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TEXT: Genesis 1:1-2:3
SUBJECT: The Names of God #1: Elohim
Today, with the blessings of Heaven, we will begin a short afternoon study on the Names of God. If you know your Bible, you know that names are important because they often signify one's character or destiny.
Abraham, for example, was not given that name at birth. His parents named him, 'Abram', which means 'exalted father'. After decades of marriage to an infertile woman, this must have struck the man as bitterly ironic, but then, late in life, God came to him with a new name, 'Abraham' which means 'the exalted father of many nations'! At the time it was given, the named seem laughable, but with God all things are possible, and by the time he died, Abraham was the father of the Israelites, the Ishmaelites, the Midianites, the Edomites, and others. There was meaning in the name, 'Abraham'.
The same is true with 'Jacob', That name means 'one who takes the place of another'; but after wrestling with the Lord, he became 'Israel', meaning 'the Prince who has power with God and man'. This points to his descendants becoming 'a kings and priests', culminating with the Lord Jesus who is both in the highest sense of the words.
'Nabal' is a lesser known man, but he too, lived up to his name, meaning 'fool'.
And, of course, no name is more meaningful that the one given to Mary's son, Jesus, which means 'The Lord will save His people'.
If human names are important in the Bible, you'd expect the names of God to be even more important, and, of course, they are. Whether other peoples used the names for their own (false) gods is irrelevant; what matters is what the names reveal about the One True God. Just as men did not make God after their own image, neither did we name God. Idols are named by their worshippers, but the True God names Himself!
And the names He puts on Himself are true and meaningful and good for us to know.
HOW MANY NAMES?
If we stick to the Bible only, how many names of God are there? This is a trick question, because a lot of the names are but variations of each other. Just as a man named 'Richard' might be called, 'Rich or Rick or Dick or Richie or Ricky', so the Lord's basic names vary a bit to emphasize certain things about His character or promises or deeds,
Thus, on the common name, 'El', we have variations such as 'Elohim, Elohah, El-Shaddai' and so on, meaning more or less the same thing.
Since no one in this room is scholarly enough to split these hairs, I won't even try. What I will do, God willing, is to lay out the three most important names for God in the Bible. In choosing them, I have mostly followed the lead of the great Dutch Reformed scholar, Herman Bavinck. The are:
I have arranged them in this way because this is the order in which they appear in the Bible. Starting with its first page.
If I counted correctly, the name of God appears thirty-three times in the Creation story. In every case it is translated from the Hebrew word, Elohim.
El means 'the strong one', and can be roughly paraphrased as the King. It carries with it the idea of great power and the right to pass judgment. The power, therefore, is not brute force, like the unthinking power of an enraged elephant or an earthquake, but ordered power, power put to good use.
The suffix of the word, im, is the Hebrew plural, like our 's' in most English words. This has led some secular and even Christian scholars to wonder if the God of Genesis 1 is the presiding God over a committee of gods. There's a special word for this, 'henotheism', which means there are many gods, with one God on top-like the President and his cabinet, for example. It is his executive will that is done, but the secretaries work out the details in their own ways.
No traditional Jew ever believed this because long before he learned the Creation Story, he knew the shema, the most important verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4-
Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.
How, then did he explain the plural suffix? He called it 'the plural of fullness', that the One True God is so overflowing with power and wisdom and goodness, and so on, that the prophets sometimes added an 's' to His name-not to suggest that there's more than one god, but to emphasize His ever springing greatness.
This is the traditional Jewish and Christian explanation, and it agrees with the overall teaching of the Bible, or what is sometimes called, 'the analogy of faith'.
And so, what does Elohim say about God? It says He is all powerful and that He makes good use of His power.
ELOHIM IN CREATION
The wise power of God is underlined in the Creation Story because it is needed there. The Bible teaches that God made 'all things out of nothing', but here-in Genesis 1:1-2:3-that aspect of His work is not emphasized.
What is is God arranging all things for our good and His own glory. Unlike the Lord, Adam is a contingent being, he depends on the things around him; he cannot live or function as he ought to unless things are prepared for him.
At the beginning of Genesis 1, things are totally unprepared for him. He needs light to see and dry ground to stand on, water to drink, food to eat, a mate and a calling in life. All of which he is given as the Story unfolds.
God, therefore, is able to dispel darkness, separate the oceans from the land, plant a garden, provide a wife, and give Adam a mission and the abilities to perform it.
ELOHIM IN ISRAEL
All of this proves to him-and reminds Israel-that the Lord is Elohim, the Almighty Maker-and Wise Arranger of Heaven and Earth.
For Israel, the message was, they can trust God to walk through the Red Sea, trust Him to set a table in the wilderness, trust Him to defeat their enemies, trust Him to take a rich and well-fortified land away from the Canaanites and give it to them.
This is in sharp contrast to the Pagans all around them. The Pagan gods had the same problem the Lord did: how to push back-and hold back-chaos. They could do it at times and for a while-but in the end, they failed. In Norse Mythology there is the terrible-
In which Odin and the other gods are finally defeated by the powers of chaos and the habitable world sinks to the bottom of the sea.
In their theology, the gods fight heroically holding back the chaos, but finally succumb, allowing darkness and water and death to be History's Last Word.
Over against the dark gods of Heathendom is the Lord God of Israel, who is not threatened by chaos, but is its Lord and Master, and, in the end, the one who Abolishes it once and for all!
This is what Israel was to get out of the name Elohim. The future belongs to God, to order, to life! And so, to this day, Jews offer the toast-
ELOHIM AT SINAIIf you carefully read Genesis 1:1-2:3, you see the words, 'And God said' ten times. The chaos was master and order maintained by ten commands of God.
Which puts us on a straight road to.what?
Mount Sinai! Where, again, God will speak ten times and, if His Ten Commandments are followed, order will be restored to the human race. The chaos of murder and adultery, lying, stealing, idolatry and all the rest, will be replaced with order, everything in its place and a place for everything.
ELOHIM AND THE CHURCH
If Israel needed to know that God was orderly and that His Word would restore order to His now chaotic world, we need the same message. And that's what Elohim means to us.
With one difference: While the Ten Commandments would have remade the world had they been obeyed, they were not obeyed, and, so, did not fix the problem.
The problem remained-and got worse for 1,500 years-until a New Word was spoken. That Word, John tells us-
Was is with God and the Word was God.
The Word is our Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is the only truly Restored Man. But, some day, there will be others. The Almighty, All Wise Elohim will have the last laugh on Chaos when, in union with His Son, Jesus Christ, the human race will be restored and with it, the whole creation.
Until then we wait.in hope. A hope that will never be put to shame. How thankful we ought to be that God is Elohim, the God of power and wisdom and goodness, a God who puts them all into the service of our salvation in Christ!
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