It is apparent, even to the ordinary reader of the Scriptures, that the revelation God has been pleased to make of Himself is gradual and progressive. Now believers walk in the light, as He is in the light; but in a former day clouds and darkness were round about Him, and necessarily so as long as righteousness and judgment were the habitation of His throne. But when Christ had accomplished the work of atonement, glorifying God in all that He is, having been made sin for us, the veil behind which God had dwelt, and which had concealed Him from His people, was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and God could righteously gratify His own heart in coming out into the full display of what He is as revealed in Christ, on the ground of redemption. These are cardinal and fundamental truths, and they are stated as preparatory to a brief consideration of the several names of God, under which He revealed Himself in the various dispensations found in the Old Testament histories. That God is the same in nature and attributes both in the Old and New Testaments, that, in other words, He is immutable, is a necessity of the perfections of His divine being; but it is yet true that the aspects under which He is presented in different ages vary, and it is these aspects which are embodied in His several names.
ELOHIM is, as often remarked, the common name for God, viewed as the Divine Being with whom men as men have to do, and as the One to whom they are accountable. It is a plural word. The singular is Eloah, and this form is often used, especially in the book of Job. Heathen sometimes used the word for their deities, and doubtless from this fact arises the question in Psalm 18, "For who is God (Eloah) save the Lord (Jehovah)? or who is a rock save our Elohim?" That is, the true Eloah was Jehovah, and the only rock was Elohim. The reason for the use of the plural word (Elohim) is variously explained. There are those, as might be expected, who contend that it is simply, according to Hebrew usage, a plural of excellence, that the word in this form conveys the excellency or the perfections of the One spoken of; there are others who maintain that it is divinely intended to set forth the Trinity, the unity of the Godhead in the three Persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In support of this the devout reader will not fail to notice the language of Genesis 1:26, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Inasmuch, indeed, as the term expresses all that God is, all the persons of the Godhead must be included.
It is quite true that this could not be comprehended at the time. It was not indeed until the baptism of our blessed Lord that the whole truth of the Trinity came out. Then God spake from heaven; His beloved Son was on the earth; and the Holy Ghost descended and abode upon the Son. But now that the full revelation of God has been made, and the Holy Spirit has come, who searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God, we can go back, as led and taught of Him, and discover much that could not have been before understood. It is one of the perils of the present moment that the Old Testament scriptures are being limited to the light possessed at the time they were given. The truth is, that their latent meaning can only be apprehended when looking back upon them from the full shining of the light of Christianity. There is no incongruity whatever, therefore, in affirming that God chose the special word Elohim to express the truth of the Trinity. For example, we read in Genesis that God created the heaven and the earth; and in John's gospel it is said of the Word, the Word that afterwards became flesh, "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made." We know consequently that the eternal Son is comprised in the word 'God' in Genesis, and as we ponder upon it we learn more of the glory of the person of our Redeemer.
To the patriarchs God made Himself known under another appellation. The first mention of this is found in Genesis 17:1, "The Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God"; that is, EL SHADDAI - God Almighty. But the meaning of the word El is said to be strength, omnipotence; and Shaddai is thought by some to signify the same thing, while others prefer the rendering of all-sufficient or self-sufficiency. The combination of the two words will, in either case, import divine attributes, as omnipotence and all-sufficiency can only be found in God. These two words are used, for example, in the passage, "And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them." (Exodus 6:2, 3. See also Gen. 28:3; 35:11, etc.) When the word "Almighty" stands alone in our translation it generally represents Shaddai. There is a beautiful combination of this name with that of Jehovah in 2 Cor. 6, "I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." The God who was known to Abraham as Shaddai, and to Israel as Jehovah, was now declared as Father in that blessed and intimate relationship into which, in His precious grace, He had taken His people in association with Christ.
