The Three Most Significant Names of God - From the Garden of Eden to Bethlehem to the Cross.
"Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?'
Then what shall I tell them?"
When it comes to studying the names of God, we often prefer to leave it to scholars and bible school students. We often perceive this subject to be too dry, too technical, too removed from our everyday life. And yet, in the moment of crisis Moses had one last question to God and it was about His name.
Moses was the first one to receive comfort and reassurance in the midst of difficult times by deliberately seeking out God’s name. The same comfort and reassurance are available to all the believers today who are willing to look beyond the theological lingo and into the heart of God as it is revealed through His glorious names.
Did you know that God’s names are closely related to our testamental relationship with God?
Knowing and understanding the names of God is not about being well versed in theology. It is rather about our understanding of our personal relationship with God and growing closer to Him.
To appreciate the depth and the revealing nature of God’s names in the Bible we should look at the level of significance that biblical Hebrew places on names in general. In biblical Hebrew, names always have meanings as they attempt to describe the essence of persons or things signified by these names. This way, by studying the names of God, we can find comfort, encouragement, and reassurance that come with the knowledge of God’s nature and His character.
Let’s follow Moses’ example and deliberately seek out the meaning of God’s name.
The Three Most Significant Names of God -
Elohim, Yahweh, Emanuel
To uncover true spiritual significance of these names of God one should study them in the context of God’s progressive revelation across the Old and the New Testaments.
The word Elohim and its shorter form El represent the earliest name of God known to the human king. We find its first biblical usage in Genesis 3:3 uttered by Eve in her interaction with the serpent. Stripped of its biblical context, Elohim is a generic Semitic word for God and means “to be powerful. In the Pentateuch, Elohim is used either as God’s name in relation to His supremacy and power over the world or as an appellative, specifically when its short form El is paired with a descriptive adjective or verb.
Thus, we find such divine names of God as El Elyon meaning “God most high” or “possessor of heaven and earth”; El Shaddai “God almighty” or “overpowering” God, and El Hei “living God”, El Roi “God who sees.” In a theological sense, Elohim represents God as a divine and powerful Transcendental Being who exists completely outside and above the physical universe.”
The true meaning of the name Yahweh was first revealed to Moses in Exodus chapter 3. While the etymology of the tetragrammaton YHYW is uncertain, the contextual structure of the passage in Exodus chapter 3 connects its meaning to the concept of being and existence. Theological significance of this personal name of God is highlighted by the three-fold introduction of God to Moses in this passage as He progresses from His impersonal name Elohim, “The God of your fathers,” in verse 13 to the defining clause, “I am who I am,” in verse 14, and further to the tetragrammaton YHYW, His distinctive personal name. Thus, by revealing Himself as Yahweh, God chose to be known to His people not only as Elohim, the powerful ruler of the universe from above, but also as the relational God who is present in the lives of His people from within.
As defined by the clause “I am who I am,” Yahweh denotes a concept of eternal God who is faithful, continuously present and actively involved in the lives of His peoples. It reflects God’s personal interest and concern for His people, His “faithful presence” and His fundamental promise “I will be their God and they will be my people” that in different forms repeatedly appears in the Old Testament.
When the conception of Jesus was announced to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, he was told that Mary will give birth to a son and that his name should be Emanuel. It is a familiar story. Emanuel - God with us. People all around the world find comfort, strength and hope from this name of God as it signifies God’s special presence living among His people.
From the Garden of Eden to Bethlehem to The Cross
As noted earlier we cannot study the names of God apart from their testamental context. And it is equally impossible to talk about the testamentary context of these names without talking about the significance of Christ’s Death.
The book of Hebrews contains one of the most eminent statements that demonstrates the centrality of Christ’s death in God’s plan of redemption. The author of Hebrews refers to Christ as “The Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). A renown Old Testament Scholar Barton Payne concurs when he states that “no man – and this includes all those from Adam to John the Baptist – “comes unto the Father” but by Jesus Christ and by faith in Him crucified”.
As early as in the Garden of Eden it was revealed to man that for the serpent's head to be crushed, the heel of the seed of the woman would have to be bruised. Man’s fall brought about his spiritual death and the separation from God. In His desire to restore man back to His presence, our sovereign God stipulated a unilateral testament by promising His Son to die for the sins of humanity. This self-imposed obligation for the deliverance of sinners was motivated by God’s grace and love towards people. Just moments after the fall of Adam and Eve, we find God lovingly providing the “covering” for their sins by shedding the blood of animals.
By accepting this “covering” Adam and Eve were the first among many who would put their faith into God’s promise of salvation. Faith in this future salvation, the ultimate sacrifice, the death of Christ became the condition of God’s Testament. Just as this “anticipatory” faith in the promise of redemption became the source of salvation for people of Israel, our “commemorative” faith in Jesus Christ, His substitutionary death, and the resurrection serves as the basis of our salvation today.
Names of God and Christ’s Redemptive Purpose
The correlation between Christ’s death and the names of God can be found in the very nature of God’s Testament. While the promise of salvation was offered by God to man immediately after the fall in Genesis 3, the details of God’s plan of redemption were progressively revealed to His people throughout history. Scripture tells us of a number of covenants made by God with various people at various times, however, they all share one common feature – monergism, or “accomplishment by one worker.”
Our God Elohim, “the powerful One", the transcendent ruler of the universe in His sovereignty of His own accord offered a plan of salvation for his people. However, while it is Elohim who demands justice and gives us the promise of redemption, it is Yahweh who personally effectuates this salvation by delivering His people from Egypt, making Israel His own nation and ultimately by dying for His people on the cross.
This shift from the transcendent God to the personal savior is especially evident from the discourse of Moses in Exodus 3. In verse 13 we read that for Moses it was not enough to know God as Elohim of his ancestors. He needed to know God personally, by His name; Moses needed to know Yahweh who would be faithfully present by his side as he would lead God’s people from slavery.
Yet another correlation between God’s names and His testamental relationship with man becomes clear when we look at the progression of God’s redemptive revelation on a larger historical scale. In 1447 BC, at a pivotal moment in Israel's History, God chose to reveal Himself to Moses by His proper name, as a God who would be personally participating in the process of their redemption.
Thousands of years later, at another pivotal moment in Israel's History God chose to reveal Himself to man through His Son, Jesus, Emanuel.
It was the most intimate and personal revelation of God the Father to His children since the time He walked with them in the garden of Eden. We read in the Bible, “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Math. 11:27). Entering this world as Emanuel, Jesus, by declaring Himself the eternal “I AM” in John 8:58, made Himself known as Yahweh who chose to walk with His people on earth and to lay His life for our sins, by personally becoming the mediator of our redemption.
From the Garden of Eden, to Bethlehem, To The Cross!