William Shakespeare immortalized the question, “What’s in a name?”
Let’s attempt an answer.
The Apocrypha states, “A name endures while beauty wanes.”
A famous rabbi wrote, “No monument gives such glory as an unsullied name.”
A mother, once asked by a census taker how many children she had, responded, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and. . . ” “Never mind the names,” he interrupted impatiently, “just give me the number.” The mother became indignant. “They haven’t got numbers, they’ve all got names!”An unknown poet reasoned,
I know a life that is lost to God.
Bound down by the things of earth.
But I know a name, a name, a name
That can bring that soul new birth.
Alfred Lord Tennyson proclaimed, “I cannot love my Lord, and not His name.”
In ancient Israel, it was not unusual for a name to express some personal characteristic of the bearer of the name, and sometimes the hope, wish or prayer of the parents. Often the child, when grown, would consciously embody the significance of the name into his life. Occasionally a name was used to signify the collective qualities of the one bearing the name. This was particularly true with regard to the biblical names for God.
When the name of God attests His power to accomplish His Word, He swears by His great name to carry out His purposes (Jer. 44:26). When the name of God expresses His being which is exhibited in creation and redemption, it is the name of God which is excellent in all the earth (Ps. 8:1). When the name of God announces His mighty presence, it is said, “. . . thy name is near. . . ” (Ps. 75:1). When the name of God promises divine protection, it is announced, “. . . the name of the God of Jacob defend thee” (Ps. 20:1).
In the words of one writer, “The expression ‘name of God’ indicates the entire administration of God, by which He reveals Himself and His attributes to men.”1 To speak of God’s name is to refer to all that God is, because all that God is is encompassed in His name.
In the Lord’s high priestly prayer to His Father, He uttered these words, “I have manifested thy name. . . ” (Jn. 17:6). By that He meant that in His life and teaching, He, the visible Son, had revealed what the invisible God was like. This is precisely what the beloved apostle said when he wrote, “No man hath seen God at any time; [however, in stark contrast] the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father [the place of intimacy], he hath declared him” (Jn. 1:18).
Similarly, the expression, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19) means, Let every one that acknowledges Him to be all that His name implies forsake willful disobedience to Him.
When the Bible declares, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:12), it is not suggesting that there is something inherently miraculous in the name “Jesus.” To believe in His name is to believe in all He is and all that He has done. If a man does not believe that Jesus is God in flesh – he does not believe in His name. If a man does not believe that Jesus willingly died on the cross for the sins of the world – he does not believe in His name. If a man does not believe that Jesus rose physically from the grave – he does not believe in His name. And it logically follows, therefore, that such a man is not a child of God.
Now here is a glorious promise of inestimable worth. Jesus said, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn. 14:14). That promise does not mean that if a man petitions God for whatever he desires and then tacks on the phrase, in Jesus’ name, that somehow all requests will be granted. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in harmony with God’s character – to make petitions that bring glory to God, to request things that are unselfish and that are harmonious with His Word. The most effective prayers are those fervently voiced by men and women who know God – who know His Word and His way and pray for His will to be done. That’s prayer in His name.
Third in the list of the Ten Commandments is this familiar command, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. . . ” (Ex. 20:7). The normal interpretation suggests that this commandment prohibits cursing. But the commandment goes far beyond that singular concept.
To believe that God is something other than what He truly is is to take His name in vain. To deny His existence is to take His name in vain.
To deny His creative power is to take His name in vain.
To deny His holy standards for life is to take His name in vain.
To deny His redemptive work at Calvary is to take His name in vain.
To deny that He is coming again is to take His name in vain.
An unbelieving mother was grieving the accidental death of her son. With a momentary touch of bitterness, she asked the pastor who had come to comfort the sorrowing family, “Where was your God when my son died?” Softly and graciously the pastor responded, “The same place He was when His own Son died.”
To deny God’s love and mercy amid the adversities of life is to take His name in vain.
God’s name is the composite whole of His essence and character. For that reason, a pious Jew may be overheard to proclaim, “Barauch Ha Shem” – simply meaning, Blessed be the name, and thus encompassing all of the divine perfections.
But this God, whose name embodies all that He is and does, has also chosen to reveal certain of His characteristics through the progressive unveiling of a series of personal names.
And like the facets of a magnificent diamond that reflect the sun’s rays at noonday, these divine names reflect the brilliance and fire of the divine glory.
Practically speaking, an understanding of the significance of these truly exquisite names cannot but help to stir the soul, warm the heart and loose the tongue to sing His praises. There are three primary names for God: Elohim, meaning the strong, faithful One; Jehovah, meaning the self-existent One – the great I AM; and Adonai, meaning Sovereign, Master or Lord.
Sensing the great significance of each of these names, the translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible built in a simple key to aid the English reader.* Whenever the name for deity in the Old Testament is written “God” with a capital “G” and lower case “od” it is the Hebrew name Elohim. Whenever the name is written in all capital letters, whether “LORD” or “GOD” it is the Hebrew name Jehovah. And finally, whenever the name is written capital “L and lower case “ord,” it is the Hebrew name Adonai which is in view. Now see this once more:
God = Elohim – the strong, faithful One.
GOD or LORD = Jehovah – the self-existent One.
Lord = Adonai – the Sovereign, Master or Lord.
The remainder of this article will be given over to a consideration of the first of these primary names, Elohim – the strong, faithful One
Elohim Is A Generic Name
This name for God is generic in nature. That is, it may be used to refer to the true and living God. But it may also be used to speak of false gods. To illustrate, “man” is a generic word. It encompasses men and women, young and old, rich and poor, wise and foolish. But identify a particular man, and it is no longer generic. Now a specific man is in view. Or again, speak of vitamin C, that is generic. Identify a special brand of vitamin C, and it is no longer generic. In precisely the same way, Elohim is used as a generic name for God. It may be used of the true and living God. It may also be used to speak of false gods.
Satan, in tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden, said, “For God [Elohim, in this instance the true God] doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods [Elohim, in this instance false gods], knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). And Laban, after pursuing and catching Jacob, inquired, “. . . yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods [Elohim, in this instance false idols]?” (Gen. 31:30). And the Prophet Daniel says this about the coming Antichrist, “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god [Elohim, false ones], and shall speak marvelous things against the God [Elohim, the true one] of gods [Elohim, the false gods]. . . Neither shall he regard. . . any god [Elohim, false gods]; for he shall magnify himself above all” (Dan. 11:36-37). Frequently the inspired penmen will write of “the God [Elohim] of Israel” (Num. 16:9; Jud. 6:8; 2 Chr. 15:4; Ps. 68:35) or “the God [Elohim] of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex. 3:6,15; 2 Chr. 30:6; Mt. 22:32; Mk. 12:26), to distinguish the true God (Elohim) of Israel from false pagan gods (Elohim).
To restate then, the name God is used more than twenty-five hundred times in the Old Testament. In the overwhelming number of instances, it is used as a proper name of the true and living God (Elohim), but sometimes generically of false gods (Elohim) who do not exist.
Elohim Is A Plural Name
Once again the translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible put something into the translation to aid the English reader. Whenever Elohim is used of the true and living God, the translators consistently translated this name in the singular, “God.” However, when Elohim was being used for false gods, they made two changes. First, they used a lowercase “g,” for this was not speaking of the true God; and second, they normally translated Elohim by the plural, “gods” (Gen. 3:5; 31:30; Dan. 11:36-37).
Now why did these brilliant, God-honoring, spiritual men translate the Hebrew word Elohim “gods” when it referred to false, nonexistent gods, and God (Elohim) when it referred to the sovereign Creator of the universe?
