The Names of God

by Elmer Towns

His name shall endure forever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Psalm 72:17


     Names are important. Someone has said, "the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of a person's own name." The names of God are also important. The Scriptures record hundreds of names and titles given to God. These names not only identify God but reveal something about his character and nature. Much of the truth of God is capsulized in his names. Therefore, an understanding of God's names will deepen our reverence and love for him.


     The following chart will help interpret the interrelationship among the various names of God.

     The names of God are one method God has chosen to reveal truth about himself. Some of God's names emphasize his nature. Other names emphasize his special relationship to man. At other times, God gave his name to identify other aspects of truth.


Elohim (God)
El-Shaddai, El-Elyon, El-Olam
Jehovah (LORD)

     Elohim—God. The most common designation for deity in Scripture is "God." The Hebrew word for "God" is Elohim. This term comes from two other Hebrew words, El meaning "Strong One," and ohim meaning "to swear or bind with an oath." Therefore, God is the Strong One who manifests himself by his Word. This name is used over 2,500 times in the Old Testament, often to remind the reader of the strength or faithfulness of God. Moses wrote, "From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God [Elohim]" (Ps. 90:2).

     Elohim is the name first used to mention God in the Scriptures. "In the beginning God [Elohiml created the heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). The final reference to the word "God" in the New Testament is the Greek equivalent theos (Rev. 22:19). Usually, the name God (Elohim) is used in connection with the unsaved or inanimate objects.

     Jehovah—Lord. An unusual problem confronts the study of this second name of God. We really are not sure how to pronounce it. Some scholars say "Yahweh" but others say "Jehovah-" To distinguish it from another Hebrew word also translated "Lord," Jehovah in most Bible translations is LORD, using small capital letters.

     The reason we are not sure of its pronunciation stems from the reverence Jewish scribes gave to it. No one would pronounce it, Out of fear of offending God. Whenever a scribe came to the word in copying the Scriptures, some would stop and bathe and put on clean clothes. Others would begin with new pen and ink before writing God's name.

     This concern not to dishonor the name of God was also expressed in the reading of the Scriptures. When the reader came to this name for God, he would either pause and omit it or often substitute another name for God in its place. Also, Hebrew language has no vowels in its alphabet so pronounciation of words is learned orally. Because men did not speak the name, it was not long before others did not know how to pronounce it.

     This word Jehovah means "to be or become." It comes from the verb "to be" repeated twice. Jehovah means, "I am, I am." This is the name whereby God identified himself at the burning bush (Exod. 3:14). This name speaks of both the self-existence of God and his eternity. God is the only one who can say I am, I exist by myself independent of any other. He can always say "I am" because he always was in the past and always will be in the future.

     Jehovah is used about 4,000 times in the Bible, usually in association with his people. It has been called "the covenant name of God," as it is often used to identify God in his covenants (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:14-19; 4:15; 12:1-3).

     Adonai—Lord. The third name used of God in Scripture is Adonai, usually translated "Lord" in our English Bible. Only the first letter is capitalized with Adonai Lord, whereas small capital letters are used in Jehovah LORD. Adonai was first used by Abraham as he sought the will of God in adopting an heir (Gen. 15:2). The term indicates the sovereignty of God. If he is the master, then we are the servants. The master is the one who assumes control of a situation. It is reasonable to as assume that the servants will do the master's will. Of all the names used of God, Adonai identifies him with the qualities of an earthly master. Hence, it gives human characteristics to God.

     The word Adonai also implies the possibility of knowing the will of the master. Abraham used the name as he sought 14i determine a course of action. If the responsibility of a servant is to do the will of his master, it is reasonable to assume the master will make that will known to his servant.

     Today Christians often talk about the Lord but show little of allowing him to control their lives. If we recognize him as Lord, then there is no longer any question of obeying his commandments. When God told Peter to kill and eat unclean animals, three times Peter replied, "Not so Lord" (Acts 10:9-16). As soon as Peter said "not so," he was at that moment not recognizing God as his Lord.


     El-Shaddai—The Almighty God. The primary names of God are sometimes used with other names to identify a specific characteristic of God. The name El-Shaddai means "the Almighty God." This name speaks of God's all-sufficiency. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old and still without an heir, "the Almighty God" renewed his covenant with him (Gen. 17:1, 2). This was the God who was able to overcome any obstacle to keep his promise.

