What’s in a Name?
Three Bedouin shepherd boys wandered a hillside near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in search of a lost goat. One tossed a rock into the dark opening of a cave, hoping to startle the wayward animal out of hiding. When the rock made contact, what the boys heard was not the muffled sound of a goat’s bleat, a ricochet off a cave wall, or even a thump against the hard dusty ground. It was the sound of shattering pottery.
The boys ventured into the cave and discovered there in the Judean desert a cache of mysterious clay vessels stuffed with ancient Hebrew writing—the first of what we’ve come to know as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hundreds of jars. Hundreds of scrolls. Thousands of words. Precious parchments rolled up and tucked into clay jars, only to be discovered in 1946, some two thousand years after they were penned. Over the next several years, fifteen thousand fragments were retrieved from eleven different caves.
A few years ago, a museum in my (Sharon’s) hometown hosted a traveling exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I walked into the dimly lit room expecting to look at a piece of history, but I experienced so much more. God’s presence was thick. The Holy Spirit hovered close to the writings He had breathed into the writers inspired centuries earlier. My soul was stirred.
Enshrined in glass cases surrounding me were precious ancient parchments. Below each fragment of Hebrew or Aramaic text, the English translations were provided—translations that matched almost perfectly the words in my very own Bible. I was struck by the unchangeable authenticity of God’s Word through the centuries. So far, more than 230 biblical texts have been found among the 972 manuscripts, representing every book except Esther. Here was Genesis. Psalms. Isaiah. Deuteronomy. Old friends. Holy words. Unscathed by time. Unchanged by man.
As I stared in awe at one particular scroll fragment from the book of Deuteronomy, I noticed four dots where the Hebrew letters for Yahweh should have appeared. Four dots. Then I saw it again in the book of Isaiah: “In the wilderness prepare the way of • • • •” (Isaiah 40:3, esv).
And then it hit me just how deeply the scribes reverenced and revered the name YHWH. They wouldn’t say the Name. They wouldn’t even write the Name. And yet YHWH is the name that God said would be remembered from generation to generation (Exodus 3:15). And while God is exceedingly holy, He is also intimately personal. He reminded Moses, “I am…the God of Abraham,…Isaac and ...Jacob” (verse 6).
And, friend, He is the God of Sharon, Gwen, Mary—and you!
Infinitely holy. Intimately personal. Our God wants not only to be worshiped but to be known. In 1 Chronicles 16:10–11, David urged his people:
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Of course, if we’re to “glory in his holy name,” it makes sense that we’ll need to know what that name is. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were surrounded by cultures that worshiped a variety of gods with many different names. However, the one true God made it clear that He alone is to receive our worship. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” the Shema begins (Deuteronomy 6:4). And while He is one God, He has many names.
In the sixty-six books of the Bible that were written over approximately fifteen hundred years, God revealed various names that reflect His multifaceted character and infinitely diverse ways. To the outcast Hagar, He was El Roi, the God Who Sees. To the needy Abraham, He was Yahweh Yireh, the Lord Will Provide. To the rock-toting teen warrior David, He was El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One. In each of these instances, God revealed a new aspect of His being to show that He was sufficient to take care of every need, all powerful to take care of every foe, and all present to take care of every circumstance.
In ancient times names carried powerful significance. In addition to distinguishing one person from another and connecting family members, names were thought to reflect a person’s character, nature, and destiny. Joseph’s two sons were named Manasseh, meaning “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,” and Ephraim, meaning “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:50–52). Abraham’s name meant a “father of many nations,” and the name of his wife, Sarah, meant “princess—the mother of many nations”1 (Genesis 17:5, 15–16). Then there was Jacob, whose name meant “trickster,” Esau whose name meant “red,” and Jabez whose name meant “pain.” If you’re familiar with their lives, you can see how these names are intricately connected with each person’s story.
God has many names in the Bible, and just like the names of the people to whom He revealed Himself, each one brings to light something about His character and His ways—who He is and what He does. Our finite human minds can barely comprehend even a fraction of the depth of His wisdom, the breadth of His love, the magnitude of His power, or the height of His grace. But like a multifaceted diamond, each name invites us to glory in a different aspect of our amazing God.
KNOWING GOD INTIMATELY
In the pages to follow, we’ll introduce you to forty different names and attributes of God. But we don’t want you to simply know God’s names. We want you to know God Himself—on a personal level. We want you to call Him by name and to call on Him by name. And you can be sure of this: He knows your name…He calls your name. I love God’s promise to us: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1, nlt).
Our purpose is not to cover every name of God mentioned in the Bible or to study every theological nuance of the names we do cover. Rather, we long for you to draw closer to the heart of God by gaining new insights as to who God is and what He does on your behalf. We pray that as you reflect on the various names of God, you will experience Him in fresh ways and with deeper intimacy.
We hope you read our previous Girlfriends in God book, Trusting God. It’s the perfect introduction to this study. These two books are knit together with the purpose of drawing you closer to God. We believe the more you know Him, the more you’ll trust Him. Isaiah wrote, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10). The psalmist wrote, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10). Oh, girlfriend, you can know God by name and you can trust Him.
For most of the names of God, we’ll include the Old Testament Hebrew or Aramaic or the New Testament Greek rendering of the name as well as the English translation. Just as in our Girlfriends in God online devotions, we’ll include Today’s Truth—a Bible verse in which the name is used. And each devotional closes with a prayer. For Day 6 of each week, we’ve provided questions to help you reflect more deeply and personally on the five names or attributes covered in that particular week. We encourage you to gather a group of girlfriends into a GiG group and study the names together. We know from our own friendship that there’s so much to be gained by sharing with one another what you’re discovering about God. In fact, the three of us have created free online videos for each week, and we’d love to join you in this study. So grab a cup of coffee, click on www.girlfriendsingod.com, and find us on the Knowing God by Name page.
So let’s get started! We can hardly wait to hear what God reveals to you as you open the treasure chest of His Word and begin to know God by name.
Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith, and Mary Southerland
The people who know their God will display strength and take action. (Daniel 11:32, nasb)