The Name of God

What is God's real name?

RICHARD HAMMILL, Associate Secretary, General Conference Department of Education

The Temple of Solomon had two central pillars. On one was inscribed the name Jachin ("he shall establish") and on the other Boaz ("in it is strength") (1 Kings 7:21). From these two great pillars Christ possibly drew the figure of speech contained in the following Scripture promise: "Him that over­cometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, . . . and I will write upon him the name of my God,. . . and I will write upon him my new name" (Rev. 3:12). The pillars of Christ's temple, His cathedral of living stones, are men and women who have overcome sin, who have inscribed on them the name of God, and who eventually will have the new name of Christ. The people who are inscribed with the name of God are those who have allowed the Holy Spirit to carve them over into new types of men and women, with the character of God written into their attitudes and dispositions, into their words and actions.

What is the name that God will write upon the pillars of His church? Many say, "What is in a name?" Nothing, when we use standardized names like John, George, Mary, Gladys, or Mabel. In our western culture we feel out of place unless we have a name like everyone else's. The common names so familiar today had a specific meaning when first given, but they soon became standardized, and whatever linguistic connotation remains in the name is without significance. Yet the name of God does have significance, and it always will have, for the names men have used for God are terms that express what God is like and what He meant to the individual who first used that name for God.

What Is God's Real Name?

We do not know God's real name, the name by which He is known to unfallen beings. The names that are used for Him in the Bible are adjectival or descriptive in nature, expressing an attribute or a facet of His character. This is true also of the name God in the English and related languages. This name is an old Anglo-Saxon form of the present word "good." In the far-distant past our forebears chose that name "God" for the divine being they worshiped, be­cause to them His outstanding attribute was His goodness.

The oldest name for God in the Bible is the word 'El, or 'Elohim. This comes from a root that means "to be strong" and literally trans­lated would be "the Strong One." This name was not only used by the Hebrews but was the general term among all Semitic people for any deity.

A distinctive name for God among the He­brews is that used by Abraham, 'El-Shaddai. In­corporating the general term for God, 'El, plus the descriptive word Shaddai, it is generally translated "Almighty God."

Abraham used this name because to him the might and power of the God he worshiped was His outstanding characteristic Abraham knew that the pagan deities of his contemporaries were impotent vanities, the figment of men's im­aginations; whereas he had trembled at the majesty of God's presence in vision (Gen. 15: 12, 17) and had witnessed the supernatural power of his God in the miraculous defeat of Chedorlaomer's host, and in the destruction of Sodom. Because he sensed even a little of God's indescribable majesty and power, Abraham called Him 'El-Shaddai, "God Almighty."

Jacob used two names for God besides the one he had learned from his grandfather Abraham. The first, 'Abir, really means "the powerful One," and may be rendered "the Champion," although it is usually translated "the mighty God" (Gen. 49:24). Jacob also was impressed with that side of God's character wherein He serves as a mighty protector of His people. In his long life Jacob had passed through many experiences in which the Lord had championed his cause, despite his many shortcomings. Both his brother Esau and his father-in-law Laban had planned, in anger, to do him bodily harm, but had been restrained by the Lord. With his own eyes Jacob had beheld two camps or hosts of mighty angels, who had been sent to protect him and to champion his cause (Gen. 32:1, 2). Is it any wonder that he referred to his God by the name "the Cham­pion"?

The person who would be a pillar in God's church must also have this comprehension of the might and power of God. Faith to trust in God for help in all the problems and vicissitudes of our ministry is the fruit of such a concept. To believe that God has the power and capacity to handle any problem of ours or of the church brings comfort and courage. It produces an attitude and a practice of relying on the Lord that every Christian needs in order to be an overcomer.

Abraham's belief in God's power led him to trust to such an extent that his reliance on God was counted to him as righteousness. In his earlier years Abraham had doubted God's ability to fulfill what He had promised, but in his later life, nothing could daunt his faith. Even though he and his wife had long passed the age when they could beget and bear chil­dren, still—"in hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. . . . Ile did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the bar­renness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was 'reckoned to him as righteousness'" (Rom. 4;18-22, RSV).

All the facts indicated clearly to Abraham that he and Sarah would never have a child.

Abraham faced these facts. He did not shut his eyes to them. But God's promise contradicted these facts, and Abraham chose to rely on God's promise, for was not his God 'El-Shaddai, "Almighty God"?

