Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Lord

I recently started a series of meditations on the names of God.  There are two primary names for God in the Old Testament:  Elohim and Yahweh, often translated as “God” and “The Lord” respectively.

The name Elohim is fascinating!  It is actually a plural of the Hebrew word “El,” (the generic term “God”).  English has two grammatical numbers:  singular, or “one of something,” and plural or “more than one.”  But Hebrew has three grammatical numbers:  singular, dual (“two of something”), and plural (“more than two of something”).  The word “Elohim” is plural in form, meaning that it is more than two, but at the same time it takes a singular verb, meaning that gramatically the word acts as if were singular.  (An early foreshadowing of the understanding of the Trinity?)  El and Elohim carry at their root the meaning of power or might.  Thus throughout Genesis 1, the history of creation, the word Elohim is used to demonstrate God’s power in being able to create the entire Universe from nothing (and in 6 days!).  Even though some biblical writers seem to use the two main names of God interchangably, at many points throughout the Old Testament there really does seem to be a conscious choice to use the name El or Elohim where God’s power is the most important thing they are trying to communicate.

The name Yahweh (usually translated as “The LORD”) is a form of the Hebrew word for “to be.”  Thus in Exodus 3:14, where God reveals Himself to Moses by saying “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”  (Exodus 3:14 NIV), that is actaully a reasonable translation of what the word means in it’s barest form.  It speaks of God’s self-existence, and even about the fact that He is eternal.  But there is more to that name than just a grammatical form.  The name Yahweh is God’s covenant name, the name by which He is known in relationship with people.  So in Genesis 2, dealing with the creation of mankind and God’s first interaction with Adam and Eve, you find that God reveals Himself not as Elohim, the almighty Creator, but as Yahweh, the God who makes Himself known through relationship with man, starting with the first man and woman.

The name Yahweh fell out of use as a spoken word among the Jewish people due to the fear of “misusing the name of the Lord.”  So whenever they wanted to use that name, they substituted the word “Lord” for it (which is why it is translated that way in our Bibles).  Now the English word “Lord” has its own implications – authority and the right to call the shots – but it doesn’t carry the same meaning as Yahweh.

Yahweh is God in relationship with man – His revealed name.  When He gave people that name, he stooped down from His exalted separation from the world to allow us to know Him – something that we never could have done unless He graciously revealed Himself to us, because He is not perceivable by our senses, or able to be known through scientific observation.  In that name, He reveals more than just His mere existence (which, according to Romans 1:18-20, can be know by what He created as Elohim, the mighty Creator God); He also reveals His character.  This is shown very well in Exodus 34:5-7, when God revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai:  5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord.  6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”  (NIV) 

Yahweh is the same mighty God who created everything, but by revealing Himself in this way, He demonstrates that He is willing to be intimately known by the humans that He created.  More than just knowledge, He makes possible RELATIONSHIP!  And the way that He does relationship is through the process of covenant.  Through covenant, He opens the pathway to relationship, but as the God of the Universe, it must be done on HIS terms, which He has clearly outlined all throughout the Bible, including a goodly amount of application commentary by the prophets.  He lays out the rules and, as long as we are obedient to them, He allows Himself to be known and approached.

There are two main belief systems with regards to belief in one God (monotheism).

  • Deism believes in a distant God that is not involved in the world.  Some call this deistic God “the clockmaker God” based on the belief that God created the universe and set it in motion, but then just lets it run on its own according to the natural laws that He put in place, and has not touched it since.  Some branches of this belief system teach that God CAN’T mess with the Universe, because if He breaks the natural laws, the whole thing will come apart.  Deists don’t believe in miracles (breaking of natural laws of cause and effect).  They also can’t accept Jesus as the divine Son of God, because that would be God entering into and interfering in the clockwork universe.  Their God is much like Elohim – the powerful creator God, but in their view, He stays at arms length from His creation, and really can’t be know by us in any meaningful way.
  • Theism, on the other hand, believes in an involved God who, even though He exists separately from His created Universe, is still intimately involved in its operation and in keeping things working as they should.  The God of the theists can do miracles (the natural laws not being totally immutable or unbreakable, but being the way that things are set up to operate unless He directly intervenes).  And theists can accept Jesus as the divine Son of God, because their theology allows for God’s breaking in to history any time He needs to.  The God of the theists is Yahweh (or, as He is known by Christians, either specifically God the Father, or the three persons of the Trinity) – the all powerful creator God who has made Himself known through both general revelation (the creation) and special revelation (the Bible and direct communication with people).  Which brings us to the next thought.

Understanding that biblical Christianity is, at it’s heart, totally theistic, we also understand that the clearest revelation of Yahweh ever, was through the incarnation as Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah.  When the first century disciples made the statement “Jesus is Lord,” they were saying a lot more than just “Jesus is the boss.”  They were actually saying that Jesus is the same Creator God who had allowed Himself to be know by the Jewish people for hundreds of years, but who now had made Himself available for relationship and intimate knowledge to everyone through Jesus!


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Meditations on Matthew 1:1

A record of the geneology of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  (NIV)

Jesus was a real human being who was rooted in our real history.  He was born to a real human being, who had ancestors who lived and died.  That much is very clear by this introduction.  Just like any other major player in Jewish history, Jesus’ geneology was considered important to establish “his credentials” right off the bat:  who He was, and where He came from.

Another motivation of Matthew to include the geneology right at the beginning was to establish his claim that Jesus is the Messiah.  The Messiah must be Jewish, that is a descendant of Abraham, and He must be a descendant of David so that He would have a legitimate claim to the throne.  Through this genealogy, Matthew establishes both of these qualifications very clearly.

But as I was pondering these few words, I wondered if there were any other reason for Matthew to mention specifically David and Abraham.  I came to the conclusion that Jesus was the fulfillment of key promises that were made to both David and Abraham – promises that really couldn’t be understood at the time that they were given, because the people to whom they were given, David and Abraham, were just men with human understanding.  But looking back at these promises through the lens of Jesus, we see that (a) God really did have a plan right from the beginning, and (b) Jesus was that plan.

The promise to David that was amazingly fulfilled by Jesus is in 2 Samuel 7:12-16.  2 Samuel 12 starts off with David in a very good place:  he has settled into his palace, and he isn’t having any wars at the moment.  So he calls in the prophet Nathan and tells him about his wonderful plan to build a temple for the Lord, which Nathan heartily encourages.  But a little later, God pulls Nathan up short with a message for David:  He is not the one that God has chosen to build the temple.  Disappointing news, but there is an amazing promise for David embedded in it:  

2 Samuel 7:11-16 (NIV)
11 “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'”

What an amazing promise, and it was fulfilled completely by Jesus, the descendant of David who is now the King forever, not only of Israel, but of the whole Universe!

The second promise was the one given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.  The situation for this promise was that Abraham
was being called to leave his family and go to the Promised Land that God was going to give to him and his descendants:

Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Again, this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus to the last degree!  Through Jesus, “the Son of Abraham,” all peoples on earth have been blessed, especially those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior!



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