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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Hebrew Names of God #4: ADONAI Elohim

Then ADONAI Elohim formed the man out of the dust from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life—so the man became a living being.  Then ADONAI Elohim planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there He put the man whom He had formed. Then ADONAI Elohim caused to sprout from the ground every tree that was desirable to look at and good for food. (Gen. 2:7-9) Genesis 2:7-9 TLV

The context of these three verses is Gen. 2:4-3:24, which gives the toledot (genealogical or historical account) of creation, recounting the creation of man, the description of Eden, the eating from the tree of knowledge, and the subsequent judgment. One of the noteworthy points of this section is the connection of the personal divine name—HaShem, ADONAI in the TLV—with the general name Elohim. This combination is rare in the Torah, appearing twenty times in this literary section, and once in Ex.9:30, where Moses tells Pharaoh, “But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear ADONAI Elohim,” and even more exceedingly rare in the rest of the Tanakh—2 Sam. 7:25; 1 Chron. 17:16, 17; 2 Chron. 6:41, 42; Ps. 50:1; and 84:9, 12.  The combination of these two names of God, and their repeated use in this section of Genesis, emphasizes and gives prominence to the fact that the absolutely transcendent God of creation (Elohim) is the same immanent, personal God (YHWH), who cares for mankind.

Actions reveal characteristics

However, when we look more closely at the passage, we learn that double name does not simply teach that Elohim is YHWH, but that YHWH is Elohim. Actions reveal characteristics, and all names of God declare something about His character, thus looking at the actions connected with a this double name, reveals His character. With this in mind, let’s look a little more closely at Gen. 2:4-3:34. As I stated above, ADONAI Elohim appears twenty times in this section. ADONAI Elohim creates everything, forms Adam and breathes life into him, plants a special garden called Eden, puts Adam in the garden, tells Adam not to eat of the tree in the middle of Eden, creates woman from Adam, visits them in Eden, curses the serpent (the tempter), punishes Adam and Eve for transgressing His command, and promises victory over the tempter.  Here we see a personal, caring God who is in relationship with His creation. He loves, sets boundaries, chastises, and promises.

It is significant that in the section on the temptation and disobedience, only the name Elohim appears. From the moment the serpent begins to speak to Eve (Gen. 3:2) until Adam and Eve have eaten, perceived their nakedness and sewn clothes to cover themselves (Gen. 3:7), the serpent and Eve only talk about Elohim. ADONAI Elohim commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you most assuredly will die. But Eve tells the serpent …“Elohim said, ‘You must not eat of it and you must not touch it, lest you will die.” Eve depersonalizes the command and distances herself from the immanent, and personal God by using only to the transcendent name of the God of creation. Yet, ADONAI Elohim is still close. He not only seeks out Adam and Eve and punishes their disobedience, He provides for them even in their disobedience and promises future redemption.

The name ADONAI Elohim brings together the characteristics of Elohim—transcendent, creative power, omnipotence, sovereignty, greatness and glory—and YHWH—the personal, living Being, who is holy, righteous, loving, unchanging, faithful, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, truthful, merciful and forgiving, as well as a gracious redeemer and savior. The accumulation of the usages of this name in the Gen. 2:4-3:24 and the special emphasis in the few additional appearances in the Tanakh, demonstrate that YHWH, the God of Israel, is Elohim. It is not simply to say that YHWH is one with Elohim, but that HaShem is Elohim.

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