Why Study the Names of God?
Do you know the story behind your name, why your parents chose the name they did? I love knowing I was named after my great-grandmother. My youngest is named after my grandfather. My husband, after his father. Sometimes we choose names for their meanings or because they remind us of someone special.
Names in the Bible are of particular significance. When God gave someone a name, it defined who they were, who they would become, what they would do, or even described what would happen to the nation of Israel. Abram's name was changed to Abraham which means "father of many." Simon's name was changed to Peter which means "rock."
When it comes to the name of God, the meanings for His name have extraordinary significance for us. God is so amazing, so complex, so vast and awesome, one name just can't describe Him. In fact, there are hundreds of names in the Bible that describe who God is.
The Great "I Am"
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him he was to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses asked:
"If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Ex. 3:13–14).
The most common name for God in Scripture is the one our Bibles write as LORD in all capital letters. It is the name YHWH, which we pronounce Yahweh. The Jewish people had such reverence for the name that they never said it out loud; instead they used the name Adonai.
It is this name Yahweh that's used in Exodus 3. This passage is important because God is in essence defining His name for Moses. He is telling Moses that He has always existed and that He is not dependent upon anyone else. Unlike humans, He is not created and does not rely upon anything outside of Himself to sustain Him. He is also unchangeable—He always is and always was. This name—Yahweh, I AM—was the name Jesus used in response to the questioning Jews in John 8: "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am'" (v. 58).
Knowing God's Names
As believers, it's important that we learn and study the names of God in His Word. Psalm 9:10 says, "And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you." While the name Yahweh is the most common and important name for God, there are hundreds more names for God in Scripture. Each one describes a particular characteristic or attribute of God. They help us understand more of His power, wonder, and might. They describe what He does, how He acts, and how He moves in our lives. They also describe how He responds toward us as His people. And as Psalm 9 tells us, knowing God's name helps us trust Him.
One name for God that I find comforting is Jehovah-Rohi, which means, "Our Shepherd." The most well-known passage where this name is found is in Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want" (v.1) Jehovah-Rohi reminds us that God is our Shepherd who watches over us, guides us, and protects us.
Jesus referred to Himself as a shepherd in John 10, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (v. 11). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who became the Lamb of God and died in our place. This name also tells us that He loves and knows each one of us. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). In Luke 15, Jesus told a parable about a shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep to seek one that was lost. Jesus is our Shepherd who knows us, loves us, and who has gone to great lengths to rescue and save us.
Another name for God is El Roi, the God who sees, which comes from the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. After being hurt by her mistress, Hagar ran off into the desert. God saw Hagar crying. He saw her misery and had compassion on her and helped her. In response to God's kindness, Hagar gives God the name El Roi: "She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me'" (v. 13 NIV).
My own heart has been filled with worry and fear. I've felt alone and uncertain about the future. Many times anxiety has taken over my heart, paralyzing me. I, too, have run and hidden from all that frightens me. But no matter where I go, God is always there. He sees, He knows, and He cares about all the burdens on my heart. He sees the weight on my shoulders and the way worry holds me hostage.
El Roi tells me that He is not a distant God, watching things from afar. He not only sees my pain, but He meets me right there in my desert wanderings and rescues me. When I think of the name El Roi, it reminds me of just how much God cares. I can trust Him, and that trust leads me away from fear, worry, and anxiety and back to the God who sees.
Here are just a few more names of God:
El Shaddai: God Almighty (Gen. 17)
This name tells us that God is all-powerful; nothing is too hard for Him. He has proven this over and over in Scripture and in our lives. He has conquered sin and defeated our enemy. He has freed us from slavery and rescued us from sin. No matter how big our problems, He is bigger still.
Jehovah-Jireh: The LORD will provide (Gen. 22, Matt. 6)
God not only sees everything that is happening in our lives, He knows just what we need. This name reminds us that God is our provider and sustainer. The name Jehovah-Jireh comes from the story of Abraham and Isaac where God provided a ram in the thicket, a substitute taking Isaac's place on the altar. This event pointed to the day when God would provide His very own Son as a substitution and payment for our sins. If He would provide His Son for us, won't He also provide for us all our daily needs?
Strong Tower (Prov. 18:10)
Just as a strong tower provides safety and shelter from a storm, so too is God's name a place of safety for us. Proverbs 18:10 says, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe." When we trust Christ as our Savior, we are safe from evil and sin forever. Nothing can take away God's love for us. Our eternal hope is firm and secure in Christ.
And there are many more names of God in Scripture. The more we study His names and their meanings, the more we trust Him. When we are lost, wandering in our own desert wilderness, uncertain and afraid, we can call out to our Strong Tower, El Shaddai, Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Rohi, and El Roi and know that He is all powerful, all mighty, and that He provides, He protects, and He sees.
Which of God's names hold special significance for you?
By Christina Fox
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