     The term Shaddai means "rest or nourisher." It comes from a root word that means "breast or strength given or sustainer." Though translated "the Almighty God," it also means "the allsufficient God." Today we can claim the psalmist's promise, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty [El-Shaddai]" (Ps. 91:1).

     El Elyon—the most high God. This name is used to identify God, particularly to polytheistic Gentiles. The idea in this name is that the true God of Israel was above all other false gods of the Gentiles. This title is first used in the Scriptures to identify Melchizedek, "the priest of the most high God" (Gen. 14:18). At that time, Melchizedek attributed Abraham's recent military victory to El-Elyon (the most high God). He is also understood to be "the p6ssessor of heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:22).

     El-Olam—the everlasting God. In his experience with God, Abraham also came to know him as "the everlasting God" (Gen. 21:33). This name indicates God is not limited by time, for he is eternal. Moses wrote, "From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). The name El-Olam personifies a that is true about the eternity of God.


     Jehovah-Sabaoth—the Lord of hosts. This name emphasizes the power and glory of God. The word "hosts" is used in the Bible to refer to heavenly bodies (Gen. 2:1), angels (Luke 2:13), saints (josh 5:15), and sinners (Judg. 4:2). It implies the power of the heavenly beings who serve the Lord. As the Lord of hosts, God is working through all these "hosts" to fulfill his purposes. The Christian can be encouraged today as he claims the promise, "The Lord of hosts is with us" (Ps. 46:7).

     In discussing the second coming of Christ, David asked and answered a very important question. "Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory" (Ps. 24:10). The expression "Lord of hosts" is used over 170 times in Scripture to identify the Lord.

     Jehovah-Jireh—the Lord shall provide. Probably the single greatest test of faith in the life of Abraham occurred when God called him to sacrifice his son. When Isaac asked his father about the sacrifice animal, Abraham responded, "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:8). Later that same day, God honored the faith of Abraham and prevented the death of Isaac, providing a ram in his place. "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah- Jireh [the Lord shall provide]" (Gen. 22:14). In the New Testament, Paul may have been thinking of this name of God when he asked, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).

     Jehovah-Rapha—the Lord that healeth. God always wants the best for his people. When he brought Israel out of Egypt, he wanted his People to live full and healthy lives. "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt ii(i that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exod. 15:26). name of God emphasizes God's concern for our good health.

     God is certainly able and does on occasion heal people miraculously, but that is only part of what this name teaches. The context of the revelation of this name is preventive medicine more than curing. No doctor has found a cure for the common cold, but the mother who bundles up her children with scarves, mittens, boots, and snowsuits on a cold winter day has "cured" her children’s cold by preventing it. Here God has promised to heal us from the diseases that plagued the Egyptians by providing the resources that are available to those who obey the Lord. Obedience will produce good health.

     Jehovah-Nissi—the Lord our banner. When God gave Israel the victory over Amalek, "Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-Nissi" (Exod. 17:15). The name Jehovah-Nissi means "the Lord is my banner" or "the Lord that prevaileth.” The emphasis of this name for the Christian is that we are not in the battle alone. As soldiers, we march under the banner and colors of God. The battle itself belongs to God, and victory is already guaranteed. The Christian can therefore serve the Lord with complete confidence in the outcome.

     Jehovah-Shalom—the Lord our peace. When God called Gideon to deliver Israel from the oppressive Midianites, "Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord and called it Jehovah- Shalom" (Judg. 6:24). The name Jehovah-Shalom means "the Lord is our peace." The building of that altar before the gathering of an army or forming of a battle plan was an act of faith on Gideon's part. The only way one can know Jehovah-Shalom is by faith. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). As we seek, to live for God consistently, the Bible says, “The God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9).

     Jehovah-Tsidkenu—the Lord our righteousness. When the Lord returns to this world at the end of the age, many Jews Will recognize their Messiah and turn to him as Savior. At that time they will know a name of God that every Christian knows experientially, "the Lord our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6). Our admission into heaven is not dependent upon our personal righteousness but rather the righteousness of God applied to our account. Someday this will also be the experience of national Israel and "the Lord our righteousness" will be the prominent name of God in that day.