The answer to the first part of the question is grammatical and quite simple. In the Hebrew language, Elohim is a plural word. In English, an “s” is usually added to a word to make a singular into a plural. In Hebrew, an “im” is often added to make a singular word plural. Thus, “cherub” is singular, “cherubim” is plural; “seraph” is singular, “seraphim” is plural. It cannot be denied that Elohim is a plural word. It would be natural, therefore, to translate Elohim “gods” when referring to nonexistent deities as gods.
Aha, you ask, if Elohim is plural, then why did they translate Elohim by the singular, God, when it referred to the true God? The answer to the second part of the question is theological and not quite so simple. Nevertheless, we dare to “rush in where angels fear to tread” with a quiet confidence that the answer given is the correct one.
If there is one dogma to which all practicing Jews (no matter on what other issues they would disagree) would ascribe, it is their “Shema,” which is taken directly from the writing of Moses. The Lawgiver wrote, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Dt. 6:4). It is on the bedrock of this verse, with its pronouncement that God is “one,” that Israel built her monotheistic view of God. And it was belief in the oneness of their God which perhaps contributed more than anything else to their being distinct from and morally higher than the surrounding polytheistic nations in the ancient world. It is also this belief in the oneness of God which, above all other objections, has kept Jewish people from accepting Jesus as Savior. For the Jew to see Jesus as a great man – easy; an outstanding teacher – certainly; the Messiah – possibly; as God – never. We have one God, they assert – you Christians have three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. After all, didn’t Moses tell us that our God is one?
But a fuller examination is necessary. The Hebrew word “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4 is echad. This word is sometimes used as a uni-plural noun. That is, it can mean a oneness in plurality. For example, God said of Adam and Eve,”. . . and they [two] shall be one [echad] flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Adam and Eve were each total entities. They both possessed intellectual capability, emotional capability and volitional capability – they could think, feel and act. They existed independently of each other. And yet, as they united to become husband and wife, though two distinct beings, in the mind of God they were one (echad). Or again, when Gideon led a band of three hundred men against the Midianites, God said to His fearful, trembling general,”. . . Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one [echad] man” (Jud. 6:16). Three hundred men would go to war as one (Jud. 7:7). On still another occasion, the whole nation of Israel went to war to avenge a great wickedness done in the city of Gibeah, and the divine commentary on this amalgamation of soldiers is this: “So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one [echad] man” (Jud. 20:11) – tens of thousands of men as one (echad) man.
And this mystery of oneness in the Godhead did not go unnoticed by ancient Jewish scholars. Maimonides, one of Israel’s greatest teachers, wrote, “I believe with a perfect faith that the Creator. . . is a unity that there is no unity. . . like His, and that He alone is our God.”2 Still another Jewish seer wrote of God thusly, “One and unique in His oneness, inconceivable and infinite in His unity.”3
Since Elohim is a plural name for God, and since God is one in the sense of a unity, a plurality, a mystery of oneness, why is the name Elohim not always translated gods in the Bible? It is necessary to probe further.
Perhaps the best theological description of the Christian belief in the trinity is framed in these words: “Within the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, coeternal, coequal, the same in substance, but distinct in subsistence.” A scalpel must be carefully used to dissect this definition.
Within the unity [oneness] of the Godhead there are three persons: As Adam and Eve were one (echad), so too within the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one (echad) – not three gods in one person, but one God in three persons – a mystery of oneness.
Coeternal: The Father eternally existed. The Son eternally existed. The Holy Spirit eternally existed. And if it be thought that Jesus originated at His birth in Bethlehem, permit one of Israel’s great prophets to be appealed to to oppose such thinking. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, but His “. . . goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” In a stable a child was born – in that same stable the eternal Son of God was given (Isa. 9:6).
Coequal: The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in glory. There is functional distinction among the members of the Godhead, but that does not infringe on equality within the Godhead.
The Father planned redemption (Eph. 1:4); the Son purchased redemption (Eph. 1:7); the Holy Spirit processed redemption (Eph. 1:12). Each played a part. Here was functional distinction without infringing on equality of position. It is for that reason the great Apostle Paul could write about Jesus, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). That is, Jesus did not think equality with God was a thing to be grasped, since He was inherently equal with God. Nevertheless, He chose to empty Himself of His divine prerogatives, to become the perfect Man, to redeem lost and dying men.
