God’s Self-Disclosing Names

In the Bible, the name of a person will often correspond to some character trait, or memorialize an event or act. The book of Genesis provides a series of names for God, each disclosing some aspect of God’s person as he interacts with man in history

El Elyon, God Most High (Genesis 14:18)

In a battle of four kings against five, God grants Abraham’s small force of 318 men victory in their mission to rescue his nephew Lot from his captors. The king-priest of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham in the name of “God Most High.” Since there is no god higher than Jehovah, and since heaven and earth belong to him, this blessing was worth more to Abraham than the riches of Sodom.

El Roi, God of Seeing (Genesis 16:13)

Hagar was in a moment of desperation and fear. She was pregnant, cast out from her home, and seeking refuge in the dry wilderness on the way to Egypt. In this situation, the angel of the LORD “found her” (Genesis 16:7), “listened to [her] affliction” (vs. 11), and looked after her (vs. 13, ESV). Thus, the LORD saw her; he was the “God of seeing” in the sense of having compassion and providing for her in her trouble. However, he did not simply take care of her from afar. He appeared to her, and as the being standing before her was revealed to be the LORD himself in incarnated form (vs. 13), she expressed her awe in praising him as the “God of seeing” — the visible God.

El Shaddai, God Almighty (Genesis 17:1)

“God Almighty” is the traditional translation of this name, though there is some debate. It may also be broken down as meaning “God who is sufficient.” Of course, God’s sufficiency is perfect because his might is perfect. In Genesis, this title regularly served as a reminder that God in his power is enough, especially when his servants found themselves in difficult circumstances. Abraham needed such reassurance regarding the delay in conceiving his promised son (Genesis 17:1). Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, took great comfort in knowing God as the Almighty One, as this name appeared in critical junctures of his life (Genesis 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25).

El Olam, the Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33)

Upon making a covenant with a neighbor, Abimelech, Abraham commemorated the moment with the planting of a tree and by calling on the name of the LORD. Since this formal agreement was to last for all time, it is appropriate that on the occasion Abraham acknowledges the eternal nature of God. Indications in the text are that Abimelech was less than honest in his dealings with Abraham (Genesis 21:25). God’s everlasting unchangeable character is an anchor for believers in the shifting waters of man’s faithlessness.

El-elohe-Israel, God (is) the God of Israel (Genesis 33:20)

This is the name Jacob gave to an altar he erected near Shechem. It expressed his binding himself in allegiance to the LORD, even as he had vowed to do many years before in Genesis 28:21. The story of Jacob’s life is the story of a man brought patiently along by God’s grace, with many bumps in the way, to know him and be devoted to him. Not even this moment could be considered the culmination of that process, but rather another learning experience, for Jacob had just abandoned the pilgrim lifestyle that was his family’s calling to buy a plot of land and settle down (Genesis 33:19).

God will always be God, the Everlasting and the Most High, but we must learn what it is to make Him our own on his terms.

–Brigham Eubanks