The Names of God

Robert F. Wall

Extended notes based on an address given at Catford on 2 February 2013

 

Exodus 6:2-4; 1 Corinthians 8:5-6; Matthew 6:7-10; Revelation 14:1;

John 17:1-6, 11, 25-26; John 4:23-24

 

It is quite normal in Christian circles today for God to be addressed in prayer and praise under names by which He revealed Himself in Old Testament times. I want in this address to enquire with you at the mouth of Scripture whether or not this is really the will of God for the Christian.

We have read in Exodus 6 that God was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the Almighty God but by His name Jehovah He was not made known to them. In chapters 12 to 16 of Genesis, and subsequently, Jehovah made certain promises to Abraham and to his seed, but their fulfilment awaited a future time. Meanwhile they were strangers in a strange land, surrounded by peoples largely hostile to them. They needed a God who was Almighty, who by His power could keep and protect them from these external foes. In answer to this need Jehovah appeared to Abram as the Almighty God (Gen. 17:1) and that name, that revelation of what God is in this respect, was the name of God that more than any other came to characterise the relationship between God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The same principle is seen in God's revelation of Himself as Jehovah. This is the name under which He first entered into relationship with men, and especially with Israel. It is derived from a Hebrew word that means to exist, and emphasises that Jehovah is the eternally existing God, the God who does not change (Mal. 3:6). This characteristic quality of Jehovah is also presented under the name 'the Same.' It first occurs in Deuteronomy 32 (v. 39), a chapter where Moses gives a prophetic outline of the history of the nation of Israel. Despite their unfaithfulness to Him Jehovah assures the people of His faithfulness to them and that in the end He will be merciful to them and to their land (Deut: 32:43). This is wonderful because it is just what those in relationship with Him need Him to be. One who does not change but is always faithful to them however much they may change towards Him.

Under the name Elohim, God revealed Himself as the supreme Deity and creator of all things (Gen. 1). Every creature needs to know this because it is to Him that every creature is responsible and accountable. Jehovah frequently spoke to Israel as Elohim to emphasise the contrast with the inferior deities of the Gentiles to which they were turning. In reality, beside Him there is no Elohim (Isa. 44:6). He spoke of Himself in this way to Cyrus too, in connection with the overthrowing of Babylon, the source of idolatry: 'that thou mayest know that I, Jehovah, who call thee by name, am the Elohim of Israel' (Isa. 45:3, JND trans.). Furthermore, in the time to come, He will be called 'the Elohim of the whole earth,' and acknowledged by all as the supreme God (Isa. 54:5).

The name 'Most High' is a name of God that will come into prominence in the 'world to come' when Christ will sit as a King-Priest upon His throne. Melchizedek is a type of Christ as such. In Genesis 14 where the name Most High and Melchizedek appear for the first time, Melchizedek comes forth as the priest of the Most High God to bless Abraham on God's behalf and to bless God on Abraham's behalf. In the day of which that is a picture God will have His proper and acknowledged place as above all. Those of the nations will know that in His ordering of all things Israel have a higher place than they (Deut 32:8; 28:1-2, 13-14). And the people of Israel will know that there are those who are set above them (Dan. 7:22, 27; Rev. 21:9-14). Yet the people on earth, whether of Israel or the nations, will know and acknowledge that there is One who is Most High, and that all their blessing flows down from the Most High God through the Lamb.

Adon and Adonai both signify a sovereign or master or ruler, Adonai being the emphatic form. Adonai is always translated Lord whereas Adon is translated lord or master and used most frequently of earthly lords or masters. However, in the Psalms and Isaiah and some other places it is used of God (Psa. 8:1(2), 9(2); 45:11; 110:1(2) etc. In Psalms 8 and 110 the first occurrence of 'L ORD' i n the verses indicated is 'Jehovah.'). The name Adonai, however, is only used of God. It is the name of God as the One in whose hand is the disposing of all things. It was frequently used in prayer, for example in the prayer of Abraham to Jehovah in Genesis 15 verses 2 and 8, and in his intercessory prayer to Jehovah in Genesis 18 verses 3, 27, 30, 31, and 32. The use of the name in these contexts shows understanding that He is the one who is always in control and that He can change the course and outcome of events etc. How important it is for believers to have this knowledge and what encouragement it gives them to continue in their prayers to Him!

When we turn to the pages of the New Testament these Old Testament names of God largely disappear. There are some allusions to the name Jehovah in the early chapters of Matthew, Luke and Acts, where John the baptist is presented as His forerunner (Mal. 3:1; Matt. 11:10), and the Jewish remnant and those that first formed the church are shown to be connected with the people to whom these previous revelations of God had been made. Elsewhere, by citation from the Psalms and in order to demonstrate the Deity of the Lord Jesus, He is shown to be Elohim, Jehovah and the Same (Heb. 1). In Revelation 1 verse 8 the three names Jehovah, Elohim and Almighty are found together and in the course of that book those names are made good through divine judgements. God takes possession of the earth and blesses Israel and the nations under the names by which He had previously revealed Himself. There are other references in the New Testament to these Old Testament names but they are not numerous.