Today each worker personally faces issues that demand as great a display of power as did Abraham's problems. First of all, we need power to overcome sin. We need the power of God in order that we may do our part in finishing the work. Facing these unprecedented power requirements of our ministry, we will find acceptance and success in our work through believing and trusting in God's illimitable power, for He "is able to do exceeding abun­dantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:20).

Another term that Jacob used for his God, which he apparently learned from his father Isaac, was "the Awe-ful One." At any rate, when Laban had pursued after Jacob when he was returning to Canaan, and the two men were arguing, Jacob expostulated:

"Ten times you changed my wages; and if the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Awe of Isaac, had not been on my side, you would now have sent me away empty-handed" (Gen. 31: 42, Smith-Goodspeed, The Bible, an American Translation).

After the two men had settled their differences and made a nonaggression pact between them, the Bible says, "So Jacob swore to it by the Awe of his father Isaac" (Gen. 31:54, Smith-Goodspeed). Evidently Isaac had been so im­pressed with a sense of God's majesty and power that whenever he thought of God, the outstand­ing impression he had was of awe, and so he used that word as a name for God.

Jacob, too, had good reason to know fully the great feeling of awe when in God's presence. Due to his own pettiness in dealing with Esau, Jacob had been forced to flee for his life. He had been too small to talk directly with his father about the angel's promise that he should have the birthright. Instead, Jacob had taken the matter into his own hands, until through his scheming and his lies, the blessing had been given him. Little comfort came from it however, for Esau was angry and planned to kill him. For that reason Jacob fled from home and started for Mesopotamia to live with his mother's people. That first dar of flight he had put as much ground between himself and Esau as possible. When night fell he was in the central mountains of Palestine. There, tired and hun­gry, he lay down and began to think back over the events of the past few days.

This was one of the bleakest spots on earth; just a hilltop of barren rock. What less likely place and time—so it seemed to him—could there be for God to manifest Himself? But as Jacob lay there he measured the smallness of his spirit against the immensities of the sky above and the mountains round about. Despite his failures there was something in Jacob's soul to which God could speak. The sublimity of the hills in the moonlight, and the mystery of the marching stars, turned his mind to God. And then the Lord came down. Jacob fell asleep. In a dream he saw a ladder reaching from heaven to earth, upon which angels ascended and de­scended. The Lord stood over him and promised to go with him in his journey, and one day to bring him again to his father's house. Then the Bible says:

"When Jacob woke from his sleep, he said, 'The Lord must surely be in this place—and I did not know it!' He was awe-struck, and said, 'What an awesome place this is!'" (Gen. 28:16, 17, Smith-Goodspeed).

Jacob was seized by a terrible remorse for his failures of the past few days. As a result of this vision, Jacob saw the great gulf between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of himself, and he was overcome with awe. Although the message of God's continuing presence gave him courage and joy, yet he shrank too from the revelation of God, for his own sins appeared in their full hideousness. "Who can contemplate the distance between himself and God," one has questioned, "even when the angels of God's forgiveness throw a bridge across it, and not bow down in agonized unworthiness?" Jacob now realized the purification through which he must pass before he would be worthy of the blessings the Lord had promised him. From that day forward he was a chastened, repentant man, and the sense of awe was so real that on the most solemn occasions he referred to his God as "the Awe of Isaac."

Awe is one of the highest emotions of which man is capable. Animals may love or hate, but only man can feel awe in the presence of one greater and holier than he. Men everywhere rec­ognize that the essence of God is a tremendous mystery. We cannot describe or define God. We can only know something of Him by His attributes and by the way He works in the earth and in our lives. The fact that He had no beginning confounds our senses. The thought that God's power and knowledge is illimitable passes beyond the limits of our understanding. As we consider it we are filled with awe, as Isaac and Jacob -were. When the psalmist contemplated how "by the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth," he exclaimed, "Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him" (Ps. 33:6, 8).

The Name God Gave Himself

After Moses had seen God in the burning bush, and had received the divine commission to return to Egypt to help deliver the Israelites from bondage, he inquired what name or title he should use for the God who had given him this commission.

"Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Ex. 3:13, 14) .

In a sense, this was an enigmatic answer. The name God gave in reply to Moses' question is not the name of God by which He is known to the angels and unfallen beings. Actually, it is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be," and should be translated "I AM," or possibly "I am the one who causes to be." This last translation describes God as the Creator. That is certainly one of the most notable aspects of His nature. He alone has the capacity for primary creation. The other translation, "I AM," draws attention to God's eternity. It could be translated "the Self-existent One," the One who has no creator, who has always existed from eternity. The French versions translate it "the Eternal One."

