What’s in a Name?

“Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I” (Isaiah 52:6).

The Christian life is not a religion. It is a deeply personal relationship with the Creator of the universe and the Savior of mankind. It is a relationship like no other, for it satisfies our longing to be known, understood, and loved. Best of all, it is a relationship in which we are invited to intimately know, understand, and love our God. God wants us to know Him! So it is that He introduced Himself to us and began to paint a lovely portrait of Himself by telling us His names and showing us in rich detail their significance.

Study the Word

Names in the Bible

In the Bible, names often have special significance.

1. Explain the name that Adam gave his wife (Genesis 3:20).

Adam named his third son Seth (meaning “compensation”) because Eve believed God had given her another son to take the place of Abel, who had been killed by Cain (Genesis 4:25). Lamech named his son Noah (meaning “rest”) because he believed Noah would bring rest from curse-induced toil (5:29). Sometimes people received new names because of significant changes in their circumstances (e.g., Abram/Abraham, 17:5; Sarai/Sarah, 17:15; Jacob/Israel, 32:28).

Even place-names often had special significance.

2. One place-name involved Isaac. He separated from the herdsmen of Gerar to avoid a conflict over some wells (Genesis 26:19–22). What did he call the third place (v. 22)? Why?

3. Read Genesis 28:12–22 and 35:11–15. Why did Jacob call the place where he slept Bethel, or house of God? What significant events took place there?

4. Sometimes people changed their own names. Read Ruth 1:19–21. “Naomi” means “pleasant” or “delight.” Why did Naomi change her name to Mara? Why do you suppose God continued to call her Naomi?

Old Testament men and women did not look through the Baby Book of Names to choose interesting names for their children. Biblical names were chosen for specific reasons: (1) to describe the child, circumstances, or impressions surrounding his or her birth; (2) to state the child’s purpose or mission; (3) to illustrate a message of God; to express that person’s connection with God or faith in God; (4) to express someone’s authority or a change in someone’s situation or destiny.

5. How does each name describe the child, circumstances, or impressions at his or her birth?

Peleg (Genesis 10:25)

Isaac (Genesis 17:17; 18:12)

Esau (Genesis 25:24, 25)

Jacob (Genesis 25:26; 27:36)

6. “Solomon” means “peace.” Read 1 Chronicles 22:8 and 9. How did Solomon’s name reflect the characteristics of his future reign?

7. “Jesus” means “Savior.” What did Jesus’ name reveal about His purpose on earth (Matthew 1:21)?

8. God told Hosea what to name his children to illustrate a message from God. Why were they given these names?

Hosea 1:4—Jezreel (“God sows”)

Hosea 1:6—Loruhamah (“no mercy”)

Hosea 1:9—Loammi (“not my people”)

9. Read Genesis 17:5. How did the change in Abram’s name (which means “father”) express Abraham’s authority or a change in his situation or destiny?

10. Read Daniel 1:5–7. Who changed the names of the four Hebrew men, and what did he change them to?

“Daniel” was changed to

“Hananiah” was changed to

“Mishael” was changed to

“Azariah” was changed to

Names of God

One way God reveals Himself in Scripture is through His names.

“Elohim” speaks of God’s power; God is able to meet our needs in any situation.

“El Elyon” tells of His majesty and sovereignty.

“El Roi” tells of God’s ability to see everything, including each of us wherever we are.

“El Shaddai” refers to an Almighty God who is sufficient in every way.

“Jehovah” reminds us that God is a personal God who is all-powerful and works on our behalf.

“Jehovah-Rohi” is the Shepherd of our souls, who guides and meticulously cares for His own throughout life’s journey.

“Jehovah-Sabaoth” reminds us that God goes into battle with His children and secures their victory.

“Jehovah-Tsidkenu” describes the God who is perfectly righteous, giving believers unconditional acceptance.

“Adonai” reminds us that God is our Master to whom we willingly submit.

Three Important Names

The Old Testament uses three primary names for God: Elohim, Yahweh (also transliterated Jehovah), and Adonai. In many Bible translations, these names are differentiated using different capitalization. The name “Jehovah” is translated both as “God” and “Lord,” but it always uses a capital letter and small capital letters. The name “Elohim” is usually written “God,” and Adonai is generally written “Lord” or “Sovereign.” Thus you know that “Lord God” is a translation of “Yahweh Elohim,” that “Lord God” is a translation of “Adonai Jehovah,” and that “Lord God” is a translation of “Adonai Elohim.”

Note how “Adonai” appears as “Lord”; Jehovah in all caps as “GOD”; and “Elohim” as “God.” Deuteronomy 10:17 illustrates these uses. “For the Lord [Jehovah] your God [Elohim] is God [Elohim] of gods, and Lord [Adonai] of lords.”

Identify which name of God appears in each verse: Adonai, Jehovah, or Elohim.

Psalm 147:5

Genesis 1:1

Exodus 6:6

Names ending in “iah” or “jah” refer to Jehovah, and names ending in “el” refer to God. For example, “Elijah” means “Jehovah is God,” and “Jeremiah” means “Jehovah has appointed.” How do the names “Israel” and “Samuel” express the owner’s connection with God or faith in God?

Genesis 32:28; 35:10—Israel (“a prince of God”)

1 Samuel 1:20—Samuel (“asked of God”)

Read Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. What does the name “Immanuel” (“Emmanuel” in the New Testament) reveal about who Christ is?

What does it mean to believe in the name of the Son of God (Jesus)? (See John 3:18 and 20:31.)

Read Acts 4:10–12 and Romans 10:13. Is it possible to call upon any name other than Jesus Christ to receive salvation? Why or why not?

The more we understand the significance of God’s names, the more we will understand how He meets our needs.

Read Psalm 9:10. Describe how knowing God better enables you to trust Him daily.

Concluding Thoughts

Names in the Bible are meaningful, giving us a greater understanding of Scripture. Yet no collection of names has more meaning or imparts more understanding than the names of God. Knowing and understanding His names helps us know and understand Him, for God cannot be described by comparing Him to any one thing. He asks, “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?” (Isaiah 46:5). No human description can adequately convey God’s beauty and wonder. Yet He delights to give us a glimpse into His heart by revealing Himself through His names in His Word.

“If ever the world of believers needed understanding, grace, and peace in the midst of their difficulties and challenges, it is now,” says Debi Pryde, author of Glimpses of God. She has known the heart-wrenching problems of others while ministering as a certified counselor, Christian school principal, and deacon’s wife. And she has recently experienced God’s peace as she and her husband deal with the difficulties of his terminal illness and early retirement.

“Of this one thing I have become convinced,” Debi says, explaining why she wrote her book. “Every Christian grace, comfort, and blessing begins with accurate knowledge about God.

“We have experienced firsthand the confidence, faith, joy, and peace that result when we apply our heart to know our God more intimately. To know God is not only to love Him, but to be assured of His love for us.

“My desire is that every believer would know the peace of God that is promised to those who know Him.”

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