn. Remember, God may be our Father,
But it also looks like shadda’í is related to shadád/“destroyer.” Hence God’s almightiness is connected to the idea he can destroy whatever he wants. Or maybe it doesn’t come from Hebrew at all; it’s a loanword from the Akkadian shadú/“mountain” or “hill,” and indicates God’s a hill god,
Me, I figure just because a word looks like another word, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re related. A baseball pitcher isn’t called that because he can drink a lot of beer. (Think about that a moment. Laugh when you get it.) The Saxon for “throw” just happened to resemble the Old French for “pot.” Same with shadda’í—there’s no reason to assume it’s descended from similar-looking Hebrew words. The ancients believed it meant “almighty.” Let’s assume they’re right, and move on.
I AM (WHO I AM) (Ehyéh ashér ehyéh/“I’m being what I’m being”). God introduced himself to Moses as I A
God gave this name in response to Moses’s request, “When I say ‘God of your ancestors,’ and they respond, ‘And which god is that?’ what response will I give?”
Its pronunciation is actually an educated guess. Y’see, the Hebrews, out of respect for the H
So where’d our English name Jehovah come from? Well, the vowel-marks in a Hebrew bible, which’re ordinarily meant to help out people who are unfamiliar with how to pronounce Hebrew, don’t actually indicate how to pronounce Y
Yep, not only are we pronouncing it wrong, we’re pronouncing the German wrong. Oh well; we pronounce all the other words wrong.
Lots of folks refer to Jehovah as God’s “covenant name,” because he didn’t reveal it till he rescued the Hebrews, made covenant with them, and reiterated throughout his covenant “I’m the L
But as he said, Jehovah is his name for all generations. It isn’t only connected with his covenant, nor only with Israel. Jehovah is the God and Father of Christ Jesus, the God of the Christians, and the God of people who don’t worship him or know him properly—the God of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, everyone. Jehovah is God of the whole earth.
And yes, sometimes in the bible we find it written as Y
JEALOUS (El Qanna/“God [the] jealous one”). Christians don’t talk about this one so much, ’cause we tend to think of jealousy as a negative thing. But God calls himself Jealous.
“[My] name is Jealous,” God reiterated to Moses.
Jesus is the name he wanted to be known by, for the obvious reason that “he’ll save his people from their sins.”
What we’ve called him.
I already dealt with “God.” But non-monotheists often assume by “God” we mean one of many gods, and they wanna know which god. And sometimes we Christians fall for this bushwa, and instead of correctly answering, “There’s only the One,” we indicate he’s a particular god: The god of Christianity; the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the god of Israel; the Father of Christ Jesus; the god of the monotheistic faiths; nature’s god; what have you.
Ancients did it too. Hence the other names for God we find in the bible.
LORD (adona’í/“my master”). This is a generic title of respect and nobility. Naturally we address God by it as well; he deserves it more than most.
The all-capitals version of it, L
(In fact, some of us, out of extra respect, won’t even spell out “Lord.” They’ll refer to God as
Frequently God’s referred to as Y
EVERLASTING GOD (El Olám/“God [the] timeless one”). This title only appears twice in the bible.
- When Abraham worshiped God at Beersheba with the Philistines.
Ge 21.33This was back when the Philistines still actually followed God, Ge 20and El Olám is likely what they called him.
- When Isaiah called God this to point out his infinite power and strength.
GOD MOST HIGH (El Elyón/“God [the] highest one”). There are no higher gods than our God, so this is sorta a generic description for people who wanna know which god is ours: We serve the highest God. The one all the other gods fear.
The first time this title popped up was when Abram met up with the Canaanite king of Salem (later Jerusalem). He was called melkhi-chedéq/“righteous king,”
LIVING GOD (El Kha’í/“God [the] living one,” or its plural-looking form Elohím Khayyím). Pagan gods, as far as the Hebrews were concerned, were just blocks of stone, wood, or metal. Weren’t worthy of worship. Or even acknowledgement. They were laughable. (The pagans certainly believed otherwise, but they didn’t write the bible.)
So the point of referring to God as the living God is to point to the obvious fact: You don’t need to use divination or magic to determine God’s will, ’cause he still talks to people. You don’t have to perform incantations to make things happen, ’cause God still acts. He’s alive, active, and mighty.
