DIFFERENT NAMES FOR GOD IN THE BIBLE
‘Hear Oh Israel – the Lord our God, the Lord is One’. The Shema prayer is the basic creed of Judaism. It encapsulates the intrinsic unity of the world and its creator. Yet the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) regularly employs different names for God, each reflecting a different aspect of His nature.
1. ADONAI – Lord
This term expresses God’s lordship over the earth.
2. SHADDAI – somewhat obscure word, meaning ‘Almighty’
Exodus 6:3 states that God revealed himself to the patriarchs as El-Shaddai, not YHWH. It fell out of usage after Moses adopted the term YHWH, yet it still appears on tefillin (phylacteries) and mezzuzot (doorposts).
3. ELOHIM – Gods
Standing for divine justice, this plural form of the word represents the all-powerful God. It is important to note that although the grammatical form of this name may be plural, it is always used with a singular verb.
4. MELECH ELYON – King Most High
Melech ha-Olam – King of the World/ Universe.
Both these terms express the kingly, remote aspect of God and his universality.
5. SHECHINAH – Divine Presence
It emphasises the closeness of God and is sometimes claimed as the female essence of God, especially by Jewish feminists. Shechinah was said to belong intrinsically with the Ark of the Covenant.
6. TSUR – Rock
This term expresses God’s immutability. As Rock of Israel it appears to denote a more nationalist than universal deity. Interestingly, Tzur was used in place of God in Israel’s declaration of Independence.
7. ADONAI TZIVA’OT – Lord of Hosts
Many see this incarnation of God as somehow more martial: a God who takes the side of His followers in battles with non-believers.
8. AV HA-RAHIMIM – Merciful Father
A related term is Rofeh Olam – Healer of the world. This usage implies that God actively participates in worldly affairs and strives to improve our lives.
9. EIN-SOF – No End
This rare, mystical usage testifies to God’s constancy, His immutability, His omnipresence and His separation from temporal history. Ein-Sof is a favourite term of kabbalists, who often invoke it in their prayers.
10. YHWH – the inexpressible Name of God, known in Greek as the Tetragrammaton.
YHWH may derive from the Hebrew for ‘I am that I am’, as revealed to Moses in the story of the burning bush. This name expresses the divine love of God to mankind. Religious Jews never say this name out loud and instead substitute the word Adonai when praying and the word HaShem (which means ‘the name’) in conversation. Some people have incorrectly transliterated this name into English as Jehovah.