The Names of God
“The man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (v. 23).- Genesis 2:18–25
In the old covenant tabernacle, the high priest stood between the Lord who revealed Himself to Israel and the Israelites. One of the chief ways God has made Himself known is through the different names for Him we find in Scripture. Over the next week we will examine what these names tell us about our great Lord using The Names of God, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
A name is more than just a handy way of referring to someone else, it also gives us telling clues about a person’s history and identity. The last name Carpenter, for example, tells us that woodworking is or was a prominent vocation in a family’s line. Or, the name Jacobson indicates that a man named Jacob was a patriarch in the family’s history. Similarly, the names by which God is known tell us a lot about His character.
Biblically speaking, the act of naming is inextricably linked to authority. In ancient times especially, authority over someone or something was wielded by the person who chose its name. Adam, for instance, gave names to all the animals after the Lord made him from the dust of the earth (2:19), and this was the first time he acted to fulfill the mandate to exercise dominion over the created order (1:26). By naming the other creatures, Adam established himself as their lord.
Human beings name the animals, but we do not give names to God; rather, the Lord names Himself as a manifestation of His transcendence. The Lord revealed His covenant name Yahweh at the burning bush; Moses did not come up with it on his own (Ex. 3:14). God also exercises His sovereign right not to reveal His name to everyone who asks Him for it (Gen. 32:29). Scholars believe this is because God knows some people might misuse His holy name. Of course, some biblical figures seem to give names to the Creator; for instance, Hagar called the Lord “a God of seeing” (16:13). Yet even with Hagar this naming is a response to revelation (vv. 7–12) — she only recognized the name God implicitly gave Himself when He intervened to save her.
We live in a pluralistic society that wants to make God in its own image. Therefore, we must never forget that we do not name God; He names Himself. Only through standing firm upon the Lord’s own self-revelation and calling upon Him as He has revealed Himself can we guard the faith once delivered to us (Jude 3).
“I like to think of God as …” is one of the most common ways that our culture tries to name God. People take the attributes of God they like, ignore the ones that do not please them, and end up creating an idol. As Christians we are likewise susceptible to this great error, so we should try never to emphasize one of His attributes at the expense of the others, be it holiness, love, wrath, mercy, justice, goodness, immanence, or something else.
Passages for Further Study