Yahweh and Compounds
El and Compounds
A person’s name symbolizes all that one is and does. The meaning of a person’s name is more than its “dictionary definition,” which many people do not even know for their own names. Rather, the meaning of a person’s name comprises that person’s character, position, and actions within that person’s context. So a person’s name is unique to that person because that person invests his or her name with individual meaning.
In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, a person’s name was important because the lexical meaning of that name reflected, or was hoped to reflect, something about the person. To God and to the people of Israel, God’s names were especially important because they revealed aspects of who he was in himself, in his actions within himself, and in relation to his creation. God’s names represented him so much that how one treated God’s name was equivalent to how one treated God (cf. Mal. 1:6–7, 11–14). It is little wonder that at the burning bush Moses anticipated how the Hebrews in Egypt would respond to his announcement that “the God of your fathers has sent me to you”; they would ask, “What is his name?” (Ex. 3:13). And it is not surprising that God regards his name as holy and carefully assesses people’s attitudes toward his name. He has promised that in the future when he restores Israel, he will be “jealous” for his “holy name” (Ezek. 39:25).
The following discussion focuses on Old Testament names and titles of God. New Testament names and titles for God should be seen as continuing the Old Testament meanings, although progressively revealing more about their implications for God’s actions in time.
Yahweh and Compounds
The most common name for God in the Old Testament is Yahweh, which appears more than 6,800 times and is derived from the tetragrammaton (the four Hebrew consonants transliterated into English as “YHWH”). God revealed this name as “his name” and “my name forever” at the burning bush (Ex. 3:13–15). It speaks of God’s eternal and unchanging nature. As can be seen in Exodus 3:15, the name Yahweh is what God intended by his response to Moses’s question about God’s name in 3:13. God responded by saying, “I am who I am” and “I am” (Ex. 3:14), and then by identifying “Lord” (Yahweh) as “my name forever” (Ex. 3:15). Although this name of God was known before the time of the burning bush (e.g., Gen. 4:26; 5:29; 9:26; 14:22), according to Exodus 6:3, God told Moses concerning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “By my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” There is no contradiction between these Genesis passages and Exodus 6:3, because the verb for “known” most likely here refers to relational knowledge. When the patriarchs addressed God as Yahweh, they did not relate to God with the understanding that Yahweh was “his name.” Another possible explanation of Exodus 6:3 is to understand “known” as referring to experiential knowledge, meaning that the patriarchs did not have “the full experience of that which lies in the name.”
After the Babylonian exile, the people of Israel came to refrain from saying the name of Yahweh, replacing it in pronunciation by the Hebrew name adonai, or by the Hebrew name elohim when Yahweh preceded or followed adonai in the written text as the name of God. This change in oral reading was likely due to reverence for it and to fear of blaspheming it. The translators of the Greek Septuagint and the writers of the New Testament (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) respected this Jewish tradition, writing the Greek word kyrios (“Lord”) when quoting an Old Testament passage with the name Yahweh. When the Masoretes invented the system of vowel pointing for the Hebrew Bible, they followed Jewish tradition in pronouncing the name of Yahweh, pointing “YHWH” with the vowels of the name adonai (a, o, a). Though the name was written as “YHWH,” it was to be pronounced as adonai (“Lord”).
The Masoretic pointing of “YHWH” led Latin-writing Christians to transliterate the Masoretic writing of “YHWH” with its vowel markings as “Iehovah.” Some have claimed that Petrus Galatinus (ca. 1460–ca. 1539) innovated this transliteration in 1518, but it appears in Latin Christian writings as early as the twelfth century AD. So the church of the Middle Ages came to combine the consonants of “YHWH” (transliterated as “IHVH”) and the vowels of adonai to produce the name Iehovah. The Reformers embraced this transliteration, and William Tyndale also used it in some passages in his Old Testament translation (1530). Then the Authorized Version (or King James Version) of 1611 (cf. Ex. 6:3) and the English Revised Version of 1885 used “Jehovah” in a few passages, accepting the J in place of the I, and this was the usual translation of Yahweh in the American Standard Version of 1901. But most modern English versions have respected the tradition of not pronouncing the tetragrammaton by translating “YHWH” as “Lord,” generally set in small caps to differentiate it from adonai.
