Have you ever been reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and thought God seems to be called by a lot of names? Who is this Yahweh, Elohim, El Roi, Adonai, Savior, Redeemer, and Angel of the Lord? What happened to the simple Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? There are, in fact, dozens of ways in which the people of Israel referred to God, and many of these are revealed to us in Genesis and the rest of the Torah. This multiplicity of names can be a little confusing for those who don’t know ancient Hebrew. So, we thought we’d do our best to open up this fascinating can of worms and show you why it’s important to understand the many ancient names of God.
People, Place, and Time
If you read our blog last week on Genesis and Ancient Cosmic Geography, you likely saw how understanding the ancient cultural context of the people, places, and times of the Bible is important for understanding what is actually going on in a particular story within the Bible. In other words, when God reveals himself to people, he does so in exactly the language, concepts, and cultural context of those specific people. To understand the significance of the Bible for our time, we have to understand the ancient meaning of these texts within their own time. The various names of God in the book of Genesis are connected to the ways Ancient Near Eastern people thought about the gods. As we will see, the names given to God are a response to the religious ideas held by the Canaanites (an ancient people group), and an effort to redirect their attention to the God of Israel.