‘What is his name . . . if thou canst tell?’ - Proverbs 30. 4
Eric Parmenter, Honiton, England
The many names and titles given to God in the Bible are a revelation of His Person, character and purpose toward mankind. The names by which God chose to make Himself known to His people are a true indication of what He is like. They are part of the self-revelation by which He led His people into the knowledge of Himself.
One True Living God
There are many names for no one name could express all that He is in Himself and in His grace toward man. In the use of these names in the Bible there is a progressive revelation of God.
The first in order of use is Elohim. This is the name used in Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 to chapter 2 verse 3 and it occurs more often in the Old Testament than any other name. It simply means God – as it is always rendered in the King James Version. The opening words of scripture make clear its meaning, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’. It declares God to be supreme, eternal and almighty, the Creator of the universe. The opening statement of the Bible bears the hallmark of divine self-revelation, and is one of the most striking attestations of the inspiration of the scriptures. There is no sidelong glance at the gods of the heathen. Elohim is alone, the fountain, and source of all life and being.
Gods of the Heathen
This declaration concerning the absolute being and power of God is the more striking in that the word Elohim is afterward in the Bible the name used not only for God but also for the gods of the heathen. That does not mean that these are true gods. They are merely the figments of men’s minds and the work of their hands, though behind them lurks the power of evil, Deut. 32. 17; 1 Cor. 10. 20.
When fallen men departed from the true self revelation of God they created for themselves the gods they wanted, according to their concept of what God is, and ought to be. God had created men for Himself, and, estranged from Him, their hearts were restless, but the gods they made in a vain hope of satisfying their needs were a degradation of the true revelation of God. In contrast to them, God is always presented in the Bible as the one true living God, the creator and Lord of all. This distinction between God and the gods of the heathen is the theme of many stories in the Bible. In Egypt, Pharaoh’s magicians could simulate some of the signs which God gave of His power through Moses, yet in the real tests the gods of Egypt were proved impotent while He led forth His people by His mighty power and stretched out arm. Later, the Philistines, having captured the Ark of the Covenant, thought that this indicated the greater power of their god over Israel’s, until they twice found Dagon ignominiously lying on his face before the Ark, the second time smashed. On Mount Carmel, the issue was ‘the God that answers by fire let him be God’ – with the resultant cry, ‘The Lord He is God, the Lord He is God’.
Elohim is a plural noun and when God speaks in Genesis it is in the plural, ‘let us make man’, but the verbs used are singular, making indisputably plain that there is no hint in the plural noun of more than one God. It is a plural of majesty.
The heathen, to express his concept of God, makes many idols, for no one idol can compass all that he considers God to be. If that is so, how much more is God beyond all our thoughts of Him! This comprehensiveness of His person is conveyed in the plural noun Elohim. The foundational fact established by the Old Testament is that ‘The Lord our God is one Lord’, but within the one essential Godhead there are three Persons, God is a tri-unity, and this is indicated in the very opening words of Holy Scripture.
He is worthy of our Worship
The singular of Elohim is El. It is often used and means ‘The Mighty One’. ‘Now therefore our God (Elohim) the great, the mighty and the terrible God (El)’, Neh. 9. 32; also ‘The heavens declare the glory of God (El)’, Ps. 19. 1. The thought that underlies both forms of the word is ‘God is Almighty’, able to do precisely and fully according to His will. ‘God said, Let there be light and there was light’; ’He spoke and it was done’. That is the first and fundamental thing about God that He would have us to know. Therein rests our confidence and our assurance – to know that God is the rock and refuge in whom we can hide. He is the Almighty, the Lord God, unchanging and unchangeable, to whom we may turn and find in Him a very present help in time of need.
We find the highest expression of our beings in lifting up our hearts and voices to Him in praise and adoration.