The same in substance: The Son of God is made of exactly the same substance of which the Father is made. The Bible teaches that God possesses substance. A synonym for substance is essence. For life to exist, there must be substance. If God does not possess substance, He does not possess life. He must then be relegated to being a creation of man’s mind which has simply been given lifelike qualities. But God does exist – therefore, He does possess substance. Man exists – therefore, He also possesses substance. Man’s substance is physical, visible, corruptible, mortal and corporeal. Man’s substance can be touched and seen – decays and dies – is in bodily form. In contrast, God’s substance is a spirit substance. It cannot be touched or seen – does not decay and die – it is not corporeal. God’s substance is not in bodily form. But because man cannot see and touch God’s substance, and because it does not grow old, decay and die, it is no less real. God’s substance is simply a substance of a different kind, concerning which we in the flesh understand very little. God’s spirit substance is infinitely superior to man’s physical substance. The likeness of God, into which man was created, is intellectual, emotional and volitional – man can think, feel and act Godward. The image into which man was created is not a physical likeness. Man is not, in the traditional sense, a chip off the old block. As a matter of fact, the biblical prohibition on idolatry is predicated on the fact that at Mount Sinai the children of Israel heard the voice of God, but they saw no similitude (Dt. 4:12). That is, they saw no physical form, and since they did not know what God looked like, they were forbidden to make images of God (Ex. 20:4). Those verses which, on the surface, appear to suggest that God possesses physical form are called anthropomorphisms. God speaks of Himself as having human form as a vehicle to communicate truth. God’s eyes speak of His omniscience (Ps. 11:4), His arm speaks of His omnipotence (Dt. 33:27). God has substance, but it is not in corporeal (human) form. Some will struggle with this truth. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same spirit substance. And because “God is a Spirit. . . they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). Nor does the fact that Jesus became a man and took on human form infringe on His spirit substance. In fact, when Paul wrote that Jesus was “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6) before becoming man, the word “form” was being used as a synonym for substance. A proper translation could have been, “Who, being in the [substance] of God. . .” (Phil. 2:6).
Distinct in subsistence: The point is this, although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same substance, they exist independently of each other. Some conceive of God as manifesting Himself at different times in three distinct modes: sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. This was called modalism in the early church and was rightly condemned as error. At the Jordan River on the occasion of the Lord’s baptism, He physically descended into the river. At the same time the voice of the Father out of Heaven proclaimed, “. . . This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove (Mt 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22). Here the Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifested themselves simultaneously. This simultaneous manifestation could only occur because they are distinct in subsistence. Though a unified oneness, they exist independently of one another.
Now when the translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible came to the Hebrew name for God, Elohim, they properly understood that God was a compound unity – a oneness in plurality. They realized that there were three beings within that compound unity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and that they were coeternal, coequal, the same in substance, distinct in subsistence. Here was a mystery of oneness – a oneness in plurality – a compound unity. They chose, after what must have been considerable study, great discussion and agonizing prayer, to translate Elohim “God” when it referred to the infinite, eternal Sovereign of the universe, who is one God in three persons, and “gods,” because Elohim is plural, when it referred to deities whose existence could be found only in the minds of misguided and misinformed men.
Jewish scholars have long understood that Elohim is a plural word. They also understood that this leaves room for the Christian doctrine of the trinity. Since they could not deny the plurality of this name, they suggested that Elohim is used as a plural of “majesty” and that the plural is used simply to pay homage to kingship. To my knowledge, there is neither biblical nor historical precedent to warrant such a view in the Hebrew language.
