(This post is the first in a series on the names of God)
Rodgers and Hammerstein have ruined me.
I’m trying to begin this blog series and all I can think is “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start…”
But it’s true. The beginning is a good place to start, and if it’s good enough for the author of Genesis (and Rodgers and Hammerstein), it’s good enough for us.
If I had to guess, I would say that aside from John 3:16, Genesis 1:1 might be the most well-known verse in the Bible. In English, it reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Did what? Created the heavens and the earth.
That seems pretty straight forward, so why are we even having this conversation?
Well, for one, we just unaffectedly read a sentence that told us there is a being who can create something from nothing. Pausing long enough to let that sink in should make us lean forward and say, “What. What??”
Have you ever tried to create something from nothing? It’s impossible. I have a friend who devised “hackathons” as part of her job. She and her team would identify problems that need solutions or systems that need to be made more efficient. Then, the hackers were challenged to come up with amazing devices and ideas for the set of problems. Despite all the novel inventions and creative concepts that resulted, none of those geniuses ever ended up synthesizing something from nothing. Even having employed all of their knowledge and skill, the only thing the hackers ever did was rearrange and reorder already existing materials in fresh ways. All human creative endeavors are basically cooking—combining the same set of preexisting ingredients in different ways. Combine the ingredients one way, you get a pancake. Combine them another way, you get a muffin. Either way, though, you didn’t germinate the wheat kernel or lay the egg.
The first chapter and verse of Genesis introduces the One who is responsible for making and ordering all things from nothing. In English we read, “God…” In Hebrew, the name is Elohim.
“In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”
Pronounced el-o-HEEM, this title literally means strength and might and can refer to anything that has great power. When it is used of God in the Bible, it is always applying to God’s creative power and ability to judge that which he created. It is one of the most common names for God in the Bible—everywhere you see “God,” the word being translated is Elohim. So, when recounting the Genesis story of creation and teaching this name to our children, we simply say that Elohim means “Creator.” That’s understandable enough even for littles. (To reinforce this name, a short catechism-type question for young children is, “Who made the heavens and earth?” Teach them to respond, “Elohim, the Creator God.”)
The beauty of the Scriptures is that on one level, they can be understood by anyone, even small children. On another level, they are like the expanse of the universe—endless in what can be explored. Children can understand that God (Elohim) created everything that exists. This is a foundation upon which more understanding can be built.
For example, as you are expanding your own understanding, meditate upon what is implied by the name Elohim. One who creates has immense knowledge. He exercises wisdom, skill, and craftsmanship. He employs art and beauty. He sets limits and boundaries, determining what is permissible and what is not. He judges the parameters of his creation. All things that are made by him are subject to him. He owns all he makes, and his creation is directed by his will.
Something else you need to know about the name Elohim is that in Hebrew, this title is plural, yet, everywhere this name is used in reference to God, the adjectives and verbs used with it are in the singular tense. What does this to convey to us about the nature of God? (This would be a great question to pose to a small group.)
It’s difficult for our western minds to think the way ancient Hebrews did, so we miss what would be obvious to the original recipients of the Scriptures. By way of broad summary, in Hebrew, a plural name referring to one being carries the idea of quality AND quantity. So, the ONE God is demonstrated to possess indescribable majesty and supremacy. Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalm 136:2, and Daniel 2:47 are good examples.
Indeed, our God is THE Elohim of all other elohim, the mightiest of the mighty.
Another way we can view this plural name used with singular verbs is that from the beginning, God is communicating something about his essential nature. While the opening words of the Bible aren’t explicit about the triunity of God, the intentional syntax seems to hint at what is later fully revealed at the advent of Jesus. Elohim is a unity of diversity, a divine plural oneness.
When studying these names and teaching them to children, I’m asking one question: What difference does this information make? In other words, why is it important to know this aspect of God’s nature, and how should that change the way I think and live? Because if I don’t understand its significance and let it change me, it certainly won’t affect my children.
Here’s why I’ve determined it’s important for me: The One who conceived of and created all things has demonstrated his power, glory, and wisdom. He made me. I am his. He, therefore, deserves my allegiance, my obedience, and my trust. As Elohim he has made covenant to join himself to us and be our God, our Elohim (Jeremiah 31:33). How else can we respond except with thankful praise?
“Elohim, you are My Elohim” (Psalm 63:1), and “My Elohim, I trust in you,” (Psalm 25:2).
How does knowing God as Elohim, Creator and Judge, increase and enhance your awe and worship of God? Leave a comment. I’d love to know!