     Jehovah-Shammah-the Lord is there. As Ezekiel concludes his discussion of the eternal city, he records, "and the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there" (Ezek. 48:35). This name of God emphasizes his presence. When God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, he promised, "Certainly I will be with thee" (Exod. 3:12). As we are faithful today in presenting a greater deliverance to the lost by preaching and teaching the gospel, Jesus has promised, "Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world [age]" (Matt. 28:20). The Lord is present.


     Taking God's name in vain disobeys a biblical command. Taking God's name in vain is commonly identified as cursing and is definitely prohibited in the Scriptures. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exod. 20:7). On at least six occasions in the Book of Leviticus, Moses writes, "Neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God" (Lev. 18:21, 19:12; 20:3; 21:6; 22:2, 32). That book of the Bible which teaches most about the holiness of God is also that book which reminds us most definitely not to curse.

     Christians have a tendency to classify certain commands its more important than others. Actually, it is our duty as Christians to obey all that is commanded (Luke 17:10). We also sometimes wrongly classify sins in terms of what we would never do and those that God understands we will sometimes do. For many Christians, cursing is one of those understandable sins." They would be surprised to realize that God banned this practice in the context of prohibiting child sacrifices and just before forbidding homosexuality and bestiality (Lev. 18:21- 24). In the mind of God, these things were serious enough to cause him to cast out the pagan nations which at that time inhabited the Promised Land.

     Cursing is not becoming priests. Moses was instructed to advise Aaron, Israel's first priest, "that they profane not my holy name" (Lev. 22:2). The priest was that individual who represented the people before God. The chief ministry of the priest was prayer. He naturally had a higher view of God than the typical Jew. God specifically told the priest not to desecrate God's name.

     The New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. Every Christian has access by prayer to God directly through the blood of Jesus (Heb. 4:14-16). We are a part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:8). Just as the Old Testament-priest had the highest view of God, so the New Testament priest should have a high view of God. If the Christian "priest" has a correct understanding of who God is, he will not take his name in vain.

     Cursing may produce detrimental associations. Many make a practice of cursing or using minced oaths (using a slang word as a swear word such as, darn for damn) in association with God. Some even find swearing or minced oaths somewhat entertaining. The Bible identifies those that curse in a different way. David said, "Thine enemies take thy name in vain" (Ps. 139:20). When a Christian curses, he identifies himself with the enemy of God.

     Cursing is also a characteristic of "desperate men." During the Great Tribulation, men who have rejected Christ as Savior will panic in the midst of the judgment of God and blaspheme the name of God (Rev. 16:9). When God allowed Satan to try Job, Job's wife considered the situation desperate and advised Job to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). The Christian should not panic in the midst of an apparently desperate. situation. "Fret not thyself" (Ps. 37:1) is a command every Christian needs to obey daily.

     Cursing is incompatible with personal holiness. God told redeemed Israel, "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God, am holy" (Lev. 18:2). In the New Testament, Peter taught his converts, "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [life]" (1 Pet. 1:15). A Christian cannot practice consistent personal holiness and curse. "They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God" (Lev. 21:6). It is incompatible to try to live for God in our life-style and dishonor his name in our speech.

     Paul charged the Jews in Rome that "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you" (Rom. 2:24). He was not here accusing these Jews of cursing but rather of inconsistent lives. While they were concerned about keeping certain laws, they were also slack about observing others; their inconsistency in the name of God being dishonored. Because of the One that name represents and what it stands for, it is imperative that a Christian never dishonor the name of God, verbally or otherwise.


     God has revealed a great deal about himself in his names. When we actively use his name in vain through cursing or passively by not showing proper respect, we rob ourselves of the blessing of God. As we apply these names of God to our Christian experience, our communion with God will grow deeper and our Christian life will be more fulfilling.


Monday: Genesis 14:17-15:6

Tuesday: Genesis 17.1-22

Wednesday: Genesis 22:1-14

Thursday: Judges 6:11-24

Friday: Exodus 15:22-27

Saturday: Exodus 17:8-16

Sunday: Exodus 34:1-17

Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns