What's In A Name?
By Dave Butts
In the Bible, a person’s name had great significance. Much could be learned about a person or his background by his name. Abram had his name changed to Abraham when he received the promise of God that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Jacob the deceiver had his name changed to Israel when he wrestled with God and prevailed (Genesis 32:28). As with Abraham and Israel, you can learn much about God from His many names. God is too big for just one name. In Scripture there are many names given to describe God.
The most common name is that of Jehovah or Yahweh. It means, "I am who I am." This was the name that God Himself gave to Moses. This is the name that means…He is…He exists. The fact that God exists is really all we need. But God gives us even more in describing Himself.
There are eight combination names that are used in connection with Jehovah in the Old Testament. These are often called the redemptive or covenant names of God. They tell us something about how God relates to His covenant people.
The first name can be found in Genesis 22:14 -- Jehovah-Jireh. This is translated, "The Lord Who Provides." The context was when Abraham took Isaac to the mountain for sacrifice. When Isaac asked Abraham where the sacrifice was, Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." At this time, Abraham was thinking that Isaac was the sacrifice that God had provided. But on the mountain God provided a ram to substitute for Isaac, a perfect picture of the substitutionary death of the coming Lamb of God...Jesus.
We need to understand today that God is our provider. Many still carry the load of their own sins. Many still try to provide for their own atonement. But we have a God who provides. He has provided the Lamb of God to take away guilt and bring us into a right relationship with Himself.
The next name is found in Exodus 15:26 -- Jehovah-Raphe (He is the Lord who heals you). It was a fascinating incident. The people of Israel in the wilderness were thirsty and rushed to the waters of Marah to drink. The waters, though, were bitter, and some of them became ill. In response to the request of Moses, God made the waters sweet and healed those who were ill. After this, God spoke: "He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.’"
One translation says, "I am the Lord who is your physician." Many Christian doctors understand that it is the Lord who heals. Sometimes a doctor has to say, "I’m sorry, there is nothing more I can do." God never has to say that. He is the God who heals.
In Exodus 17:15, we encounter Jehovah-Nissi (God Is My Banner or Standard). In the Bible, we find Joshua and the Israelites fighting the Amalekites and needing help. Moses stood on a nearby hill with the staff of God in his hand. The staff represented God’s power. It was a banner…a flag…that announced to the Israelites below that God was here at work. In an amazing way, whenever the staff was raised in Moses’ hands, the Israelites would prevail in battle. But when Moses’ hands got tired and the staff came down, the Amalekites began to win. Finally, with the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses was able to hold the staff up long enough for the battle to be won by Israel.
At the end of the battle, Moses built an altar in the valley and named it Jehovah-Nissi (God Is My Banner). Maybe you’ve been in a battle like that. Whenever it happens, put up the banner…the standard. There is a rallying place for God’s people. It is in who God is. Jesus Himself said that if He would be lifted up, He would draw all men to Himself. Jesus is our banner…our staff -- lifted up to bring victory!
The fourth name of God is found in Leviticus 20:7. Jehovah-m’Kadesh means, "I am the Lord who makes you holy." In this situation, Israel had been given a list of commands concerning holiness. They were commanded to come out from among the peoples…to be set apart for His purposes. God then declared, "Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy." We are declared by Scripture to be a holy nation, commanded to be set apart for divine use…a powerful instrument for God to work through. Though we don’t feel that way, we hold on to the fact that we have a God who is holy and who makes us holy.
In Judges 6:22-24, we find the name of Jehovah-Shalom, the God who is our peace. In this passage, the Midianites were oppressing Israel. Gideon was approached by an angel and instructed how he was to lead the Israelites to victory. When he realized that it was an angel he was speaking to, he thought he was going to die, "But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’" Gideon responded to the angelic visitation and built an altar, naming it "Jehovah-Shalom." It was a tremendous act of faith, because the Midianites were still in charge. There was still a great deal of fighting ahead of him. But God had declared Himself as a God of peace.
Do you walk in peace? Is peace an overriding characteristic of your life? Our peace is not a peace dependent upon circumstances, but based on God. Jesus said, "My peace I give to you." In a world desperately in need of peace, we serve a God whose name is Peace. "May God’s peace be with you," should be our word to this world.
Psalm 23 contains the name of Jehovah-Rohe (the Lord is my shepherd). Here was a shepherd boy who understood what it meant to be a good shepherd to his sheep. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote that God is our shepherd. He is a shepherd who leads, guides and provides for every need. He leads His sheep safely in dangerous places, He provides comfort, He anoints, He provides goodness and mercy and allows His sheep to dwell in His house. What a shepherd!
Again we must see that this good shepherd is Jesus. In Revelation 7: 17 we read, "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Jeremiah 23:5-6 reveals Jehovah-Tsidkenu (The Lord our righteousness). This was a bad time in the life of the nation of Judah. The officials were corrupt and the nation in dire trouble. But God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah of better days that were to come: "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness."
Scriptures teach us that none of us are righteous. No one is right in the eyes of God. Therefore, Jesus has become our righteousness, and those who follow Him have become clothed in His righteousness.
Jehovah-Shema (the Lord is there), is found in Ezekiel 48:35. It was a time of destruction for Judah. Babylon had triumphed and Judah was in exile. The Temple had been destroyed, and it seemed that God had departed. Where would God live without His temple?
Ezekiel’s message was harsh until the end, when there came a great vision of a time to come when God would again dwell among His people. We have become the temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s dwelling place. The Lord is there. On the day of Pentecost, the Shekinah glory of God, the flame of God, came and hovered over the heads of the believers, showing that God had come again to His temple. The God who is there is present with us today.
God relates to His covenant people through His covenant names. God has brought us into His covenant through Jesus. In each of these names, a characteristic of God is revealed and we have received each of them through Jesus. We can spend all of this life studying who God is and never begin to plumb the depths of our amazing Father. May the covenant names of God help you as you grow in your knowledge of our loving God.