The Names of God #1 Elohim
My series for 2022 will be talking about the different names of God in the Bible. Why would this be important? First, think about how a name identifies someone. When I hear my friend Rocky’s name, I think of the man I ride motorcycles with who loves God and has a big heart. You say “Rocky,” and that’s what comes immediately to mind. Think about the branding companies use. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola – when these names are mentioned, we all have images that come to mind.
Second, a name has great power. Recently, I received an email supposedly from my friend Michael. It was a phishing email, but they used Michael’s name to get gift cards – auspiciously for veterans. I know Michael, and this would be something that would be in his character to do. I did not fall for the phishing scam, but the power of Michael’s name made me want to read an email that I would have otherwise quickly discarded.
So, it is with God’s name. God’s names remind us of who he is and how great his power is. The Old Testament, and to a lesser extent, the New Testament, provides many different names for God. Each one attempts to use our finite human language to describe and address the eternal God.
With that, the first name I will start with is the first time God is addressed in the Bible. Genesis 1:1 starts with bə·rê·šîṯ bā·rā ’ĕ·lō·hîm (בָּרָ֣א בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית אֱלֹהִ֑ים) “In the beginning God created…” There are three items I want you to notice here. First, God existed before the beginning. Without God, there would be no beginning. Second, God is the direct cause of the beginning. First, there was nothing; then, there was something. Third, bara refers to the creation and the entire creative process. The act of a Creator God is held with the name Elohim. In fact, this name for God is repeated throughout the Creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2.
Although this is not the holiest of God’s names (that would be YHWH which I will discuss next month), it is the most common way for the Jew to address his Creator. Take, for instance, the book of Job, who in 1:1 was someone who “feared Elohim.” After he was afflicted with his plagues, his wife told him, in a highly blasphemous way, to “curse Elohim and die.. “(2:9). In her eyes, the Creator Elohim had completely abandoned Job and refused to create healing in him.
The name is used throughout the Psalms as well. Psalm 13 is a song of lament in which the Psalmist addresses God with two names: “Look on me and answer, LORD (YHWH) my God (Elohim). Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalms 13:3). The Psalmist calls on the Most Holy Creator God – who is not distant but deeply personal – to rescue him from his enemies. He ends the Psalm with confidence: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’S (YHWH) praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalms 13:5-6).
In the New Testament, John grasped Elohim. Interestingly, Elohim is actually a plural word for el,which is usually translated as lord – meaning an earthly lord or king. However, Elohim elevates itself in the plural. John echoes this in the first phrase in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3) See the correlation? God is plural (Word, God Theos, and later in the Gospel, the Spirit). God is the complete Creator. As his Jewish audience read and listened to the Gospel being read, they would immediately think of Elohim.
So how do we apply this? First, Elohim is how we are first introduced to God in the scriptures. He is the Creative God who continues to create and renew that creation. When we see a beautiful sunset, a small on a child’s face, majestic mountains, or even ponder a gecko on your porch in the Summer, that is the fingerprint of Elohim. Second, Elohim, God the Creator, is everywhere, all the time. He is not far off. He is not distant and removed. He is near. The prophet Jeremiah dwelled on this fact:
“Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the LORD,
“And not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the LORD.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the LORD. Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NIV)
Finally, Elohim restores us. Back to Genesis 1, the writer states that the earth was formless and void. From that, he ordered and fashioned the light, day, sun, moon, earth, sea, creatures, and, finally, humans. The enemy wants to make a mess of our lives and return us to the formless void of nothing. However, Elohim wants to, and will, restore us to be the humans we were designed to be. When we are troubled and stuck in our circumstances, let us not forget the restorer, Elohim. He will take the messes in our lives and create a beautiful, eternal masterpiece.