The Names of God
“The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20).
- Genesis 2:18–25
Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel initiated events that would make him the father of the great nation promised first to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). In that place, God revealed Himself to Jacob as Yahweh Elohim (28:13–14). How, then, do God’s self-declarations reveal His character? Our next few studies will seek to answer this question using The Names of God, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
As Genesis has demonstrated, the name of a person in Scripture often reveals important clues about their identity and destiny. This is no less true of our Creator. Studying the different names of God will help us better comprehend His multifaceted nature.
Before we begin to look at God’s various names, we will discuss the issue of authority as it relates to naming. You may remember that authority over someone or something is wielded by the person who chooses its name. For example, Adam named all the different animals after his own creation (2:19). This was the first exercise of the mandate to take dominion over creation (1:26) and was a tangible way in which Adam established himself over the created order.
When it comes to naming God, however, we find that man does not give names to Him. Instead the Lord reveals His name to His people, maintaining the Creator-creature distinction. At the burning bush, for instance, the Lord reveals His covenant name to be Yahweh (Ex. 3:14). God also does not give His name to everyone who asks for it, and commentators note this is because some might misuse it (Gen. 32:29). There are cases that seem to deny the principle that God does not let us name Him, such as Hagar’s calling the Lord “a God of seeing” (16:13). But even here we see that this name comes as a result of revelation to her (vv. 7–12). Hagar merely recognizes the name our Creator implicitly gives to Himself through His intervention to save her.
We do not name God; He names Himself. This is important to remember in a pluralistic society like ours that wants to attribute false characteristics to God. By holding fast to the Lord’s own self-revelation we guard the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Liberal theologians have long attempted to replace the God of the Bible with names and concepts that tend to overemphasize either His immanence or His transcendence. Even many so-called evangelicals have become culpable in this matter. Take time today to consider what it means for God to reveal His name to us. Remember to address Him in the ways given to us in sacred Scripture and understand that He is Lord of all and present among His people.
Passages for Further Study
- Ex. 6:3
- Judg. 13:17–18
- Ezek. 36:22–23
- Acts 15:16–18
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