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Friday, October 7, 2011

What is in a name?

2-3 God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together.
   God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life
      when I was down-and-out. 
(Psalm 30:2-3)

Sometimes we blast through our scripture reading and never stop to look at how the "names" of God are actually written.  Did you know that the publishers of our Bibles have gone to great lengths (in most translations) to assist us in understanding that the names of God are different in some passages?  As you note above, sometimes GOD or LORD is in all caps and at others it is God or Lord.  That is because David is using two very distinct terms to describe this delivering and very capable God he serves!

David has been in a real mess - he has been hotly pursued by King Saul's armies, betrayed by friends, not very secure in his future (from his vantage point).  He has spent hours pouring his heart out to his Lord and now, at long last, God has intervened.  He is delighted that God has heard his prayers and he wants to celebrate the goodness of God.  He wants those around him to join in that celebration.

He begins with GOD, my God...

GOD or LORD refers to the name of God Israel often used in describing their God - Jehovah.  Anytime that we see GOD in all caps it is translated Jehovah (pronounced Ja-ho-vah).  The meaning of Jehovah is simply put as "the unchangeable one".  When David is crying out, he is laying out his need for intervention to the one who remains steadfast and unchangeable in his promises of protection.  David had been anointed by God to be the next King of Israel - he was calling upon the God of unchanging promises to keep him safe and deliver him from the "mess" he found himself in.

Jehovah carries some other meaning that lend to the interpretation of this passage.  For example, whenever he used the term Jehovah, he was also calling upon the one who would become everything David needed - in other words, the intervention would be exactly what was needed at that moment in his life.  He knew that the attributes of God that were referenced in the name Jehovah revealed the righteousness of God's character - a God of divine compassion, holy in all ways, and permanent in his promises.

Attributes of character were important in Old Testament times - that is why names were not given lightly.  The name often revealed something about the character of the individual, the quality of a location, etc.  The attributes of God that are revealed in the names used in various portions of scripture give us insight into the traits of God.  In this case, Jehovah is a holy and righteous name - it reveals the complete holiness of God - placing God in a position of justice.

David uses a second name for God when he uses the "God" term - Elohim (pronounced El-o-heem).  He is saying, "Just and Holy One, Faithful in your promises to me (Jehovah), my God (Elohim), I yelled for help and you put me together..."  Elohim refers to the God of all creation - the creator God.  As creator, he is the one in possession of absolute power and authority.  Think about making something - as "creator" of that object, you have the power and authority in the outcome of that object.  David is acknowledging that he needs the one who created him to take complete control of his life.

In using this term, he is also referring to the "governing" side of God's character - the right to "rule" what he has "created".  This is the name that Israel used when they thought about God's covenants - Jehovah displayed the moral side of his character; Elohim displayed his loving and faithful commitment to keep that which he created under his care.  This term reveals much about God - creation is dependent upon its Creator.  David is acknowledging that it is "his" mess - but he needs his Creator to intervene to set that mess straight!

It is the all-powerful God that pulls him out of the grave!  Jehovah to the rescue!  That is what David is proclaiming.  He got into the mess - the covenant keeping, totally unchangeable one would deliver him from that mess. It is the Unchangeable One that gives David another chance at life - the holy GOD is also a loving and merciful GOD!  

There is a third name displayed in our Bibles written as Lord - Adonai (pronounced as Add-o-nigh).  This refers to God as our owner, the one who has unrestricted claims on that which he possesses.  It is Adonai that expects obedience from those he possesses - those who have given their hearts to him.  It is he who expects to be the "sole" owner, master and possessor of our lives.  

The next time you read a passage - just stop for a moment to consider what name is being used to describe God.  The very character attributes of God lend much to the frame of the passage.  We see man's attitude toward God in the term he uses to describe God.  We see man's reliance on God as creator, as holy judge, etc.  It can open scripture in a new way to simply focus on something that seems so insignificant!