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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Hebrew Names of God #2: Elohim

In the previous blog on the Names of God, we looked at El Shaddai, the name by which God revealed Himself to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the burning bush, a fuller revelation of the God of the Patriarchs is given to Moses. When he first approaches the burning bush, God identifies himself as the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). Later, when Moses asks how he is to respond to Bnei-Yisrael when they ask for the name of the God of their fathers, he is told

“You are to say to Bnei-Yisrael, ADONAI, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and the Name by which I should be remembered from generation to generation.” Exodus 3:15 TLV

Creation by the Mighty Power of Elohim

The name written in the TLV as ADONAI is a circumlocution for the name of God YHWH. It is important to discuss this name and the meaning of its revelation, and we will in the next blog. First, we need to look at the Hebrew word underlying the word ‘God’ in the verses quoted above, which is Elohim אלהים. Elohim contains the idea of creative power, omnipotence and sovereignty, greatness and glory. This is clearly seen in Gen. 1:1-2:4 where the word Elohim appears alone thirty-five times. The universe is created by the mighty power of Elohim. It is Elohim alone who speaks and brings creation into existence.

Covenant Relationships

The omnipotence of Elohim is revealed in His covenantal relationships. Making a covenant implies the power and right to do so. Elohim’s covenant relationships with Noah and Abraham establish His absolute authority as the Creator and Ruler of the universe. However, the covenant element of the name Elohim is most clearly seen because in His covenant relationship to Israel, to whom He said that He would be their Elohim and they would be His people (e.g., Ex. 6:7; Jer. 7:23).

As most people know, the word Elohim is plural. It derives from the linguistic root el and/or eloha, which are not names, but an abstract reference to divinity. All of these terms can refer to any god, gods or sometimes even humans with divine-like characteristics. However, the Elohim of creation, of covenant relationships and of Israel is not an abstract divinity, but the infinitely great and exalted One who preserves and governs every creature. This is an intensive use of the plural Elohim indicating that the One true God, in opposition to all false gods, is the highest and absolute fullness of the divine. Indeed, Elohim appears in the Bible with the definite article “the” (ה) and without the definite article. Without the article Elohim is a proper name for the one true God. With the article, Elohim demonstrates the absoluteness of the personality of the one true God.

Interestingly, HaElohim (the Elohim) appears many times, but the Bible never says HaADONAI. Over and over again the Bible says, “my Elohim”, but it never says, “my ADONAI.” The Bible speaks of “the Elohim” of Israel, but not the “ADONAI of Israel” and the “living Elohim,” but not the “living ADONAI.” The attributes attributed to Elohim are inclusive in the name YHWH. We will discuss this in next week’s blog.

The Heart of the Matter

In closing, let me make one more comment on the plurality of Elohim. Some like to stress that this plurality demonstrates the plurality of the Godhead, and even the doctrine of the Trinity. The plurality of the term Elohim certainly leaves room for both of these interpretations. However, let’s not get side-tracked by whether or not these are valid interpretations. It does not matter whether we accept these interpretations or not, the fact is that from Genesis through 2 Chronicles, Elohim is the great name of God that signifies supreme power, sovereignty, and glory on the one hand and covenant relationship on the other. These characteristics don’t stop on the last page of the Tanakh; they continue through the Newer Covenant, into our world today and ultimately into eternity. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Heb. 13:8).

Elohim is the Creator of the universe whose power, omnipotence, sovereignty, and glory are ever present, and who has proven Himself faithful to His covenant relationships. •

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