“This high significance is ascribed to the idea of the “Name of God” within the Biblical revelation because it gathers up, in a simple way which everybody can understand, certain decisive elements in the reality of Revelation…… The “Name” of God covers both the revealed nature of God and His revealing action….. Thus the Biblical conception of the “Name” and the “manifestation of the Name”, contains the meaning of the whole Biblical doctrine of God” – Emil Brunner
Allah in Islam, Shiva/ Brahma in Hinduism, Waheguru for the Sikhs, Raijin for the Japanese, Zeus for the Greeks and many more such names have been given to God by people belonging to different religions and cultures while maintaining that there is One God, the Creator of everything. Wars have been and continue to be fought for establishment of the kingdom of their respective “One God” by people and millions are made to suffer for the cause of that God. And even taking or reciting the name of God in an unaccepted way hurts their religious sentiments, sparking violent protests. Everyone believes, however, that God loves His creation and desires nothing but the best for each and every one of the created beings. All believe that God is holy and His name is also holy deserving a reverent attitude in everything concerning that name. But why has God been given so many names to describe His Oneness?
Why have names? – A name basically expresses an individual’s identity and meaning of his very being and every community all over the world attach a special significance to the giving of a name to a new born. Thus when we meet one another the introduction starts with a name and then anything else of importance about the meeting and of relevance to the other and this enables the parties to get an idea of the other for further and future meetings. In many cultures it is important to address the other person in a formal manner till such time the initial barrier of understanding is broken. And more the importance in rank and authority of the person being met and more the difference in the status of the two, more formal will be the address. It is considered a part of etiquette to understand the ways of the person being met and specifics about his culture before meeting and anything otherwise would amount to arrogance and disrespect. The very fact of this exchange of information is an act of becoming available to the other person for an interaction, howsoever brief it may be. In the fast paced life of today it is impossible to remember each and every person that we meet without ascribing certain details to their individual names.
A name is generally personal and to give a person specific identity and recognition attributive names based on certain specific traits are given. Even personal names are given additional attachments, especially among close friends, to further define their personality. In many cultures an individual’s name includes his father’s name, caste and even area of birth. On the other hand in some a name is clothed in secrecy and not easily revealed to others. Name being disclosed to someone amounts to inviting a personal and intimate communication by becoming available and accessible to that person by revealing self to the other in some ways. A name thus becomes a reference point to address all manner of contact with that individual.
Why give a name to God the Almighty? – It is accepted by all who believe in God that He is and He created and controls the universe with His power and He is Omnipresent and “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and Divine nature, have been clearly seen and being understood from His workmanship (in His creation) (Romans 1:20). Thus God is seen and felt in everything that He has created and the “heavens declare His Divine glory” for all to witness (Psalm 19:1). In the early part of the Old Testament God was known without any name and Adam and Eve and Noah did not know Him by any name. one may say that Adam had no one else around in the Garden of Eden and for Him it was easy to recognize God. But Noah had a large number of people living around him and he recognized God and in like manner Abraham also heard the call of God whom he did not know. It is difficult to imagine Noah building such a large ship on dry ground when no fear of floods existed or Abraham moving off with family to “a land I will show you”. Yet they followed the command and undertook seemingly unbelievable and difficult tasks. A name was finally ascribed to God to proclaim that He is a person, and not an abstract idea or a thing, actively involved in loving and controlling His creation.
God named to relate Him to His Attributes – In the Old Testament God is referred to as El – being first and foremost and in the first chapter of Genesis a derivative Elohim, a plural form of Eloha is used while in the very next chapter Genesis 2, God is called YHWH – pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah. The reason for the two names being used is that as Elohim, He is Almighty God of heaven, a distant Creator; while as YHWH the same God is depicted as being close and personal, pouring out His love through the creative process and desiring a close fellowship/relationship with mankind. As YHWH God’s own hand is visible in the process of creation at every step and the Hebrews considered it blasphemy to even pronounce this name of God and substituted this with Adonai, translated as Lord or Master. The name YHWH being written without using any vowels and the latter period translators added the vowels of the other name Adonai to make it Yehowah or Jehovah, thus making it pronounceable.
These and many other names given in the Holy Scripture described certain attributes of God. He became Jehovah-Jireh, God the Provider to Abraham when a ram was found in the bush as a sacrificial offering in place of Isaac. God becomes Jehovah Rapha- the physical and spiritual healer (Exodus 15:26) and Jehovah Nissi, God our Banner, under whose authority we go into battle and emerge victorious (Exodus 17:15). All these names are attributed to God by man to describe His attributes as a Creator and for His mighty deeds performed for man. Giving of names for attributes is repeatedly seen in the Old Testament where Jabez is named as such by his mother for having caused her sorrow and pain during childbirth (1 Chronicles 4:9). And the clearest example of this is seen in Abram and his wife Sara being renamed to change the meaning thereby Abram- “high father” became Abraham “father of many/a multitude” and Sarah became “mother of nations” from being “my princess”. God also changed the name of Jacob “supplanter or holder of the heel” to Israel “having power with God”.
God named by us due to ignorance about Him – God was thus called by man by different names and continues to be called as such due to the basic reason of our ignorance about God due to our separation from the holy God and our sinful nature. The restriction placed by God on man not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was to protect man from himself. The moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit their eyes were opened and they became aware of their own self in relation to each other and also to God. They realized the shortcomings of each other to be critical and to consider self better while also realizing personal weaknesses before the All Powerful God and His holiness to hide from Him. Thus the regular fellowship and contact with God was broken, yet they knew God for Cain and Abel to take offerings to Him. Likewise Noah and Abraham could recognize God through personal knowledge of Him even while referring to Him with His attributive names. Finally a stage emerged when God came to be known only by His names and all personal knowledge ceased and God came to be known only to a select few.
