By some counts, the Bible offers over 20 distinctly different names for God, but why does it do this?
According to some sources, God’s multiple titles and names included in the Bible are based off of the tradition of ancient rulers to give themselves many grandiose labels. The only problem with this is since when has God ever had any need to compete or adhere to human traditions?
If he isn’t playing along with some human tradition, then, why are these titles given to us?
“God Most High, Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth”
“God All-Powerful and All-Sufficient”
“The Lord Who Sees and Who Provides”
The names for God in their Hebrew forms can feel far removed from our daily lives. Who uses El Shaddai outside of an occasional song sung near Christmastime? Who says to their spouse, “Well, let’s pray to Jehovah Jireh about the car being broken down”?
In their drawn-out English phrase-forms, they’re a little more accessible for most of us, but they still feel clunky and awkward. Saying “God Most High, Creator and Possessor of Heaven and Earth” in your prayers over dinner feels pretentious at best.
What are we supposed to gather from these names? How do we, as modern believers and readers, make sense of God’s many titles?
The Revelation of Many Names
David Wilkerson explores one possible reason for God’s many appellations in his book Hallowed Be Thy Names, focusing first on the aforementioned three titles.
Meditating on the scripture where each one is revealed, he wrote, “Almost all new discoveries of God — all fresh revelations of his person, nature and character — are tied to some crisis, some intense human experience….
“It was during Sodom’s crisis that God revealed himself to Abraham as El Elyon, God most high, creator and possessor of all things. Likewise, it was during Abraham’s own crisis of doubt that God revealed his name as El Shaddai, God all-powerful and all-sufficient.”
The third name God gave to Abraham was after he had sent this man and his son up onto the mountaintop, the place where Isaac was placed on an altar and God stopped Abraham’s hand at the last moment with a substitute to redeem Isaac’s life. “Here was a glorious new discovery of God’s nature,” David concluded. “He revealed himself to Abraham as Jehovah Jireh, ‘the Lord who sees.’
“In contemporary terms, this phrase translates as ‘God will see to it.’ It’s a name that speaks of provision.”
All throughout the Bible, we are reminded of humanity’s tendency to forget God’s qualities. God’s names aren’t for him; he already knows these aspects of himself. Each title that God gave the Israelites for himself was a reminder of his many holy characteristics which were meant to bring his people into a place of worship and trust.
The Psalmist, probably David, even sang about this: “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10, ESV).
The names of God were more than just nameplate items; they were meant to direct his people toward a very particular aspect of himself in the middle of their troubles.
Calling Cards for the Modern Believer
Along with a list of God’s names and their English interpretations, the website Bibleinfo noted, “When you sign your name on a check or a document, that signature legally stands for you—the person behind the name. And that signature is only as good as the character of the person who writes it. That’s why businessmen and women are jealous of their ‘good name.’ They know that their name and their character are inextricably bound up together.
“It’s the same with God. His names tell us who He is, what His character is like, what we can expect from Him.”
This importance of those names didn’t stop in biblical times. God’s titles and their meanings have significance for his followers today because we still need to understand how God’s nature impacts our current circumstances.
In his studies on the topic, David Wilkerson noted, “Here is the secret to a godly walk: we are to receive — to acknowledge, believe, embrace and act upon — the revelation God gives us of who he is. That’s the secret, plain and simple. We are able to walk uprightly before the Lord, not because we have willpower, knowledge or even a covenant promise in hand; we walk uprightly because we are fully persuaded that El Shaddai will keep his promises to us….
“I’m convinced that only by embracing the revelation of God’s covenant names are we able to lead godly lives.”
This is confirmed in the Our Father prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples as a model for how to pray in the future. Seeded within those words is a remarkably important mentality toward God’s names.
Jon Bloom wrote about the famous second line, saying, “’Hallowed be thy name’ is a request, not a declaration. We are not saying, ‘Lord, your name is hallowed!’ We are saying, ‘Lord, cause your name to be hallowed!’ That is, cause your word to be believed, cause your displeasure to be feared, cause your commandments to be obeyed, and cause yourself to be glorified. You hallow the name of God when you trust him, revere him, obey him, and glorify him.”
As each name reveals a part of who God is, it should comfort us in our fears, quiet our anxiety looking at the future, still the chattering parts of our minds and ultimately move us into a place of worship.
Not Ours to Grant
It might be tempting to look at the many titles of God and then look our personal crises and imagine our own titles for God, reflecting the promises or aspects of his nature that we are praying for or hoping to see. The only problem is that Abraham or Gideon or David didn’t make up names for God; God gave those to his people.
“We, like the people of Israel, would like to think we get to name God,” Stanley Hauerwas once said. “By naming God, we hope to get the kind of god we need; that is, a god after our own likeness.”
The names and titles of God, unlike any earthly ruler or dignitary, may not be granted by anyone lesser than himself.
God gave Adam the duty of naming every creature on earth, but Adam never attempted to give God a name. Only he knows how he may be most accurately represented, and only he has the right to create such titles, but he has graciously given us quite a few names that help us understand his character better.
We may not necessarily invoke God’s many titles in daily prayer, but they reveal a vital part of him to us. Truly, there may be few studies better worth our time.