The name appearing most frequently in the Hebrew Old Testament is Yahweh, sometimes transliterated "Jehovah," but generally ren­dered "Lord." It differs from the appellations used by the patriarchs for their God in that the Lord Himself gave this name. It, too, is only a descriptive term of one of God's attributes. Evidently the patriarchs had not known God by this name, for the Lord told Moses, "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty ['El­Shaddai], but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them" (Ex. 6:3). Of course, the name Jehovah appears from the second chapter of Genesis onward, but this was due to the fact that Moses wrote the book and used the name that had been given him. Yahweh is believed to have come from the root hawah, "to be­come," "to be," "to remain," and to denote "being," "existence." At any rate, this name too emphasizes a phase or facet of God's na­ture that must be engraved in the heart and mind of every overcomer. The One who has ever existed, and who has power to bring to pass anything He desires, is surely able to effect our salvation. God can take away the stony heart and the evil disposition, and He is able to create within us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. For this reason we should say with the psalmist, "0 Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:9).

"Perfecting Holiness"

God was also known among the Hebrews by the name "the Holy One of Israel." This des­ignation is used at least thirty times in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 1:4; 5:24, etc.). Isaiah had seen a vision of God "high and lifted up" and had heard the seraphim sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:1, 3). He was so impressed with God's holiness and majesty that often after he referred to Him as "the Holy One of Israel." But God was not willing that we think of Him as dwelling in an unapproach­able infinity, so He spoke directly to Isaiah as follows:

"For thus saith the high and lofty One that in­habiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isa. 57:15).

Although Isaiah had been a man of unclean lips, and dwelt among a people of unclean lips, God did not want him or them to remain that way. He wanted to dwell among them and to revive them. For that reason God commands us, "As he which bath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1:15).

We shall never be holy as God is holy unless we keep that goal before us and keep striving continuously, through the grace of God and the help of His Spirit, to attain it. The apostle Paul pleads, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holi­ness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). The point is, holiness must be perfected in our lives. We must be making progress in holy living all the time.

Workers, no less than laity, must have a holi­ness goal. This must not be in our minds merely an abstract, indefinite objective, but one that is clearly defined and perpetually kept in focus. A good spiritual exercise for any preacher is to occasionally search through the Scriptures to discover all the things that God has made holy and that He asks us to keep holy.

As an example, recall that the law is holy. We cannot urge others to obey God's law and become careless about it ourselves. The tithe is holy. So is the Sabbath; and the body temple. One who is perfecting holiness in order that "the Holy One of Israel" may come and dwell in his contrite heart and revive it cannot grow careless or indifferent about keeping holy what God has made that way. We workers, too, are expected to turn away our foot from trampling on the Sabbath hours, from doing our pleasure on God's holy day. Our body temples must be preserved in their holiness by our diet, and by all our work and health habits. The grow­ing carelessness about talking of mundane things on the Sabbath, the taking of pictures on God's day, the pleasure rides, is not con­fined to the lay members to whom workers preach.

Moreover, the indifference to the God-given light on diet and health seizes us also. It is impossible for a minister or worker to be perfect­ing holiness while ignoring God's instructions about these things. Flippant jokes about "food substitutes" or "peanut hill" do not cover up our violations of God's standard of diet. As a new generation of workers who have begun their labors since Ellen White lived and worked, we must beware of giving her counsel the "silent treatment." Ellen White's instruction on diet and healthful living is not on trial. It is we who are on trial.

At a teachers' institute that I attended re­cently I saw instruction being given in the etching of designs on glass and metal vessels. First the design was traced on the vessel from a pattern. Then a plastic paste was rubbed over the design, and a strong acid applied over it all. After the acid had eaten for a time on the glass or metal, it was poured off, the paste removed, and lo, the design was beautifully etched into the vessel. In the same manner, God's Spirit is trying day by day to carve upon us the name of the "Holy One of Israel." The Holy Spirit desires to aid us in perfecting holiness. If we allow the Spirit to produce His reaction within our souls, the dross will be cut away and we shall bear upon us the name and character of our God. With David we should pray: "Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed" (Ps. 119:80).

