Our Language Hides Many Things.
There are many secret things hidden in the original languages of the bible that we can’t see in our English translations no matter how hard we look! The translators sometimes try to give us hints. For example throughout the Old Testament, there is the personal name of God given to Moses at the burning bush – in Exodus 3 if you want to look it up.
That name as best we can reconstruct it was YHWH in Hebrew – probably pronounced “Yahweh”. Unfortunately, the original language didn’t have any vowels in the written form so we don’t actually know what it was. Any pronunciation was lost around 6BC because the ancient Jews would not pronounce Gods holy name and substituted the word Adonai (Lord).
Over the years some people used the vowels from Adonai and the YHWH. In old English the Y was represented as J and the W as V. That is how we get the word “Jehovah”. We know however, for certain, the word YHWH was not pronounced “Jehovah”. In most modern translations the word Jehovah has disappeared and the word YHWH has been usually represented in English as LORD – all capitals. So, next time you see the word written as LORD in your bible, you will know the original word was the personal name for God himself.
Not the only name
If you Google “names of God” you get a series of lists –
- The 7 names of God,
- The 9 names of God,
- The 10 names of God,
- The 12 names of God and
- The 16 names of God – just to confuse everyone.
Why so many names? They are mostly descriptions of God himself. As you are aware He needs many different descriptions to give us a better idea of who He is. The names in the Google lists are usually the generic word “God” ( “El” in Hebrew) or the personal name “Yahweh” and then an added description.
- “Yahweh Rapha” – Yahweh who heals.
- “Yahweh Jirah” – Yahweh who provides.
- “El Olam” – God everlasting.
- “El Elyon” – God Most High.
“El” is a short version of the Hebrew word “Elohim” which means “gods” – a plural word but often used in sentences as a singular noun. “El” seems to be a generic word for gods in the ancient languages of the countries around Israel. “Elohim”- the longer version of “El”, occurs more than 2500 times in the Hebrew Bible with meanings ranging from “gods” in a general sense (as in Exodus 12:12, where it describes “the gods of Egypt”,) to specific gods (frequently referring to Yahweh as the “Elohim” of Israel).
The Context Gives a Better Understanding.
In the Bible, there is always much more meaning to any given name and this is best seen in the context when it’s used. Let’s take the name “El Shaddai” – God almighty.
It first occurs in the bible, in Genesis 17. V1-2 which says in English “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
Abram has been waiting for maybe 30 years since God first promised him that he would become the father of a great nation back in Genesis 12. He was in his late 60’s then. But years and years went by and nothing has happened.
About 10 years later in Genesis 15 Abram complained to God that he didn’t have a son. But God again told him again he would have a son from his own body and he would become the father of many. The Bible says “Abraham believed God.” But still nothing happened.
So on his wife’s advice, Abram tried to fix his succession problem through Hagar – his wife’s servant. But when she got pregnant, problems began between Hagar and Sarai.
Then we come to Genesis 17. We can pin point this story to 13 years after Hagar’s son, Ishmael was born. God has been silent for all that time. Abram has been waiting for around for God to bring about the promise of a son from his own body. Nothing has happened.
If I was Abraham I would have concluded that either I misunderstood what God was saying or that God had changed his mind.
Many years ago we went to visit my rich uncle in the UK. He owned a high class furniture shop. He brought a new car for us to use and said we were able to use it for whatever we liked. That lasted until we told him we’d like to go to Scotland – about 170Km away. That was too far for an Englishman!
Before we came back home, he took me aside and told me that since he didn’t have any biological children, he was going to look after me in his will. I said thank you and went home expecting that the future was bright. Then a few years later he died.
When I heard the news I was sad but not for long. I waited in expectation for a letter to arrive from England telling me how much my uncle had looked after me. Twelve months came and went. No letter came. Two years came and went. I told myself these things take a while to settle so it could be a while. After four years I began to wonder if my uncle had forgotten his promise. Then five years went by and I began to wonder if my uncles promise was ever going to come to be. After 6 years, I just gave up. It’s been over 30 years now and I’ve not received anything yet!
Abraham had waited 30 years for Gods promise to come true. At the start, he was absolutely confident and knew God would keep his word. But it didn’t happen. As the years went by his faith would have been battered.
Back in Genesis 15 we know his patience was wearing thin. Genesis 15:3- 6 Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Even after God reiterated His promise Abraham here he waited for ANOTHER 20 YEARS but still nothing happened. Abraham got older every year and 99 year old people don’t produce a lot of children – either then or now. Doesn’t matter how much they want to or try to. It just doesn’t happen. So, Abram probably thought Gods promise would never happen.
I might also add that Gods promised he would inherit the land which didn’t worked out too well either. By the time he died, Abraham owned just one burial plot for his wife. He owned no other property in the whole land.
So, in Chapter 17 the first thing God did was to announced himself as El Shaddai. It says “the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty.” We know this was YHWH speaking and He calls Himself “God Almighty”. He is saying to Abraham, I am the God who can do anything. Of course, Abraham didn’t know Gods story like we do. He did not have the bible we have, in which, over and over again, God brought about great victories in the face of defeat.
We know (but Abraham didn’t)…
- When Pharos army was about to overtake them Moses told the Israelites, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” They saw God deliverance.
- Abraham did not know an Angel would tell Mary “With God, nothing is impossible.”
- He didn’t know about Jesus Christ who died and came back to life.
- He had never heard of Paul who told us “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
So, God is asking Abraham “will you trust me in the face of defeat? Will you trust my promise even if things don’t seem likely to ever happen?”
Sometimes God asks us the same question. “Will you trust me even if it looks like nothing is happening in your life?” Will you trust Him even if that long cherished dream seems lost?
If you find that a hard call, remember Abraham, one of the heroes of the bible struggled with exactly the same thing. However, the bible says in the middle of this struggle “Abram believed the LORD.” So, in effect, he said “Yes I will believe and trust God even in if it defies logic.” And in the end it worked out for him. It may be that in the end, God will work things out for you too but, He may choose a different way than the way you currently think it should be.