GOD, NAMES OF — the titles or designations given to God throughout the Bible. In the ancient world, knowing another’s name was a special privilege that offered access to that person’s thought and life. God favored His people by revealing Himself by several names that offered special insight into His love and righteousness.
Jehovah/Yahweh. One of the most important names for God in the Old Testament is Yahweh, or Jehovah, from the verb “to be,” meaning simply but profoundly, “He Is.” His full name is found only in Ex. 3:14 and means “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” The four-letter Hebrew word YHWH was the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). This bush was a vivid symbol of the inexhaustible dynamism of God who burns like a fire with love and righteousness, yet remains the same and never diminishes. Some English translations of the Bible vocalize the word as Jehovah, while others use Yahweh.
God is the author of life and salvation. His “I am” expresses the fact that He is the infinite and original personal God who is behind everything and to whom everything must finally be traced. “I am who I am” signals the truth that nothing else defines who God is but God Himself. What He says and does is who He is. The inspired Scriptures are the infallible guide to understanding who God is by what He says about Himself and what He does. Yahweh is the all-powerful and sovereign God who alone defines Himself and establishes truth for His creatures and works for their salvation.
Moses was called to proclaim deliverance to the people and was told by God, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ” (Ex. 3:14). In the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, God revealed a deeper significance to His name. But He had already disclosed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Yahweh. Each of them had called on the name of the Lord (Yahweh) (Gen. 12:8; 13:4; 26:25; Ex. 3:15) as the God who protects and blesses. Yet Exodus 6:3 shows that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know the fuller meaning of Yahweh, which was to be revealed to Moses and the Hebrew people in His role as Redeemer during the Exodus experience.
The divine name Yahweh is usually translated “LORD” in English versions of the Bible, because it became a practice in late Old Testament Judaism not to pronounce the sacred name YHWH, but to say instead “my Lord” (Adonai)—a practice still used today in the synagogue. When the vowels of Adonai were attached to the consonants YHWH in the medieval period, the word Jehovah resulted. Today, many Christians use the word Yahweh, the more original pronunciation, not hesitating to name the divine name since Jesus taught believers to speak in a familiar way to God.
The following are other names in honor of the Lord in the Old Testament that stem from the basic name of Yahweh:
Jehovah-jireh—This name is translated as “The-LORD-Will-Provide,” commemorating the provision of the ram in place of Isaac for Abraham’s sacrifice (Gen. 22:14).
Jehovah-nissi—This name means “The-LORD-Is-My-Banner,” in honor of God’s defeat of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:15).
Jehovah-shalom—This phrase means “The-LORD-Is-Peace,” the name Gideon gave the altar that he built in Ophrah (Judg. 6:24).
Jehovah-shammah—This phrase expresses the truth that “The-LORD-Is-There,” referring to the city which the prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ezek. 48:35).
Jehovah-tsebaoth—This name, translated “The-LORD-of-hosts,” was used in the days of David and the prophets, witnessing to the Almighty God of sovereign power who is surrounded by His heavenly hosts (1 Sam. 1:3).
Jehovah Elohe Yisrael—This name means “The-LORD-God-of-Israel,” and it appears in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. Other names similar to this are Netsah Yisrael, “The Strength of Israel” (1 Sam. 15:29); and Abir Yisrael, “The Mighty One of Israel” (Is. 1:24).
El. Another important root name for God in the Old Testament is El. By itself it refers to a god in the most general sense. It was widely used in ancient eastern cultures whose languages are similar to Hebrew and therefore may refer either to the true God or to false gods. The highest Canaanite god was El, whose son was Baal. In the Bible the word is often defined properly by a qualifier like Jehovah: “I, the LORD (Jehovah) your God (Elohim), am a jealous God (El)” (Deut. 5:9).
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba “and there called on the name of the LORD (Yahweh), the Everlasting God (El Olam) (Gen. 21:33). Jacob built an altar on a piece of land he purchased at Shechem and called it ͅEl Elohe Israelʷ (“God, the God of Israel”), commemorating his wrestling with the angel at the place he called Peniel (“the face of God”), and receiving his new name Israel (Yisrael, “God strives”) (Gen. 32:28–30; 33:20). El Shaddai (God Almighty), signifying God as a source of blessing, is the name with which God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 6:3).
Elohim. Elohim is the plural form of El, but it is usually translated in the singular. Some scholars have held that the plural represents an intensified form for the supreme God; others believe it describes the supreme God and His heavenly court of created beings. Still others hold that the plural form refers to the triune God of Genesis 1:1–3, who works through Word and Spirit in the creation of the world. In any event, Elohim conveys the idea that the one supreme being, who is the only true God, is in some sense plural.
Several important names of God identify Him as Branch, King, Wisdom, Shepherd, and Servant:
Branch of Righteousness. Jeremiah 23:5–6 names the coming messianic figure, the “Branch of righteousness,” who will descend from David and be raised up to reign as King to execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. Christians see in this linkage a prophecy about God the Son taking on human flesh to serve as righteous King.
King. This descendant of David will have several divine qualities. He will be a Branch of Righteousness, a King, and His name will be called “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jehovah-tsidkenu).
Wisdom. In Proverbs 8:1–36 Wisdom, who always says and does what is righteous, works with God in the creation of the universe. Paul describes Christ in similar terms in Colossians 1:13–19; 2:1–3.
Shepherd. God is also described in prophecy as the Shepherd who will feed His flock, gather the lambs in His arms, carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those with young (Is. 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:11–16). Jesus applied this name to Himself (Luke 15:4–7; John 10:11–16), making Himself equal to God; and Jesus Christ is so named by His followers (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 7:17).
Servant. The name of Servant also identifies the divine Messiah and His saving ministry on behalf of His people. God’s Servant is described in terms that apply to Jesus. He is upheld and chosen by God; He delights in God; He receives God’s Spirit. Like Wisdom in Proverbs 8, He is holy, just, and righteous. He will bring Jacob back to Him and will be a light to the nations since He is an offering for sin (Is. 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 53:1–12).
Word of God. The Word of God figures prominently in Scripture as another name of God. The Word is not as clearly a person in the Old Testament as in the New Testament where Jesus Christ is identified as the personal Word of God (John 1:1, 14). But it is evident from Psalm 33:4, 6, and 9 that the Word should be understood in a personal sense, for “the word of the Lord is right” indicates a personified Word. “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made” (v. 6), echoes the creation in Genesis 1:3, 6. In the New Testament Jesus is seen to be both Word and Law personified.
Glory. God is described as Glory in Exodus 16:7; Psalm 104:31; and Isaiah 60:1. In the New Testament Jesus shares the glory of God (Matt. 25:31; 1 Cor. 2:8; Heb. 1:3).
When the new age arrives with the birth of Jesus Christ, the names of the three persons who comprise the Trinity are made more explicit. These names fulfill the deeper meanings of the Old Testament names for God.
In the New Testament God is known as Father (Matt. 5:16; 28:19) and Abba (Mark 14:36; Gal. 4:6). Jesus is known as Son (Matt. 11:27), Son of God (John 9:35), Son of man (Matt. 8:20), Messiah (John 1:41), Lord (Rom. 14:8), Word (John 1:1), Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30), Bridegroom (Mark 2:19), Shepherd (John 10:11), Vine (John 15:1), Light (John 1:9), and “I am” (John 8:12, 58). The Holy Spirit is known as the Helper (John 14:16).
Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.