The meaning of Yahweh is important for theology. Since it is derived from the Hebrew verb for being (khavah), especially against the backdrop of Exodus 3:14–15, the basic meaning of Yahweh is “he is” or “he will be.” So the name indicates that God “is” and “wills to be.” The name implies that he had no beginning, will have no ending, and is ever present. The name also implies that his being is derived from his own self-determination to be and to be what he is, so he is eternally who and what he is.
Since God revealed this name to Moses in a specific historical circumstance and because God acted as Yahweh in prior events and would act as Yahweh in future acts, his name would indicate the constancy of his being amid the changing conditions of his creation, especially those of his people. For example, as Yahweh, he had been and would be present as (1) the Revealer of himself and his will, (2) the Redeemer (Gen. 1:1–2:3 compared with Gen. 2:4–25; 9:26–27; Ex. 3:15–16; 6:26; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 19:1–6 compared with Ps. 19:7–14; Isa. 26:4), (3) the Eternal One (Isa. 41:4; 48:12), (4) the Life Giver (Gen. 2:4–25; Ezek. 37:13–14, 27), and (5) the supreme Judge of all creation (Ezek. 6:13–14; 7:27; 11:10; 12:16). Later, the perfections (attributes) of God will be specified, but one needs to know from the name Yahweh that God is eternal, simple, self-existent, and present at every event in time.
In his Word, God reveals the relevance of his name Yahweh to humans, especially to his people, through the compounds of his name. They are revealed in connection with God’s actions.
Yahweh-tsabaoth. God is “the Lord of hosts” or “armies.” Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God created, governs, and leads the angels as the “armies” of heaven (Ps. 24:10; Isa. 6:1–5; 9:7; Hag. 2:6–9; Zech. 4:6) and his people as his “armies” (Ex. 7:4; 12:41; 1 Sam. 17:45) to accomplish his purposes in his creation.
Yahweh-yireh. God is “the Lord” who “will provide” or “will see” (Gen. 22:14). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God will see and provide what is needed to fulfill his promise. In Genesis 22:14, Abraham remembered God by this name because God had provided a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac.
Yahweh-rophe. God is “the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God will deliver his people to fulfill his will. In Exodus 15:22–26, Moses remembered that God sweetened the water at Marah so the people could drink and live. God’s mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness are on display.
Yahweh-nissi. God is “The Lord Is My Banner” (Ex. 17:15). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God will be the “banner” or “standard” that will lead his people to victory over their enemies. In Exodus 17:15, Moses worshiped God as the One who gave his people victory over Amalek and would destroy Amalek utterly from the earth.
Yahweh-meqaddishkem. God is “the Lord” who sanctifies his people. Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God will sanctify or set apart his people from sin and the surrounding nations to obey him. Keeping the Sabbaths holy or set apart would be a sign to the people that God makes them holy, set apart from the other nations, to belong to and serve him only (Ex. 31:13).
Yahweh-shalom. God is “The Lord Is Peace” (Judg. 6:24). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God, through the angel of the Lord, sent Gideon to “save Israel” from the Midianites (Judg. 6:14). The angel of the Lord gave Gideon a sign—that the angel’s staff consumed Gideon’s sacrifice with fire—to assure him that he was sending Gideon and would go with him to give him victory. The Hebrew word for “peace,” shalom, means wholeness and well-being. Through Gideon, God would grant his people wholeness in freedom from enemies and well-being in the Promised Land.
Yahweh-roiy. God is “the Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, according to Psalm 23, God will provide everything his people need in this life, in death, and forever. He will guide and protect his people.
