Lecture 6: Names of God
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Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
Lecture: Characteristics of God
This is the 6th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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I. Names of God
A. Elohim, El-Shaddai and Yahweh
The concept of God and the question of who is God will be discussed. Ninety five percent of the people will identify that they believe in God. But who God is changes between the different religions. The base word Elohim is the Hebrew name where as in Greek; it is Theos and God in English and Allah in Arabic. These are all generic names referring to a supernatural being. Those names can refer to ‘the God, the creator of the heavens and universe’ or it can refer to other beings such as angels and pretend Gods. So the word god can refer to any God from any religion. As Christians, we simply use the term God for the Hebrew God Elohim. We also have the term Adonai which means Lord. It means someone who is master or owner or in control; the one I report to. Another word El-Shaddai means God Almighty and God as protector where El would be the standard word for God. The most important Word for God from the Old Testament is the Hebrew word ‘Yahweh’. We have in Exodus 3 where God has been working for Moses for 80 years and nobody knows about it. Moses is in the wilderness, 80 years old and herding sheep. God revealed himself to Moses in a burning bush; it is an amazing story:
B. God Speaks to Moses
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.’ When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
II. Characteristics of God
A. He is Concerned About Us
So you see the bush didn’t burn up, being an odd thing. One of my favorite verses is Exodus 3:3 where Moses through, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight.’ This is an attitude of the people of God. After he goes over, the Lord speaks to him and calls his name. Yahweh knows Moses by name and Moses said, ‘here I am.’ Why does God ask Moses to take his shoes off? A common answer is it was Yahweh the most high God that Moses was in the presence of. It is a sign of respect and obedience, but another possibility is in taking off your shoes at home. It is a place where you are comfortable. So I think God has him to take his shoes off because Moses was coming into God’s home, his place. God introduces himself telling Moses who he is. Moses hides his face but God keeps speaking to Moses in an amazing way. It is obvious that God is a caring God by saying I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt and I have heard their crying. This is a character of God. He is the one who comes down to help.
B. God Wants to Relate to Us
Moses asked who he was. This is the second question Moses asked. Moses wants to know his identity. God gives him the name of Yahweh. These are four letters known as the tetragrammaton, the four sacred letters. Some call his name Jehovah as we are not sure how to pronounce the four letters of YHWH. In giving us a name, God is saying that I have a name, I am somebody and I want to relate. This is the character of our God. When you see LORD in capitals, it is the word Yahweh but when you see the Lord in smaller letters, it is usually Adonai. We also see Abba as in father used in a different way in the New Testament. Jesus used this in calling out the God as his Father in a personal way. We are invited by Jesus to call God father when we pray. This is a privilege to speak to God our Father who is a caring, loving, concerned, helping person who gives himself for our sake. We address him through the Lord’s Prayer by way of the unique family name where Jesus is uniquely the Son of God and we are sons of God in the sense we are inheritors in the divine family.
C. His Name is Yahweh and Jesus
There are also compound names of God such as Yahweh Yireh, the God who provides and also the name Yahweh Rapha, the God who heals. All of these names come back to the person name, Yahweh. Why do we not use this name normally? It is a bit of a strange name; it is not as familiar as father or Lord. This is offensive to Jewish people and I can see why as Yahweh portrays an amazing picture of who God is. Many don’t want to refer to God as father because they have father issues. But God is not an abuser like some fathers who are. God is a father who can be trusted. Some people use the name of Jesus when talking to God and that is okay. In praying, do we name God in understanding or do we name him in relationship or out of habit?
1. What does Elohim mean?
2. How is Adonai translated in English Bibles? What is its significance?
3. What does El-Shaddai mean? Where is this name first mentioned in the Bible? What does the context tell us about this name?
4. What is God's personal name? What does his name mean?
5. How would you explain God's name to an unbeliever?
6. What significance does the fact that God is our Father have in your life? What kind of Father do you believe that God is?
7. How have your personal experiences shaped your view of God? How do God's names challenge or support your view?