Adonai

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 9).

- Psalm 8

Even today, Jews who desire not to misuse the Lord’s covenant name Yahweh say “Adonai” when they see the four letters of His name (YHWH) in the Hebrew Bible — the Old Testament. Adonai is used this way since it is actually another name for God in Scripture. In fact, taking into account its translation in the Greek New Testament as kurios, Adonai is the most common name for our Creator in the Bible.

The English title lord typically translates the Hebrew word Adonai. In today’s passage, the English title is repeated twice, though it is not a translation of the actual Hebrew term adonai in both cases. As is customary in most English versions, YHWH is translated as “Lord” (note the small capital letters) here and Adonai is translated “Lord” (no small capitals) . The passage really reads, “O Yahweh, our Adonai … .”

Yahweh as God’s name primarily reflects His covenant faithfulness, and Adonai speaks mainly of His sovereignty. In Scripture, the concepts of authority and omnipotence are inherent to the idea of divine sovereignty. The Lord’s omnipotence, we have seen, simply means that He is able to do whatever He has purposed. For example, God permits His enemies to rebel, but ultimately His will is unstoppable. His might guarantees His sovereignty, for He can do whatever He pleases. Nothing can thwart Him.

Living under various forms of monarchical rule, the biblical authors understood authority well. The king was absolute over most of the societies where the prophets and apostles lived and work. His rule was law, and disobedience meant imprisonment or worse. These ancient kings usually exercised their authority through their royal decrees and proclamations (2 Chron. 30; Est. 8; Dan. 3:29). All of these concepts are an inherent part of our Creator’s sovereign rule as well.

In our lawless age, we must never forget our Father’s sovereign authority. His decree (as found in Scripture) is supreme, and only He has the absolute right to define good and evil. This point is non-negotiable, and consistently maintaining it sets us apart from our culture that wants to define for itself what is right and wrong.

Finally, the title lord when used in reference to Jesus comes from the Greek word kurios, a translation of Adonai. Its frequent usage in the New Testament (Acts 7:59; Rom. 5:1; Heb. 13:20) is one of many indications of Jesus’ power, authority, and deity.

Coram Deo

Humanity’s most basic sin is the desire to throw off the Lord’s external authority and become a law unto ourselves. Even we who have been transformed by His grace must likewise war against this desire, which often manifests itself in an attempt to get around His commandments or excuse behaviors and attitudes that are inexcusable. Let us endeavor daily, with the Spirit’s help, to mortify the lawlessness that is trying to overtake us.

Passages for Further Study

Daniel 7:13–14
Habakkuk 3:19
Matthew 7:28–29
Ephesians 1:15–23

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