We have read in 1 Corinthians 8 verse 6 that 'to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we in' (or rather 'for') 'Him.' This is the Christian revelation of God and how Christians know Him—as Father. It is the full revelation of God and therefore the final revelation of God, not a merely supplementary revelation adding to what has gone before. Even immature Christians, the 'little children' of whom John speaks, are said by John to know the Father (I John 2:13). It should be said that the name of God as Father supersedes for the Christian every other name by which God had previously, though partially, revealed Himself. And it subsumes those names within it. The context in 1 Corinthians 8 supports this contention. A godly Jew would say, in contrast to the Gentiles with their gods many and their Lord's many, 'Jehovah our God is one Jehovah' (Deut. 6:4). But to the Christian there is one God, the Father. Furthermore, in this hostile world the Christian does not call upon the Almighty God but upon the Father (1 Pet. 1:17). 1 Corinthians 8 verse 6 isn't a denial of the Deity of Christ, which we have already seen is carefully guarded by many other Scriptures. The Lord Jesus has taken upon Him the form of a servant and will be a servant forever. In this portion He is shown to be the one who gives effect to what the Father, as the source of all, purposes. In fact, if the Lord Jesus was not also God, He would not be able to do this.

In view of this assertion, that the revelation of the Father is properly speaking the Christian revelation of God, some comment is called for in relation to the references to the Father in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew 6 the Lord was instructing the disciples in the matter of prayer and gave them a pattern prayer in which are found those divine principles that were to guide them in their own prayers. The Father was to be addressed as in heaven, a form of address that spoke of their distance from Him at that time. His name, that of Father, was to be hallowed or treated as holy. The name Jehovah is regarded by the Jews as so holy that they will not speak it, referring instead to 'the name' or 'the great and terrible name.' It is evident that the Lord spoke of God as He knew Him—as the Father. There is no indication that the disciples entered into these things at the time, or that they addressed God as Father in prayer while the Lord was with them. While He was with them they quite rightly looked to Him for everything and lacked nothing.

Matthew chapters 5 to 7 set out the character and conduct suitable to those who are waiting for God's kingdom to appear (or indeed suitable to those who are in it in its present spiritual form). These chapters are therefore equally applicable to the Jewish remnant in the time to come, after the present Christian era closes. There will however be one great difference in their case. The Lord Jesus was personally present with His disciples here on earth but He will not be personally present with the Jewish remnant until right at the end. For that reason it seems unlikely that there will be made to them the disclosures about the Father that were made to the disciples. In the day of the kingdom, however, the Jewish remnant will of all people on earth be the nearest to heaven and in some respects form the link with heaven (Rev. 14:1; Hos. 2:21-23). They will have in their foreheads the name of the Lamb and the name of the Lamb's Father (see JND trans.). They will know of the Father though their own proper blessing will be under the name Jehovah and the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:36-44). 'All peoples of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of Jehovah...' (Deut. 28:10, JND trans. c.f. James 2:7).

When we turn to John 17 we come to what is properly Christian ground. The Lord Jesus prays to the Father as though the work which the Father gave Him to do had been already finished and He was no longer in the world. Eternal life is the life in which God is known as Father and the Lord Jesus, His Son, as His sent one. When here with the disciples the Son had manifested the Father's name. What the Father is, His nature and character, was shown in the life that the Lord Jesus lived, and in His words and actions. He that had seen Him had seen the Father, and the words which He spoke He spoke not from Himself but the Father who dwelt in Him He did the works (John 14:9-10). The disciples had 'kept' the Father's word, this communication of what had previously been hidden. When others went back Peter said 'Lord, to whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life.' And again, when the Lord asked the disciples who they said that He, the Son of man was, Peter answered 'thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' The Lord Jesus answered 'Flesh and blood had not revealed this unto thee but My Father, which is in heaven.'

The Lord Jesus had kept the disciples in the Father's name, through His ministry and care and prayer for them. He prays, now that He would no longer be in the world, that the Father who is holy would keep them in His own name—that they might continue as those to whom this revelation had been made and who had been formed by it. Those within the Christian profession who argue that the Christian is under the law sometimes say that grace alone will lead to careless Christian living. Here in His prayer the Lord connects true holiness with the revelation of the Father, with the Father's name and being kept in that name. The disciples were indeed kept in that name and unity among them was maintained, a practical unity flowing from the revelation of the unity between the Father and the Son and their knowledge of it.

The Lord Jesus made the Father's name known to the eleven, and He makes it known to those who believe on Him through their word (John 17:20). It had previously been hidden but He had made it known, and He would continue to make it known that all the blessing of knowing God as so revealed, His love and favour, might be enjoyed by those that the Father had given Him.

In John 4 we have read about the worship of the Father. The Lord Jesus speaks of this in the course of His conversation with the Samaritan woman. This is remarkable, for she was not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel to whom the Lord had been sent, yet the Lord began the conversation with her. Equally remarkable is that she was such a woman—a woman who had had five husbands and who at that time was living with someone to whom she was not married. To such a woman the Lord Jesus spoke of the Father. This took place 'near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph' (John 4:5). Jacob was a father who had a beloved son and who in token of that love gave him something. Here we are occupied with a greater Father, even God, and a greater Son, even God, but who as incarnate was weary and thirsty. This woman was one of those that the Father was giving Him. To such He speaks of the Father and of the worship that the Father seeks. This is not ceremonial but true worship—worship that is consistent with the fact that God is a spirit. The Christian has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is in the believer a well of water springing up unto eternal life. We are enabled therefore to worship the Father in our own human spirits, apart from any religious centre or system on earth.

From even this brief examination of the subject it seems quite clear that the revelation of God with which Christians have to do is the revelation of God as Father, by the Son, known and responded to in the power of the Holy Spirit. The name Father speaks of love, grace and relationship. In His grace He sent the Son to be the propitiation for our sins. He revealed Himself under this name when our need was shown to be beyond human remedy. Yet His grace goes beyond our need and because it is grace reveals all that is in His heart and mind and blesses us accordingly. Let us then return to Him now that worship that we shall return to Him throughout all eternity.