What’s in a name? We all have one. We are all categorized by our names, and we go through life by such. In our culture today however, it doesn’t seem too prevalent to hear one’s name and understand their nature, their calling, or even their personality. We may be just over two thousand years past Jesus’ culture and rarely do we recognize one of the biggest differences of our time and his: names. The difference, though not in the names themselves, may lie within the thought process behind naming. It can be argued that the majority of parents name their children based simply on what sounds good, or what they like. This seems to be a growing movement of child naming based on pop-culture, world news, or naming trends. However, a trend that seems to have gone out the door decades ago is the one of naming your child based off of the meaning of said name. I have yet to come across a new couple in the past two years who have named their child with an understanding of what the name actually means. Many name their child on what sounds good or cool, or contemporary. For instance, you just found out you and your betrothed are with child, the question in Jesus’ day would have been, “What kind of destiny do we want to give him?”
You see, the culture of the time agreed on something: the name we give a child will be his prophetic covering, a means by which we are declaring who he will be to the world, a sound by which people will know what kind of a person he or she is. For example, the name Jacob means “supplanter” or “scheming, an over thrower, taking the place of another.” We go on to read years after Jacob is given this name that he schemes to take his brother’s birth right. Another example of this biblically would be the name Malachi, whose name means “Messenger of God,” the boy who grows up to become a prophet for God, warning his people. Tons of examples of the same point can be given throughout the entire Bible. The culture of Jesus’ time understood that a name wasn’t just an identifier given to acknowledge someone, but rather, an inheritance they’d grow into and become. To say the least, the naming of a baby was very important in the Bible. Now I’m not making a case for every individual whose name’s meaning has a negative connotation will grow up to be an awful person; I am however, making a case for an awakening to the importance of one’s name as it pertains to who they become, and ultimately who they are. In this article I want to focus on the names of God and who he is as it relates to his many, many names.
With over 625 names for God, Jesus and Holy Spirit combined, each one can be described as a piece to a puzzle that each make up a facet of the nature of God.
When you first heard the Gospel message, the one you accepted when you said yes, chances are it was the person with the name of Jesus or Jesus Christ you said yes to. Those of you who grew up Christian are familiar with the one we call God and Jesus. In fact, if you were raised Christian, your church most likely taught in order to give you an understanding of who God and Jesus were. Basic church education explains a lot of the Gospel through the names of God such as Father, Creator, Protector, or ultimate authority. And often the church describes Jesus as our Savior, our Redeemer, or our Shepherd. The first name we see in scripture is the name “God.” This name is used all throughout scripture in almost every way possible. The phrase “God of ________” appears thirty-eight times. The phrase “God, that (insert action word)” appears twenty-two times. When Moses tells God he will tell the children of Israel he was sent to them by God, he asks God what his name is, God replies with “YHWH” or “Yahweh,” meaning “I am that I am” …which certainly doesn’t clear up the nature of God. If you were to count the names of God in scripture, there would be over 625 names. What does this mean? In a culture that I’ve explained understood names to be a vital connection between the name and the person it identified, it means that God’s identity and nature are much more vast than anyone who has ever lived. With over 625 names for God, Jesus and Holy Spirit combined, each one can be described as a piece to a puzzle that each make up a facet of the nature of God.
The Jewish culture had great names for God, all of which give us a glimpse into who God is in a personal way. Many of their names began with the Jewish name “Jehovah” meaning “the Lord our Sovereign.” Though Jehovah cannot be found in any English translation, it can be found in the original languages over 7,000 times. It’s referred to as the name that literally translated into “YHWH” or “Yahweh.” Once this became a baseline and the understanding of the name declared who Jehovah was to his people, they were able to add descriptors. For example, “Jehovah Jireh” (Gen. 22:14) means “the Lord will provide,” or “Jehovah Rapha” (Ex. 15:26) meaning “the Lord who heals,” “Jehovah- Rohi” (Ps 23:1) means “the Lord is my shepherd,” and “Jehovah-Nissi” (Ex. 17:15) meaning “the Lord is my banner.” These names were in no way random, but given upon experience of God. For example, “Jehovah Jireh” in Genesis 22:14 is given to God by the Israelites right after God spares Abraham’s son Isaac and provides a ram instead. As a people group, the Israelites came upon tough times, a biblical reality still transcendent and applicable today; as they used these names specific to the times and needs they faced, they had an understanding that “El-Shadai” or “the all-sufficient one” was all powerful and they could easily see him as a provider, shepherd, healer, and banner of love. If Jewish parents gave their children a name, it did not change, unless something about the child’s nature changed, or an experience changed their identity, and God changed their name (i.e. Saul to Paul). It wasn’t a personal choice, it was the decision of the living God. We see Abram being changed to Abraham “from ‘high father’ to ‘father of many’” and Saul being renamed Paul “from ‘asked for’ to ‘humble.’” But God remained the exception to the cultural norm. He was given more and more names, not because his nature or experience or character changed, but rather because the people of God continued to explore him and find more and more experiences, personalities, natures, and aspects of who this God really is. They didn’t try to rename God over and over, instead they let the vast amount of his names act as understandings of who he is, just as one singular name would to an Israelite of the day.
