The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

The Names of God

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In the Bible, we find many names for our Gods. Well, to be more accurate, we find many descriptive titles for our Gods. In the Old Testament, for example, Yahweh refers to Himself as Yahweh (I Am), El Elyon (God Most High), El Roi (God who sees), El Shaddai (God Almighty), Yahweh-Rapha (God who heals), Yahweh-Sabaoth (Yahweh of Hosts), etc.

Some people want you to make a really big deal out of the fact that Yahweh refers to Himself in all of these ways. Now the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. If you don’t speak Hebrew, then terms like El Shaddai and Yahweh-Rapha sound strange to you. We humans are very good at turning strange into mystical and today there are whole flocks of Christians who are “praying the Names of God.” Instead of just saying a normal “Hi God” when they pray, they start praying, “Oh Yahweh-Rapha.” How does Yahweh feel about this? Does He want you throwing Hebrew titles in His face when He knows how strange these words sound in your ears? Does He listen extra close when you start giving Him the El Elyon treatment? No, He doesn’t.

All three of our Creators hate hypocrisy. If They didn’t teach you to speak Hebrew as your natural language, why would you pray in Hebrew? Using a bunch of foreign mumbo-jumbo is only going to distract you. Suppose you have a friend who is learning Korean. You don’t know a single word in Korean. You speak English. In the middle of your English conversations, your friend starts inserting Korean words and phrases. You might be impressed at first, but you’d quickly find it annoying. “Can you please stick to one language?” is what you’d end up snapping. Her speaking Korean doesn’t add anything to your conversation—instead, it is a useless distraction. You can tell she’s getting so caught up in pronouncing her Korean just right that she’s no longer focused on what she’s saying. It’s phony. It’s irritating.

When you talk to God, He wants you to be yourself. He doesn’t want you to try to impress Him using a bunch of foreign words. Now if you grew up speaking Hebrew and Adonai rolls off your tongue as naturally as Lord does for English speakers, then great. If Hebrew is your first language, why would you pray to God in any other language when it’s just you and Him?

As a lamb in God’s flock, you need to be on your guard against shepherds burdening you with a lot of useless religious hoopla. The Names of God Bible (NOG) is an English translation of the Bible which has changed all the Names of God in the Bible back to the original Hebrew (well, phonetic Hebrew, since real Hebrew doesn’t use the English alphabet). Why did they do this? Because they have bought into the ridiculous notion that there is some mystical power in saying titles for God in Hebrew. In this version, we come across verses like this:

“How horrible it will be for a nation that sins. Its people are loaded down with guilt. They are descendants of evildoers and destructive children. They have abandoned Yahweh. They have despised Qedosh Yisrael. They have turned their backs on Him.” (Isa. 1:4)

That’s why Adonay, Yahweh Tsebaoth, the Mighty One of Israel, says, “How horrible it will be when I take revenge on My opponents! I will avenge Myself against My enemies. I will turn My power against you.” (Isa. 1:24-25)

“Let’s go to the mountain of Yahweh, to the House of the Elohim of Jacob. He will teach us His ways so that we may live by them.” (Isa. 2:3)

Adonay Yahweh Tsebaoth asks, “How can you crush My people and grind the faces of the poor into the ground?” (Isa. 3:15)

Do not force me away from Your Presence, and do not take Ruach Qodesh from me. (Ps. 51:11)**

So…is this helpful to you? What in the world does Qedosh Yisrael mean? How about Adonay Yahweh Tsebaoth? You don’t know, because you don’t speak Hebrew. Do you understand why David is asking God not to take His Ruach Qodesh from him? No, you don’t, because Ruach Qodesh doesn’t sound anything like Holy Spirit. Every time you come across one of these strange words, you have to stop and look them up in the index which the NOG provides. By the time you’re done fussing with that, you’ve forgotten what the passage was about.

Now as you go through the NOG, you’ll keep running into pages which they’ve inserted to give you a deeper understanding of one of God’s Names. The NOG people want these basic Hebrew titles to be super deep things, and they shamelessly encourage you to “pray the Name”. What idiocy. There’s nothing wrong with looking up the original Hebrew out of curiosity, but praying the Names? What is that supposed to do? Don’t you know? Hebrew titles for God are magical spells that we can use to make God get off His duff and wield His super powers. Come on Yahweh-Rapha (Yahweh who heals), rain down those miraculous healings. How can Yahweh not do what we want when we start throwing Hebrew at Him? This is how foolish some Christians have become. You don’t want to be one of them. When you pray, you need to be yourself. Don’t be calling God a bunch of names that are meaningless to you. He knows you don’t speak Hebrew. He’s not impressed.

There’s nothing sacred about the Hebrew language. God loves variety and He has created a fascinating array of languages in this world. German, French, Mandarin, Swahili, Russian—every language has its own music to it. Even in the English speaking world we hear a big difference between the British, Australian and American accents. There is endless variation in this world and this is how God likes it. So when we try to turn Hebrew into some mystical language just because it’s one of the languages used in the Bible, we’re being ridiculous.