LORD OF HOSTS (Y
Many Christians get really uncomfortable with all the war imagery. Some of ’em claim cheva’ót is untranslatable. Others figure it refers to God’s heavenly armies, and spiritual warfare—and by spiritual they often mean imaginary. It’s not real warfare; it’s on another cosmic plane, where there’s no bloodshed and nobody dies.
Meh. God commands the armies of heaven, but sometimes he’s gotta have ’em kick some physical keisters.
ORD our [neat thing].”
Lots of Christians like to proclaim, “He’s Jehovah-Jireh, our provider.” Or “Jehovah-Shalom, our peace.” Or “Jehovah-Rapha, our healer.” And so forth. Basically add a Hebrew adjective (typically mispronounced) to Jehovah. Which is a little weird, ’cause “Jehovah” is English, not Hebrew. But anyway.
These actually aren’t God’s names. They’re descriptions. It’d be like calling me “Leslie the Coffee-Drinker.” Leslie’s my name, but Coffee-Drinker, while something I do quite frequently, is not. No more than “Leslie the Teeth-Brusher,” or “Leslie the Dishwasher-Emptier,” or “Leslie the Netflix-Watcher.” God’s adjectives are way more impressive though.
Some of these adjectives were taken from scriptures where God made a statement about himself. Other times, he did something significant, so people remembered him for that action. And about half of them are place names: Altars, or sites dedicated to the memory of what God did there.
There’s nothing wrong with studying God’s character through them. We definitely should. But they’re not God’s names. Don’t mix ’em up with names; that’s sloppy bible study.
But for your edification, here’s a list of some of the more popular adjectives.
- JEHOVAH JIREH (Y
HWHyiréh/“Jehovah provides”). A place name, given after God spared Isaac from sacrifice. Ge 22.14
- JEHOVAH MEKODDISHKEM (Y
HWHm’qaddoškhém/“Jehovah makes you holy”). Comes from the L ORD’s statement that he makes Israel holy. Ex 31.13
- JEHOVAH NISSI (Y
HWHnissí/“Jehovah my banner”). An altar, named in honor of Amalek’s defeat by the Hebrews. Ex 17.15
- JEHOVAH RAAH (Y
HWHra’í/“Jehovah my shepherd”). Comes from Psalm 23.
- JEHOVAH RAPHA (Y
HWHrofé/“Jehovah cures”). Comes from the L ORD’s statement that he cures the Hebrews of illnesses. Ex 15.26
- JEHOVAH SHALOM (Y
HWHshalóm/“Jehovah [is] peace”). An altar, named after God called Gideon to defeat Midian. Jg 6.24
- JEHOVAH SHAMMA (Y
HWHshammá/“Jehovah [is] there”). New Jerusalem’s name, as revealed to Ezekiel. Ek 48.35
- JEHOVAH TSIDKENU (Y
HWHchidqenú/“Jehovah our rightness”). Comes from one of Isaiah’s prophecies about Messiah, who’ll be named “The L ORDour righteousness.” Jr 23.6
Likely you’ve heard others.
The prophets and poets of the bible have used a ton of metaphors and similes to describe God. Not that they’re too numerous to count, but I’m not writing a concordance here.
The more popular metaphors tend to show up on “Names of God” posters, videos, and bible studies. You likely remember the more famous ones Jesus used to describe himself—
- Living water
- Bread of life
- Light of the world
- Good shepherd
- Resurrection and life
- Way, truth, and life
- True vine
—and that’s just from John. The Apostles called him many more things than this.
And there are descriptors we find throughout the bible: Jesus calls the L
And again: These aren’t God’s names. They’re more adjectives. We can learn many profound things about God from them, just like the compound “names.” We oughta study them. But don’t confuse them with names. Sloppy bible study.
The names of God—the ones we oughta focus on most—naturally should be the ones he’s revealed himself with: God Almighty, I Am, Jehovah, Jealous, and Jesus. In them we see he’s powerful, he retains his own personality, he doesn’t want competition, and he’s saved us. That alone is plenty to meditate upon. But do check out the rest too.