Once God decided to redeem humanity from sin, and come to earth in the form of a baby through a virgin, he had angels pave the way. One of the first instructions that Mary received was what to name him. The ever-powerful God of the universe came to give instruction for what would come and he began it with what his son was to be named! It was in the form of “…you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31, NKJV) As if one instruction to Mary wasn’t enough, God further emphasizes this to Joseph for safe measure: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV) The name Jesus (Yeshua in Greek) can literally be translated “God is Salvation.” So the instruction Mary and Joseph received was to name their son “God is Salvation.” Additionally one of Jesus’ names is “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” If the Jewish people understood the nature of God through his names and thus experience his nature and character, many would understand Jesus as God by being named “God with us” and “God is Salvation.” With an understanding of the names of Jesus, it becomes more vast, yet at the same time more clear, in being able to explore the nature of God.
One of the most interesting aspects of God’s names include those that describe Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit’s functions, denoting them by their names. Jesus’ names include “Advocate” (1 John 2:1), “Almighty” (Job 22:23), “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), “Cornerstone” (Mat 21:42), “Deliverer” (2 Sa 22;2), “King of the Ages,” “Light of the World” (John 8:12), “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5), “Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5), “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6), “Savior” (Phil. 3:20), and “Truth” (John 14:6). Though it’s impossible to touch on all of Jesus’ names in this article, you can see that his names act as descriptors and metaphors, lending yet another set of aspects to the functions of God. One aspect of God that often gets left out is the Holy Spirit. Ironically enough, I seemed to get plenty of teaching on who “God” and “Jesus” were to me in relationship to them while growing up. I did not however, understand the role of the Holy Spirit or have any kind of connection to him. When I first heard the name, it was actually Holy Ghost (though the original term is Holy Spirit,) which to me seemed unlike something I’d want to partner with or grow closer to. The term Holy Ghost honestly kind of crept me out, most likely because of my understanding of ghosts being scary. I was familiar with the name “The Trinity” and that God was made up of the Godhead, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, though I knew nothing of the third aspect of God. I mention this because as we explore the names, and thus all three parts of God, it’s important to discover as much about God through his names as we can, including that of the Holy Spirit.
[God] was given more and more names, not because his nature or experience or character changed, but rather because the people of God continued to explore him and find more and more experiences, personalities, natures, and aspects of who this God really is.
The Holy Spirit is known by names such as “Author of Scripture” (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16), “Counselor” (John 14:6), “Comforter” (Lam 1:16), “Convictor of sin” (John 16:8), “Guide” (Act 1:16), “Intercessor” (Romans 8:27), “Revealer” (John 14:17; 16:13), “Spirit of Life” (Romans 8:2), “Teacher” (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13), and “Witness” (Romans 8:16, Hebrews 2:4). It’s with a composition of the three aspects of God we see him become more complex, more vast, and more omnipotent. As if the seemingly innumerable names of just the Godhead weren’t enough, his names as Jesus and Holy Spirit lead us to new aspects and higher levels of understanding in regards to who he is. Names carried extreme weight and value, they let the world understand who you were, who you were going to be, and at times, what you would do.
My prayer is that by examining the names of God we come to an even greater revelation of the vastness that is God, that you come to a greater revelation of who God is, and how that can be translated to who he is in your life. This all-powerful God of the universe declares who he is through his names, before the world, while in the world, and long after it’s gone. May you come to know God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a new way that welcomes them into your life as an advocate for you, as a comforter, counselor, teacher, savior, provider, and healer. May you become aware that God knows and sees your needs, wants, struggles and desires. May you become aware that God knows you physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And may you know God as El Roi, the God who truly sees you.