What the names of God tell us about his character

Unsplash / Alejandro Escamilla

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our God is a trinitarian God with three persons, but he's also referred to by hundreds of different names in the Old and New Testament.

These names, rather than referring to the different persons of God, point to different facets of his character. The names by which he is described reveal to us more fully his qualities, and who he truly is.

Elohim

This is the name given to God in Genesis 1:1, and so is the first biblical revelation we have of his identity. The word is plural for the Hebrew word Eloha, which means 'mighty, strong, prominent.' From the very first sentence in Genesis, the Trinitarian nature of God is revealed alongside his creative power. God is often referred to as 'Elohim' in relation him as Creator; underlining that all three persons of the Trinity were involved in creation. The Psalmist wrote that "The heavens declare the glory of Elohim" (19:1).

YHWH

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Often pronounced as 'Yahweh' or 'Jehovah', 'YHWH' is the promised name of God revealed to Moses when he asked what name he should give to the Israelites: "I Am who I Am" (Exodus 3:14). It is the name of God that Jesus uses during his earthly ministry – the great "I am". It refers to the eternal nature of God; unlike us, who become, he always is. The name is too holy to be spelt out in full in the Jewish culture, hence why the Hebrew abbreviates to YHWH.

The name suggests that he is a present God who is accessible, offers deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3)

JEHOVAH JIREH

This name of God translates literally as 'The Lord will provide' and is the name Abraham calls God in Genesis 22, where he is saved from sacrificing his son Isaac by the provision of a ram instead.

"Abraham called the place 'The Lord Will Provide' [Jehovah Jireh] as it is said to this day, in the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided."

These words prophesy the future provision of God, where he again provides a substitute sacrifice in his son Jesus Christ. God gave us Jesus so that we might return to right relationship with the Father. He provides all that we need to live in full relationship with him.

EL SHADDAI

Translated as the "Almighty God", El is another name translated as God and Shaddai derives from the Hebrew word for Mountain. In the Bible, mountains often refer to nations, so El Shaddai reveals that our God is God of the nations. There is no place where he is not Lord, and no place is too far from his presence; he has total authority. In Genesis 17 when God promises Abraham that he and Sarah will have a child, he reassures Abraham of his authority by saying: "I AM El Shaddai."

JEHOVA SABAOTH

Another name of God's is 'The Lord of Hosts'. He is called this name over 285 times, mostly in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. It means that God is the God of angelic armies. His authority expands beyond the worldly realms, for he is in control of all the hosts of heaven as well. We can be secure in the knowledge of his power.

JEHOVA SHALOM

While many of his names denote power, God is not war-hungry. God is also referred to as the 'Lord of Peace' or Shalom. It is the name Gideon gives to the altar he builds in gratitude after meeting with the Lord. This characteristic of God reveals his desire for reconiciliation; shown by his choice to go to the Cross in order that we might no longer have to live under the turmoil of sin, but find peace in our salvation.

YAHWEH RAPHA

'The Lord who heals' – "I am Jehovah who heals you," God says in Exodus 15:26. The word Rapha can be translated as 'to restore' or 'to heal'. This healing is both of the body and the soul as revealed in the words of Isaiah 53:4-5. Ours is a God who is interested both in our physical and our spiritual health. These verses in Isaiah point towards Jesus, who came to heal us from the wounds of sin, restoring us to our true idenity as sons and daughters in Christ.

In the Hebraic culture, a name is not so much an identifier as it is something that points to identity. Though many of us attach little meaning to our own given names, it's wildly different in the context of the Old Testament where a name reveals the identity of a person.

God is revealed to man in part through his names; as Almighty and as Peacebringer, as Provider and as Healer. These truths revealed in Scripture help us to discover more of the character of a God who is intricately engaged with his creation. But God's names in the Old Testament also point us towards his identity in the New Testament – to his coming as Jesus Christ. 

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