Elohim Is An Encouraging Name
The root meaning for the word Elohim is debated. It may have its origin in the word “El.” This shortened name for God occurs about 250 times in the Old Testament and is always translated “God” (Gen. 46:3; Num. 12:13; Ps. 17:11). And its meaning is related to strength or power. The modern-day Israeli airline is named El Al and can be translated up, up. In this name the undergirding concept of power is present. It is possible the “El” is united with the word “Alah,” together forming “EIoh,” and with the plural “im” ending, resulting in the name Elohim. The word “Alah” initially meant to swear or bind oneself. The idea of faithfulness or covenanting appeared to be in view. Taken together, then, Elohim suggests strength and faithfulness. And that is clearly what is associated with this name in the Old Testament.
Elohim is the strong, faithful and, therefore, covenant-keeping God. In Genesis chapter 1, the name Elohim is used thirty-two times. Genesis 1 describes creation. Creation requires power. Thus, it is Elohim who speaks the worlds into existence, and it is Elohim who fashions man from the dust of the ground, it is Elohim who breathes into man the breath of life, and it is Elohim who will be faithful to that creation. He will not create and then abandon His creation. He will not become disinterested – turn His back and move off to some far corner of His infinite universe.
If allocation of space in the Bible is an indication of subject importance, then Abraham stands forth as one of the most important personalities in biblical history. More space is allocated to his personal life than perhaps any other man (Gen. 12-25). The importance of Abraham, the spiritual father of the redeemed, arises out of the unconditional covenant which God made with him. Every spiritual blessing which the true believer in Christ possesses can trace its fountainhead back to the Abrahamic Covenant. The major ingredients of the Abrahamic Covenant included a land – Canaan; a seed – the Jew; and ultimate universal blessing through a promised Redeemer. The land would shelter, the people, and in the fullness of time the Son of God was born to provide that universal blessing.
Ah, but it was Elohim, the strong, faithful God, who made these promises to the Patriarch Abraham (Gen. 17:7-9). And God had reiterated these promises to Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 26:1-5). But in the course of time, Isaac’s son Jacob was about to leave the land, the place of promised blessing. He had stolen his brother Esau’s birthright (Gen. 27:18-29). God had intended for Jacob to be the heir of promise, but not by deception (Gen. 25:22-24), and now he was fleeing for his life. He stopped at Bethel to spend the night. The next day he would leave the land that God had promised to his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, as an everlasting possession. With stones for his pillow, he went to sleep. And in a dream he saw a ladder which reached to Heaven, and the angels of Elohim were ascending and descending (Gen. 28:12). Angels are messengers of God. The very name angel means messenger. Ascending and descending a ladder which spanned Heaven and earth meant that God was a transcending God. He could be reached – He could be known – He was a personal Elohim. He was not like lifeless heathen deities who could not see, hear or respond.
And so, God spoke to Jacob from the top of that ladder in Heaven and said, “. . . I am the Lord God [Elohim] of Abraham, thy father, the God [Elohim] of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed” (Gen. 28:13). Jacob was in crisis, he needed help, he needed it badly. He had really messed things up, and now he was fleeing the land of promise. Elohim reminded Jacob that the land upon which he slept that night was his land. Elohim had promised it to Abraham and to Isaac and now to Jacob, as an everlasting inheritance, and Elohim – the strong, faithful God – would be true to His word.
Jacob was leaving the land of promise, but he would not go alone. Elohim said, “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15). How could He? He is Elohim, the strong, faithful covenant-keeping God. And what truly amazing assurances were given to Jacob:
the divine presence –
“l am with thee;”
the divine protection –
I “will keep thee;”
the divine promise –
I “will bring thee again;”
the divine pledge –
“I will not leave thee;”
the divine guarantee –
“Until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
“And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God [Elohim] will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God [Elohim]” (Gen. 28:20-21). And the next day Jacob walked out of the land which God had now promised to him and his heirs as an everlasting inheritance.
Years passed – twenty of them – and Elohim kept His word. He went with Jacob and prospered him. But now it was time to return home, and so Elohim spoke once again to Jacob and said, “I am the God [Elohim] of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred” (Gen. 31:13). And so Jacob returned to the land which Elohim had promised. He left in poverty and returned with riches (Gen. 32:5).