The samples that have been mentioned thus far are sufficient to show that the names used by patriarchs and prophets expressed their con­cept of God's nature, of His attributes, and of the spiritual bond between them and their Creator. After these names for God became fixed, the Israelites endeavored to express their growing comprehension of God by the names they gave to their children. Names of persons in the Bible also became standardized through constant use, but when a name first appeared, it was full of meaning. Such names do not necessarily tell us much about the persons that bore them, but they do tell us much about their parents. For instance, the name Eliezer, which appears early in Hebrew history, means "God is a helper." Or consider the names Elnaam ("God is pleasant"), Elpaal ("God has wrought," i.e., for His people), Elzaphan ("God pre­serves"), Elidad ("God is a friend"), or Eliashib ("God will restore"). Such names tell plainly that the parents who coined them were trying to express through the compound name their feelings about God and their ideas of His nature.

Consider the name Elijah ("Jehovah is my God"). Elijah was born in a time when the worship of the heathen god Baal was just about to supplant the worship of Jehovah. The apos­tasy was so great that Elijah thought he was about the only worshiper of Jehovah that re­mained in Israel. In those days of spiritual crisis, could there be any doubt where these parents stood when they named their son Elijah, "Jehovah is my God"? Elijah's firm stand against Baal worship was no doubt the outgrowth of the convictions passed on to him by his parents. When he challenged the people, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him- but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21), his name alone stood as a convincing argument for them to choose Jeho­vah. Even his worst enemy, Jezebel, could not pronounce his name without saying thereby, "Jehovah is my God."

What pictures are given us of the spiritual fervor and devotion of the parents who first used the names Jozadak ("Jehovah is just"), Jehoshaphat ("Jehovah judges")!

The World's Sweetest Name—Jesus

Jesus is the world's sweetest name. God chose it as the name of His Son, whom He sent down to this earth to save men. We do not know what name the angels and the inhabitants of heaven used for Christ before His incarnation. But when He was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph named him Jesus by direction of an angel (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek iesous, which in turn is a translitera­tion of the Aramaic Yeshud, corresponding to the Hebrew Yehoshud meaning, "Jehovah is salvation." Yehoshud is the Old Testament "Joshua." The only references to Christ in the Talmud are in the form of Yeshud.

At any rate, the concept of God as a Saviour is the one that is the sweetest to us, and it is to be kept always in the forefront of our thinking. The servant of the Lord says:

"The wonders of redemption are dwelt upon al­together too lightly. We need these matters pre­sented more fully and continuously in our dis­courses and in our papers. We need our own hearts to be deeply stirred with these deep and saying truths. There is danger of keeping the discourses and the articles in the paper like Cain's offering, Christless."—Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 80.

Every Christian, from his own experience with his Lord, forms an opinion of God that never comes to others in the same manner or to the same degree. No two Christians have the same spiritual experience. Religious life is not standardized. We should not, like Elijah trying to recapture the experience of Moses on Sinai, try to pattern our inward religious experience after that of another. Elijah did not find God in the thunder and earthquake as Moses had, but in the still small voice that Moses had not discerned. We too may discover concepts that are new, and better than those of others, or at least that are more meaningful to us. The re­ligious life of each Christian is unique. There is a bond between our Lord and ourselves that only He and we can fully appreciate, for it comes from personal experiences that only the Lord and we have shared. Is this the mean­ing of the Lord's promise, "To him that over­cometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2: 17)? This new name, the token of that unique bond between each Christian and his Lord, becomes in a sense his admission ticket into heaven.

Do we want to receive a new name like that? Do we want to be pillars in God's church? Then we must develop an overcoming experi­ence by which we learn to know personally the "God Almighty" of Abraham, the "Awe" of Isaac, the "Champion" of Jacob, the "Holy One of Israel." To know Him as some Hebrew parents did, we must become acquainted with Him as a Helper, a Protector, a Pleasant Friend, a Gracious Supporter, and finally, as Jesus, the Saviour from sin; and this knowing must be engraved upon our lives, into the warp and woof of our doing. Then only will we be genuine pillars in God's church, and eventually take part in the following episode described by Ellen White:

"Upon the heads of the overcomers, Jesus with His own right hand places the crown of glory. For each there is a crown, bearing his own 'new name' (Revelation 2:17), and the inscription, 'Holiness to the Lord.' In every hand are placed the victor's palm and the shining harp. Then, as the command­ing angels strike the note, every hand sweeps the harp strings with skillful touch, awaking sweet mu­sic in rich, melodious strains. Rapture unutterable thrills every heart, and each voice is raised in grate­ful praise: 'Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.' "—The Great Controversy, p. 646.

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RICHARD HAMMILL, Associate Secretary, General Conference Department of Education

May 1956

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