Yahweh-tsidkenu. God is “the Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, in the future God will establish the Messiah as the Davidic King, and “he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5). When this Davidic King will reign in righteousness “in the land,” then “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (Jer. 23:5–6).
Yahweh-shammah. God is “The Lord Is There” (Ezek. 48:35). Because he “is” and “will be” who he is, God will restore Israel as a saved nation in the Promised Land and will establish a new temple in a renewed Jerusalem, which will be called by the name “The Lord Is There.”
El and Compounds
EL, ELOAH, AND ELOHIM
As Hebrew names for the true God, el, eloah, and elohim indicate God as supreme power, strength, and might. When depicting the true God, el is used with the article (e.g., Gen. 31:13; 46:3; Pss. 68:20; 77:14) or with other modifiers. For example, he is called “the God of your father” (Gen. 49:25), “God my exceeding joy” (Ps. 43:4), “the God of heaven” (Ps. 136:26), “the faithful God” (Deut. 7:9), “the Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33), and “the living God” (Josh. 3:10; Pss. 42:2; 84:2). God is characterized by full strength, and as such, he is living, eternal, and faithful and so gives joy to those who trust in him.
The name elohim is a plural of the root el (appearing more than two thousand times), and when referring to the true God, it is probably a plural of intensity, indicating that God has such a vast fullness to his power that a plural name is appropriate to him. This is the name that appears from the beginning of the biblical revelation (Gen. 1:1) and is used in many passages interchangeably with the singular el and other singular names of God (e.g., Deut. 7:9; Josh. 24:19). Because the plural form elohim is used for a singular being, the plurality must refer to something other than multiple beings. This plural form does not prove that God is triune, but it certainly is compatible with later biblical revelation of the triunity of God (cf. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7).
As stated above, when used of the true God, the Hebrew name el is often used with modifiers other than an article, resulting in a compound name. Here are some examples of el appearing in compound names for God.
El Shaddai. Scholars have debated the linguistic root of shaddai, some holding that it is from the Hebrew root shadah, indicating God’s sufficiency to provide. But the stronger case is that shaddai is from the Hebrew root shadad, referring to power. With respect to the true God, shaddai has been traditionally translated “almighty,” referring to God’s omnipotence. Nevertheless, being almighty, God provides (Gen. 17:1; 28:3–4; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3–4; 49:25). He also acts to protect (Ps. 91:1) and to chasten or destroy in judgment (Ruth 1:20–21; Job 5:17; 6:4; 21:20; Ps. 68:14; Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15). The New Testament confirms that this Old Testament name refers to God as omnipotent, using the Greek word pantokratōr to refer to the Old Testament concept of God as shaddai (cf. 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22).
El Elyon. Translated “God Most High,” this title refers to the supreme sovereignty of God. El elyon is usually used in the Old Testament in relation to Gentiles and the enemies of God and his people (Gen. 14:18–22; Num. 24:16; Deut. 32:8; Pss. 91:1, 9; 92:1; 97:9; Dan. 3:26; 4:2, 17, 24–25, 34; 5:18, 21; 7:25). As such, God has supreme authority over heaven (Isa. 14:13–14; Dan. 4:35, 37) and earth (Deut. 32:8; 2 Sam. 22:14–15; Pss. 9:2–5; 21:7; 47:2–4; 57:2–3; 82:6–8; 83:16–18; 91:9–12; Dan. 5:18–21). As el elyon, God divides people into nations and establishes the borders of the nations (cf. Acts 17:26).
El/Elohey Olam. Because God is omnipotent, he is eternal. He is God eternal or “the Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33). In Isaiah 40:28, the plural form of God’s name is used (cf. Pss. 90:2; 93:2; 103:17).
El/Elohim Khayyim/Khay. God’s essence is consummate power, so he is life in and of himself, and he is the source of life for all (created) living beings and exercises authority over them. He is “the living God” (Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Pss. 42:2; 84:2; Isa. 37:4, 17; Jer. 10:10; 23:36; Dan. 6:20, 26; Hos. 1:10).