NAMES OF GOD FOR ENGLISH SPEAKERS

English is a very different language than Hebrew. It springs from a very different culture—one which puts far less import on what someone’s name literally means. In the world of the ancient Jews, names were a really big deal. The reason Yahweh went around saying “I am Yahweh who Heals” was because He was talking to Jews. As an ancient Jew, it was common to pick up extra names as you went along in life. There was the name you were born with, but then there were other symbolic names which you took on to memorialize significant events in your life. We should find it a bit suspicious that so many of Yahweh’s prophets have names which make references to Him. “Yahweh is salvation” (Isaiah)—what a convenient title for a prophet who is going to do so much preaching about Yahweh’s coming Messiah. “Servant of Yahweh” (Obadiah)—here’s another perfect name. “Yahweh is my God” (Elijah)—another winner. Were these men really born with such perfect names, or did they choose these names later in life to align with their prophetic callings? We don’t know, but considering how easily the Jews changed names, it’s quite likely that at least some of these names were handpicked by the prophets themselves. Sure Yahweh can be prophetic about naming people, but it’s not His style to always pass out perfect names at birth. We ought to at least come across a few prophets whose names mean something meaningless, like “grapevine.”

In a culture that puts so much stock on names, it’s quite natural that Yahweh gives Himself many alternate titles as He speaks to the ancient Jews. But some of His Names aren’t nearly as special as some like to pretend. For example, El shows up on internet lists of Yahweh’s biblical Names, but in reality it’s just a common title. El means god. In English, we use the same title to refer to the God as we do to fictitious idol gods. We say “Oh my god!” and OMG. We drag the title “god” through the muck quite a bit in our language. So did the ancient Hebrews. They would call Yahweh El, and then they’d turn around and call the idol Baal el as well. It was the same with the term Adonai (sometimes spelled Adonay). Adonai means “lord”. In Exodus 23:17, Adonai is used to refer to Yahweh. In Zechariah 1:9, Zechariah calls an angel adonai. In Genesis 18:12, Sarah uses the same word to refer to her husband Abraham. So then, is Adonai some sacred term that can only refer to Yahweh? Not hardly. It’s as generic as our English title “Lord”. You can be the lord of the manor, you can be married to Lord Henry, you can be exclaiming “O lord, was that coffee that just dumped on my shirt?!”, or you can be referring to the Lord.

So what does all this mean for you in your prayer time? As an English speaker, how should you be referring to your Creators? Should you be calling the Father by His Covenant Name of Yahweh? Should you be calling Jesus Yeshua since that was His actual Name on earth? For the Holy Spirit, we don’t have a name, we just have a title. There’s nothing sacred about the words holy or spirit, so what’s so special about the combination “Holy Spirit”?  It depends on who’s saying it.

It is the attitude of your soul which determines whether your current references are appropriate or not. If the title God stirs up more reverence for you than the Hebrew Name of Yahweh, then you should be using God. If Jesus warms your soul while Yeshua leaves you flat, then you should be using Jesus. Let’s be clear on this point: our three Creators do not have names which can be articulated by human tongues. The names and titles They provide for us are Them stooping down to our little creature level. In Their own glorious community of three, They don’t need names to keep track of Each Other. They know when They are talking to Each Other, and the language They use to communicate is entirely foreign to us. So we don’t want to get ridiculous by saying we know what our God’s real names are. We actually don’t know anything about how They refer to Each Other. What we do know is that They have created us to need names for things, so it is very right and proper that we have names for Them. But when we talk to our Gods, we need to be addressing Them with respect. We don’t say “Hey, Old Sock,” when talking to God, because this would be a derogatory term in our English brains. We refer to our Creators using generic titles like God, Lord, Father, and King because when we are addressing Them, our brains associate these terms with reverence. When we say “The king of England died this morning,” the title king is just a word. But when we say “Jesus is my King,” the same word suddenly has a very different meaning to us. Jesus knows this because He sees into our hearts. He cares about your soul’s desire for Him. He doesn’t get hung up on which English words you use to express that desire.

Some well-intentioned Christians are so concerned about speaking respectfully to God that they start avoiding certain topics in their prayers. This is no good. Whenever you feel like you must choose between respect and honesty, honesty needs to come first. God already knows how you really feel, and nothing is gained by you trying to stifle yourself on His behalf. If you’re broiling mad at God in your soul, your praises aren’t going to be anything more than meaningless noise. God wants you to talk to Him about anything and everything. He wants you to ask questions and vent frustrations. Sometimes you’re going to be rude and snarky. Sometimes you’re going to throw a tantrum. You might even cuss Him out. We must pass through many childish meltdowns on our way to sweet intimacy with God. But it is by wrestling with God that our bond to Him grows exponentially stronger. God would much rather have you scream your honest frustrations at Him than give Him some canned “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Your Name.” God has no use for fake.

For English speakers, the titles God and Lord are appropriate to use for all three of our Creators. The Holy Spirit is as much God as Yahweh and Jesus. To many English speakers, the titles God and Lord feel every bit as personal as the Name Yahweh. Are you being disrespectful to the Father not to call Him by His Covenant Name? Not at all. Whenever you use the term God with love welling up in your soul, it’s like you are planting a kiss on His cheek. My glorious One, Lover of my soul, My Hope, My dearest Saviorby now English speakers have come up with a vast number of reverential names and titles for God, and we’re coming up with new ones all the time. God loves to hear His children calling out to Him with their own terms of endearment. And considering how many languages He has created, imagine how many different names and titles are being used for Him by Christians all over the world.  The more the merrier as far as He is concerned.  God loves variety.

FURTHER READING:
Yahweh or Jehovah?
In Jesus’ Name, Amen: How does God feel about the traditional Christian sign-off?

**Please note: The NOG does not use reverential capitalization (eg., using He instead of he when referring to God). We have corrected this to meet the requirements of our site.

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