And with the passing of years, significant events occurred in the land. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brethren, and Jacob was given to understand that his beloved son was slain by a wild animal. Famine visited the land, and it appeared that Egypt alone provided a possible refuge from starvation. But to go to Egypt meant to leave the land once again. And so Jacob came to Beer-sheba this time, the most southern boundary of the promised land. Should he leave or stay? Wisely, Jacob called on Elohim, his strong, faithful God, for direction. “And God [Elohim] spoke unto Israel [Jacob] in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And he said, I am God [Elohim], the God [Elohim] of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation. I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (Gen. 46:24).
And so Jacob, in the will of his Elohim, went down to Egypt. His name had been Jacob, meaning supplanter, because he had stolen his brother’s birthright. But now he had a second name, Israel, meaning prince with God, because he had laid hold of his Elohim and would not let Him go until He blessed him (Gen. 32:24-32).
Once again years passed. Jacob was near death, but he was ready. His faith which had begun as a little sapling had grown into a mighty oak. And he spoke these words to his beloved son Joseph, “. . . God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz [Bethel] in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. . . And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die; but God [Elohim] shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers” (Gen. 48:3-4, 21).
And with the passing of more years, Joseph himself was ready to die. He summoned his brethren and rehearsed in their ears what his father Jacob had shared with him, “. . . I die; and God [Elohim] will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Gen. 50:24). And then Joseph did a strange thing. He “. . . took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God [Elohim] will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25). Egypt was not Joseph’s home. Elohim, the strong, covenant-keeping God, had given the land of Canaan to his fathers as an everlasting inheritance. And so Joseph said, We are surely going home one day – promise you will take my bones with you. His brethren probably laughed at such talk. In Canaan they were, at best, struggling herdsmen; but now in Egypt, thanks to their brother Joseph, they were living in luxury. Canaan was the farthest thing from their minds. But then one day there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph, and the children of Israel were enslaved (Ex. 1:8-11). And in captivity, they forgot their Elohim, they forgot their land, they forgot their inheritance. Down in Egypt they sank in the quicksand of slavery, poverty and degradation.
Hundreds of slow, agonizing, intolerable years passed. And then one day Elohim appeared to a man from out of a bush that burned and was not consumed. This man was the meekest of all men and a stutterer. He would do nicely as God’s representative and miracle worker. His name was Moses. And the Lord said to him, “. . . I am the God [Elohim] of thy father, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac, and the God [Elohim] of Jacob. . . I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. . . And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a large and good land, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. . . “ (Ex. 3:6-8).
It was time to go home. So Moses went down to the courts of Pharaoh in the name of Elohim to secure the release of his Jewish brethren (Ex. 5:1). But Pharaoh refused, saying he did not know the Lord, neither would he let the people go (Ex. 5:2). But it didn’t take long. After ten plagues and a devastated kingdom, Pharaoh had a pretty good idea of who Elohim, the strong, faithful God of the Israelites, was. And so, under Moses, the children of Israel started the journey home. About four hundred years had passed since Elohim had told Jacob, and Jacob had told Joseph, and Joseph had told his brethren that one day God would bring them home.
But first, there was one very important matter to be cared for. The oath had not been forgotten. “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he [Joseph] had solemnly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones away from here with you” (Ex. 13:19).
And so I commend to you Elohim: the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Elohim of Moses and the prophets; the Elohim of Peter, James, John and Paul; the Elohim of all men everywhere who through all of time have come to Him through the infinite sacrifice of eternal worth freely offered at Calvary.
William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name? Everything, if the name is Elohim, for He alone is the strong, faithful God. And what His mouth hath spoken, His mighty arm of power will perform.
A mighty fortress is our [Elohim], a bulwark never failing.
- Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), p. 776.
- Maimonides, commentary to the Mishna: Sanhedrin, 1168, 10:1, Thirteen Principles, #2.
- Daniel L. Judah, “Yigdal,” 14C.