Names are important. They define characteristics and impart distinction. We name people, places, and things in honor of others, and we use names as a convenient reference. One of the first things Adam did with God was to name all of the animals. Genesis 2:19-20: "The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found."
So, too, with God. We learn about God from the names that He has revealed to us about Himself, and the names others have assigned to Him based on their personal experience in relationship with God. Pondering the names of God can give us great insight about his attributes and character.
Malachi 3:16 tells us about the importance of the names of God. "Then those who respected the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord took notice. A scroll was prepared before him in which were recorded the names of those who respected the Lord and honored his name."
Tradition tells us that some names of God were not spoken out of reverence, and that when scribes copied the holy writings, they would frequently bathe and clean their pen before writing certain names of God.
In Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane He states, John 17:26: "I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them."
As we come to an understanding of names, they reveal to us the nature of God.
Elohim. Normally translated "God" and is introduced in Genesis 1:1 through 2:3. It is used about 2570 times in the Old Testament, second only to the frequency of the most sacred name "Jehovah" or "Yahweh."
In Scripture we see this name used in description of God's power, absolute unlimited energy, as one who is creator, eternal, and almighty. The heathen also use this name for their gods of their conception since they desire to impart to their gods similar attributes. What better way to impart characteristics than to use another's name.
In Exodus we see God compared to the gods of Pharaoh. The Ark of the Covenant that symbolized the presence of God was captured by the Philistines and placed among their gods. Elohim is the plural form of the word. Though perhaps hinting at the Trinity, it is always used in unity of purpose. The prefix El is often compounded with other names for adjectival clarification.
El-Olam. This combination is often translated "Everlasting God." The emphasis here is on everlasting, evermore, or of old time. This is seen in Genesis 21:33 about Abraham: "There he worshiped the Lord, the eternal God."
See also Isaiah 40:28: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is an eternal God, the creator of the whole earth. He does not get tired or weary, there is no limit to his wisdom."
El-Shaddai. This combination is often translated "Almighty God" or "Sovereign God." God is a resource of strength, He is all-sufficient. Genesis 17:1: "When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am the sovereign God. Walk before me and be blameless.'"
El-Elyon. This combination has often been translated "the Most High God." It again denotes the absolute authority, sovereignty, and power of God. Genesis 91:1: "As for you, the one who lives in the shelter of the sovereign One, and resides in the protective shadow of the almighty king - "
Genesis 14:18-20: "Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) He blessed Abram, saying, 'Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.'"
El-Roi. This combination has often been translated "Thou God seest me" or "You are the God who sees me." This can be found in Genesis 16:13 and was spoken by Hagar. Numerous verses tell of God seeing us, such as Psalm 32:8: "I will advise you as I look you in the eye" or Psalm 33:18: "The Lord takes notice of his loyal followers." Another from 1 Peter 3:12: "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord's face is against those who do evil."
Adoni. This is a more frequent name used 340 times in the Old Testament. It is used of a master who has slaves, or of the husband in relation to his wife. It is often translated "master" or "Lord" and indicates that this master was to provide for the complete necessities, complete protection, and complete care of those given to his possession. All worked together in the common goal and purpose of the master's household.
So also for those under the care of the "Sovereign Lord" (Genesis 15:2, 8) would receive care, protection, and guidance.
In the New Testament this equates to the commonly used word "kurios" which is also commonly translated "Lord," "lord," or "master." Romans 12:1 describes the intent behind the words of Lord or Master: "Present your bodies as a sacrifice - alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service." This relationship is significant to the meaning behind our salvation, as shown in Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Jehovah. This name is the most frequently used name and occurs several thousand times in the Old Testament. "Jehovah" is essentially a transliteration of the Hebrew YHWH. This was the most sacred name of God and "Adoni" was usually substituted in place of "YHWH" because it was too sacred to pronounce. In most translations it is commonly translated "LORD" and frequently printed in all-capitals format.
The meaning of YHWH is the self-existent one, the self-sufficient one, the immutable one. The description of meaning wasn't given in Scripture until Exodus 3:13-14: "Moses said to God, 'If I go to the Israelites and tell them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" - what should I say to them?' God said to Moses, 'I am that I am." And he said, 'You must say this to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you."'" The significance of the name is: becoming what His people need to meet that need.
Jehovah (or YHWH) is also used nine times in combination with other nouns as an adjectival combination. Here is a list.
- Jehovah-Sabaoth -- Jehovah of hosts -- 1 Samuel 1:3
- Jehovah-Jireh -- Jehovah will provide or see -- Genesis 22:14
- Jehovah-Shalom -- Jehovah is peace -- Judges 6:7-24 (particularly 24)
- Jehovah-Nissi -- Jehovah is our banner -- Exodus 17:8-16
- Jehovah-Mekaddaschem -- Jehovah who sanctifies -- Exodus 31:12-13
- Jehovah-Rapha -- Jehovah heals -- Exodus 15:22-26 (particularly 26)
- Jehovah-Tsidkenu -- Jehovah our righteousness -- Jeremiah 23:5-6
- Jehovah-Shammah -- Jehovah is there -- Ezekiel 48:35
- Jehovah-Rohi -- Jehovah shepherd -- Psalm 23