From what has been already said, it will be understood that JEHOVAH is the name God specially took in His covenant relationship to Israel. It is not, as the reader may easily ascertain, that the word was not used before God communicated it to Moses, but it was now first employed in connection with the chosen nation. The following remarks may help as to this: "In Genesis 2:3 it was of all importance to connect Jehovah, Israel's national God, with the one only Creator, God. So in Exodus 9:30 the God of the Hebrews, whose name was Jehovah, is declared to be Elohim. . . . Otherwise Jehovah is a name, Elohim a being; only Jehovah is Elohim, but the former is a personal name" - the name He took in His dealings and relationship with men, but especially with His people. The word signifies the self-existent One, and is, as another has observed, practically translated, "Who is, and was, and is to come." Derived from the verb "to exist," it expresses the eternity, and, consequently, the immutability, of His being; and it thus brings before our souls the One who eternally is, who existed before all time, endures through all time, and continues after all time has passed away. He is thus the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last; and the use of these expressions (Rev. 22:13) proves, beyond all contradiction, that the Jesus of the New is the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
El has been referred to in connection with Shaddai, and it is also used with ELION, and is then translated the "Most High God." An examination of the various places in which this name is found will show that it is God's "millennial name above all idolatrous gods and demons and all power." It is in this character that God is said to be "possessor of heaven and earth." (Gen. 14:18, 19.) Hence it was that Nebuchadnezzar was to lie under God's judgment until he should "know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will"; and that this end was accomplished is seen in that, when his understanding returned, he blessed the Most High, etc. (Daniel 4:25-34.) Balaam in like manner uses this title when about to speak of the future glory and supremacy of Israel among the nations. In Psalm 91 it is found in connection with Shaddai (the Almighty). It says, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High (Elion) shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Shaddai), and in Psalm 47:2 it is seen in combination with Jehovah; and it is added, "He is a great King over all the earth." These instances are interesting as proving that it is God, the one God, who reveals Himself to men under these different names in distinct relationships.
Most readers of the Scriptures are familiar with the term ADONAI as another divine name. It is translated in our English version as Lord, but is generally distinguished from Jehovah, which is also rendered Lord, by the use of small letters instead of capitals. It means, as to the root of the word, Master, Ruler, or Owner; but the form Adonai is only used of God, and of Him as One who has taken power and is in the relationship of Lord to those who call upon His name. It is therefore especially applied to Christ, in His exaltation at the right hand of God. This may be seen from a reference to Psalm. 110, and to the Lord's citation from it when confuting His adversaries. "The Lord [Jehovah] said unto my Lord [Adonai], Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." (v. 1.) In Matthew 22 the Lord expressly applies this scripture to Himself, to Himself as Christ the Messiah (vv. 42-44), and employs it to demonstrate that David's Son was also David's Lord, that, in a word, He was the Root as well as the Offspring of David. In Genesis 15:2 Abraham addresses God, not as given in our version, Lord God, but as Adonai Jehovah. This example will suffice to show once again that all these divine names are used of the one God; even that of Adonai, which is specially reserved for Christ in His exaltation on high. (The full Adonai character of our blessed Lord is displayed in Philippians 2:9-11.)
There are other divine titles which it will suffice to mention for the reader's consideration. In the poetic books "JAH" is often employed, and it is this word which is embedded in the term Hallelujah, or "Praise ye Jab." Its significance has not been determined; it is generally supposed to be a shortened, or a poetic, form of Jehovah. Then there are the words God used when sending Moses for the deliverance of His people; the first is given as "I AM THAT I AM," and the second as "I AM." Both of these are forms of the same word signifying existence; the former is sometimes, and perhaps rightly rendered, "I will be that I will be." The thought expressed in both is akin to the meaning of Jehovah (and necessarily so as coming from the same verb), and speaks of unchanging being, or existence. There is yet another term, not in itself perhaps a divine name or title, but one which from its frequent and special application to God is almost to be so regarded. It is ATTA Hu, and it is found in such phrases as, Thou art He, etc. The equivalent is employed in Hebrews 1, "Thou art the same" (v. 12), which indeed is given as the translation of ATTA Hu in Psalm 102:27. This term speaks also, as will be at once perceived, of the immutability of God, of the One who always is, and who is ever unchangeable.
We need not further pursue the subject, as enough has been said to point out the various ways in which God has been pleased to reveal Himself under these different names. It is a mark of His tenderness that He has done so; and it proclaims at the same time His unspeakable grace in thus displaying what He is in Himself to His people. He might have concealed Himself for ever in the blissful solitude of His own all-sufficing existence; but long before the foundation of the world, in the far distance of a past eternity, He chose us in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. Before however these eternal counsels were communicated, the first man, Adam, was brought upon the scene; and after he, the responsible man, had failed, God continued for four thousand years to wait upon man to see if fruit for Himself could be produced. His trial of man went on until the cross, and then when God had demonstrated that man had lost everything on the footing of responsibility, He revealed all the grace which was in His heart in "the gospel of God . . . concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." In Him, as we may yet see, God has been fully revealed; and He is also the man of God's counsels, and in Him all the thoughts of God's heart will be accomplished. The partial unfoldings of the Old Testament have passed away before, or rather have been merged in, Him who is glorified at God's right hand; and this is told out in the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.