Although the tetragrammaton, YHWH, is often pointed with the vowels in adonai (“my Lord”), this Hebrew name/title for God (or its absolute form, adon [“Lord”]) also appears. Since this name/title is also applied to humans, the word in and of itself does not mean the most supreme sovereignty. Many times it does not indicate sovereignty at all but is simply a term of respect, similar to the English word sir. But in most usages, it is addressed by someone to a person who is superior in some sense: general recognition of superiority (Gen. 24:18; 32:5; 44:7; Ruth 2:13), master (Ex. 21:4–8), superintendent (Gen. 45:8–9; Ps. 105:21), owner (1 Kings 16:24), father (Gen. 31:35), husband (Gen. 18:12), king (Gen. 40:1; Judg. 3:25; 1 Sam. 22:12; Jer. 22:18; 34:5), prince (Gen. 23:6; 42:10), captain (2 Sam. 11:11), governor (Neh. 3:5), and prophet (1 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 2:3; 4:16). When used of the true God, adonai indicates that he possesses supreme sovereignty and ultimate authority over all things external to himself.
The Bible depicts God as “the Rock,” comparing him to a physical rock in order to communicate his impregnable strength and thus his perfect reliability (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30–31; 2 Sam. 22:3; 23:3; Pss. 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2–3; 42:9; 62:2, 6–7; 71:3; 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; 144:1; Isa. 17:10; 26:4; 30:29; 44:8; Hab. 1:12). The Hebrew word tsur depicts a cliff or quarry (Isa. 51:1). Sometimes Scripture uses a metaphor so frequently or in such defining assertions that the metaphor becomes a name or a title. For example, though “the Word” is not a frequent designation for Jesus, yet the very significant thesis statement of the Gospel of John calls him “the Word.” Since this expression is employed in the same way “God” refers to the Father, it is legitimate to conclude that “the Word” is a name or title of Jesus. The same phenomenon may be at play with respect to the expression “the Rock” as an eternal name or title of God. Nevertheless, this description of God seems more than metaphorical in the Old Testament. According to the apostle Paul, this Rock that cared for Israel was the preincarnate Messiah, the “spiritual Rock that followed them” (1 Cor. 10:1–4). The “Rock” of the Old Testament, therefore, referred to both Yahweh and the preincarnate Lord Jesus. Just as Paul explicitly stated that “the spiritual Rock that followed them … was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4), so in various Old Testament passages, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is called “the Rock.” For example, Deuteronomy 32:3–4 says,
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.”
Another example is found in Habakkuk 1:12:
Are you not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
Because both God the Father and God the Son are equally divine in the Trinity, the names Yahweh and “the Rock” can and do apply to both the Father and the Son in the Bible.
Since the New Testament applies the name “Father” to the first person of the Trinity, when the Old Testament depicts God as “father,” this Hebrew description should be considered a name/title of God. God is the “father” of Israel in Deuteronomy 32:6 (cf. 32:18; see also Ps. 89:26; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19). The theme of God as Father is expanded in the New Testament, which reveals that the first person of the Trinity is especially the Father of the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God (Matt. 7:21; 10:32–33; 11:26–27; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19, 35; 25:34; 26:39, 42, 53; John 5:17; Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 2:27; 3:5, 21), and is the Father of believers (Matt. 5:45, 48; 6:8–9, 14–15, 18, 26, 32; 10:20, 29; Rom. 1:7; 8:15; 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6; 2 Cor. 1:2; 6:18; Gal. 1:3–4; 4:6; Eph. 1:2; 4:6; Phil. 1:2; 4:20; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:3; 3:11, 13; 2 Thess. 1:1–2; 2:16; Philem. 3; James 3:9; 1 Pet. 1:17).
Father is an eternal name, indicating that there was never a time when the first person was not the Father of the second person, his only begotten Son. As the unbegotten Father, the first person of the Trinity is the eternal Prime Mover in all his relationships and works.
 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 154–160). Crossway.