God reveals His name – It was in this situation that Moses managed to reach God’s presence near the ‘burning bush’. The same Moses who forty years earlier had attempted to help out his fellow Israelites and failed, was now reluctant to go even under the personal authority and power of God. He had probably meditated on the reason for his non acceptance by his people and realized about their complete sinfulness. He was aware that they would neither believe him nor God’s promise to get them out of their condition. It was then for the first time that God revealed His name to a man as “I AM who I AM” translated from the Hebrew words “Ehyeh/hayah asher Ehyeh/hayah” (Exodus 3:14). Lord Jesus refers to Himself seven times in the Gospel according to John attributing different attributes to Himself as “I AM” a name that was well known to the Israelites.
Significance of God’s Self revealed name – Moses was told by God “The cries of your people have reached Me” and then he was assigned the task of going back to Egypt to lead them out. The revealed name signifies the presence of God in every situation and that He is living and active and loves and cares for His creation. There is nothing of the past present or future that is hidden from God and all is revealed in His presence for “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). His very name specifies His being timeless and not governed by time for time starts and ends in Him- the Alpha and Omega for everything that came into being.
In Hebrew tradition names reveal something about a person and the name revealed by God to Moses also represented His trait of timelessness and “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). God also revealed Himself through His name by declaring His most prominent attribute to Moses so that He could declare this to the Israelites in Egypt since they would then recognize the authority backing every initiative of Moses to convince Pharaoh.
Our Lord’s name declared by the angel Gabriel was also descriptive of His assignment given by the Father and “Yehusha or Yehoshua” means God saves As seen earlier salvation here means Savior and the word Jesus does not convey the meaning that the angel had decreed to Mary that He would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The Hebrew word YWHY is translated as “Yahu saves” and the name Yhushua or Yahushua represents this saving trait of the Messiah. This name has also been referred to as Yahoshu but Yahushua is His name given by God the Father to the Son sent as the Messiah to save. The name thus spelt out His role of being the Savior of His people.
In like manner the names revealed to Prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before the coming of the Messiah also spelt out His role. As Immanuel God dwelt with us in flesh, He became our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and Man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). John the Baptist, while in prison, sent his followers to the Lord Jesus to confirm His status as the Messiah and the Lord’s reply also listed out His works in confirmation- “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22).
How should we know God? – Prophet Jeremiah was provided the answer by the Lord Himself “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). The two disciples travelling to Emaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord, though they were not yet aware of His resurrection, met and walked with Lord Jesus and during the walk “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). All the prophesies narrated the role of the Savior and what He was supposed to do during His stay as Son of man on the earth and we can also know and glorify God by witnessing to His works in our or our dear one’s lives.
We live in an age of great advantage when the veil of separation between God and us stands torn and the Lord has made us eligible to be in God’s presence in the Holiest of Holies. In addition we have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in humble surrender before the Lord to know and worship Him. In addition to the personal witness and revelation of God by the Holy Spirit “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). We do not have to look for God in His names only but listen to the urging of the Holy Spirit and thus develop a close personal relationship with God in a similar manner that Abraham had and could recognize the signs of His presence and thus communicate with Him. However, it is in our testimony about His wonderful works that we reveal His glory to others and lead them to the Merciful Father and the Loving Son through the way shown by the Holy Spirit to help provide a personal relationship with God.
The most important aspect of knowing God is to understand that He always comes looking for us even in our most sinful state for He hates sin but not the sinner. The Lord became man to become a Savior of the lost sinners and God came looking for Adam and Eve while being fully aware of their sin of their disobedience calling out to them “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). He came then and did not leave us alone but continued His dialogue with us by “speaking to us through the prophets and then in His Son, the appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:1-2). He gave His commandments to Moses to show us the way to be in regular fellowship with Him through forgiveness of our sins, revealed Himself to Prophet Samuel to give a king to His people, though they had left Him their True King and Lord and guided then in every way. Finally He revealed His plan of salvation of mankind through His Son through the prophets. His love for us has not diminished and even today “He comes knocking on the doors of our hearts to share His love through the food of His blessings when we welcome Him” (Revelation 3:20).
Apostles Peter and John were taken before the Chief Priests, rulers, elders, teachers of the Law (Scripture) for “committing the mistake of ‘proclaiming the resurrection of the dead in Jesus”. The two disciples were fearless in their resolve to continue to preach the Gospel News to the people and when the Jewish leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Knowing God is not only physical but spiritual for Judas Iscariot had also been with the Lord but He had not known Him and ended up committing the gravest sin of handing Him over to His persecutors. Hoshea knew God and obeyed Him implicitly like Abraham did, even to the extent of offering his only son Isaac as a sacrificial offering. Abraham came to be called “friend of God” and became privy to His divine plans and David knew God and is called “a man of God’s own heart” for he could lay himself bare before God, every thought, emotion and desire.
How well do we know God? Is this knowledge restricted to His names only or do we see His glory reflected in His works as implied in the names ascribed to Him? Is the Lord Jesus only a Savior or a personal Lord who lives in me to transform me into His own image? Is my interaction with God is that of Jehovah Jireh- the Provider only or is He my Jehovah Nissi – my banner to gather others under into His light? God becomes what we want Him to be Lord of Lords or just a casual acquaintance.
Do we really know God to stand and declare His glory to others as He commanded us to do? It is never too late to start and attempt to become His friend!!