Thursday, October 4, 2018

Knowing God as My Father Series: Through His Names, We Know His Characters (Part 1)

When I read the Bible, I can see that it was necessary for God to reveal Himself to His children in progressive steps (the theologians called it Progressive Theology), rather than all at once. In this way, it was easier for His children – us – to learn and respond to Him, a little at a time. One way to trace the progress of this revelation is to study the names of God.

Old Testament Names of God. One of the earliest names of God used was the name Elohim. This word came from a root which meant "to be smitten with fear." Elohim is a plural form and may have been related to some form of primitive ancestor worship. It was a general name of God (In other cultures and religions, they also called their gods ‘Elohim'). This name picture God as very strong and as the object of fear. Now, as our knowledge and experience with God increased, God introduced a new name for Himself. This new name, Adonai, meant "to judge or rule." In other words, the first followers of God were given revelation to see God as a Judge or Ruler. This name implied that we human being was the servant of God. Obviously, being God's servant was more fulfilling that relating to God as the "feared One." Yet, God revealed Himself still more. Next, He introduced Himself as the God of all power who would subject all things to His work of grace and comfort. The name was El Shaddai and it was with this name that He identified Himself to Abraham in Genesis 17:1.

We can already see the differences between God's earliest name of fear and His later name of comfort. Of course, it is important to point out that the later knowledge does not put away with the earliest knowledge – it is simply the additional knowledge that revealed truth progressively.

Elohim. Adonai. El Shaddai. These earliest names were gradually replaced by the name Yahweh. Yahweh later pronounces as Jehovah (from A.D. 1517, the history recorded) because to the Jews it was such a sacred name that they would not even dare to pronounce it. Why? Because they claimed this was in keeping with the third commandment of the Mosaic Law (see Exodus 20:7). When reading, they substituted the name Yahweh to Adonai. The vowels of Adonai were added to the consonants "J[Y]HWH" to form the name Jehovah. In Exodus 3:14, Yahweh is translated "I Am Who I Am." Specifically, this name seems to refer to the fact that God never changes in His relationship with His people. Its stresses His faithfulness. I have to admit, it is difficult for me (us!) to grasp the full meaning of this concept that God never changes. This is a good news actually, it also means God's love for us does not change with our ups and downs or our successes and failures. No matter how much we change, God is always the same, "I am the LORD, and I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).

New Testament Names of God. Just like my relationship with my students (teacher-student relationship), I'm not comfortable when they relate to me with fear and scare-respect. God too is not pleased when we relate to Him with that attitudes. So, He revealed more of Himself than just His being the object of fear. Basically, there are three names for God recorded in the New Testament. The word Theos was used most commonly to mean God (that's why we called the study of God as Theology) and was used to refer to pagan gods as well. It can be a common noun ("He is a god") or a proper noun ("You are God"). Next, the word Kurios refers to the one with power and authority. It is usually translated "Lord" and refers not only to God but also to Jesus.

Finally, the last name used for God is pater, the word translated "father." This name refers to God's relationship with Israel and generally with His children. It designates God as the Source or the Creator and as the Father of all who accepted the Son. Because of that, it also refers to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (this is another difficult concept for me. I'm not in doubt but in amazement!). This was what Paul said when he wrote, "[You] have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.' For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children" (Romans 8:15). Wonderful!

You see, this is one of the great values of studying God's names. We can better understand (yes, we can understand!) the character of God and what He really like based on His names, especially the name "Father." As you and I journey on the discovery to learn more about Him in this series Knowing God as My Father, we can develop a stronger relationship with Him. Amen.

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