My legal name is Darlene Campbell, but I have a tribal name, too. I have a sacred name that is known only to Creator. I have family nicknames and other nicknames from differing friends. I have a pen name. I have several forum names for various online interactions. I am sometimes called “Teacher” by my students or even “Ma’am” or “Miss” by people who don’t know me well, but so long as I know someone is talking to “me” I answer. The essence of who I am doesn’t change based on the title someone uses to identify me. I am always—me. Sometimes, I’m given titles by people based on a perceived image of me, whether accurate or inaccurate, it is their perception of me and doesn’t really change who I actually am, because I am more than any one title that is used to describe me. Just as being called different names by different people doesn’t change the essential essence of who we are, giving God many names does not alter the Creator’s character or essence. That is consistent and enduring.
We often read and see the Bible through Euro-centric lens that has been colored for centuries by interpretations from various religious groups and denominations, stemming from European cultures dating all the way back to the birth of the Catholic Church, but the truth is that the Old Testament was written by Hebrews coming from an ancient Jewish culture, worldview and understanding. The New Testament was also written in the context of Jewish culture, albeit, under Roman laws.
According to Rabbi Laze Gurkow in his article, The Jewish Father, in ancient Israel, census records recorded who the father was in Jewish families. It was usually obvious who the mother was. She was the one who carried the child in her body for nine months, but the father wasn’t so obvious, in the days of Moses, the women in the Egyptian culture tended to be more promiscuous than Hebrew women (just check out the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. She was NOT an exemption to her culture.) so the Hebrew fathers legally claimed their children so that the children could receive their inheritances or birthrights.
The Hebrew father’s role was to protect and provide. The Jewish father was a source of provision and protection for his family. If he didn’t provide for his family, he was not a good father, not a good source. It doesn’t matter who agrees or disagrees with that distinction now. It was simply the culture in which they lived, so the Bible (for the most part) was written by Hebrews, coming from a Hebrew culture, which was patriarchal, and it was written through life viewed through a Hebrew lens, but eternal truths remain the same, regardless of the culture by which they are framed. So, God was called “Father” because God is the source of all provisions.
In the New Testament, still coming from a Hebrew mindset but written in Greek, both Paul and Jesus refer to God as Abba, which basically means—a personal, loving provider or as we might say in modern American English—Daddy or Papa. It implies not only provision and protection but compassion and affection.
The phrase “El Shaddai” is used sometimes in the Old Testament. El is a generic word for “god” just any god. But when put with Shaddai (which literally means breasts) it denotes a sense of nurture, loving kindness, and the source of all life. It denotes a mother-relationship, an abiding, Momma Bear kind of love. Some people translate this as Almighty One again, but in various forms of El that are used to describe Creator, we see a kind, loving, nurturing nature that runs after us with a love that will, as Michael W. Smith sings, kick down walls, tear down lies and go to any lengths to come to our aid. El Shaddi is for us and not against us. The term denotes a love that endures all things, bears all things, is not ego-inflated, but looks out for our best interests, a love that wants us to become all we are meant to be just as a good mother will do anything to protect her children. It denotes a “giver and guardian.”
Sometimes the words “The Father” are used in the Bible because it is referring to God as the originator of all things in the same way that we might say, “George Washington is the Father of America.” Well, of course he’s not. He did not literally sire, provide for and protect every person ever born or adopted as an American citizen, but we associate him with the origin of the country.
The term “God” as we say it today in English comes from a number of Germanic languages of Europe and was used long before Christianity was introduced. It was used by ancient Germanic peoples (including the Norse who also used the term The All Father) to denote any number of deities or energies or spirts that presided over certain aspects of their lives. It wasn’t until Christianity spread throughout Europe that the god became the one God, denoting supremacy over other gods.
Until Judaism left Israel and became a dominant belief system in their known world, the Hebrews used the terms Yahweh (YHWH)The vowels were added by the Masoretes between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D. And it was the Masoretes who translated Yaweh as Jehovah or sometimes Iehovah because the Latin they used did not have a “Y” in it, so they substituted. YHWH meant “CREATOR.” Or “I Am,” sometimes translated as the Eternal One or All-Sufficient One or Self-Existent (hmmm…that’s I Am, again!) In Exodus 3: 14 when Moses asked who he should tell the people had sent him back to Egypt, the voice from the burning bush answered that he should tell them, “I AM THAT I AM” has sent you. Some versions of the story translate this as “I AM WHO I AM.” But the connotations are: Whatever you need—I AM. I Am is the source of all we need.
Other words would be added to Yaweh (or Jehovah) to emphasize that there is no limit to the Eternal Source of Existence, the Creator of all. Take a look at a few of these.
Yahweh Yireh—I Am— Your Provider
Yahhweh Rapha—I Am—Your Healer
Yahweh Nissa—I Am—Your Banner (only used once in the Old Testament to signify a flag carried into battle which identified the warriors. So, it could be used as I Am your Identity or Defense.)
Yahweh Tsidkenu—I Am—Your Righteousness
I AM reminds me that all we need is already within us if we just relax into I AM and trust I AM then WE ARE whatever we need to be and WE HAVE whatever we need to have and WE CAN do whatever needs to be done because there IS NO LIMIT to the supply, the abundance or the power that is working in us and through us. The same spirit (energy from I AM) that parted the Red Sea lives in us. The same power (energy) that raised the dead and healed the sick, lives in us. All that we need to bring into the physical realm, all abundance, and peace, and joy, and strength, and understanding—already exists in the non-physical realm. I call it the Spirit World. Some people call it Kingdom of Heaven. Some call it Glory. Whatever term you prefer, it is that place of abundant existence were the laws of spirit supersede the laws of the physical universe. It’s the place outside this bubble of time-space reality, this temporal zone. It’s Eternal Existence and it’s where we abide once we exit our bodies, make our transitions from physical to pure spirit, where there are no tears because we know as we are known and understand all things.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “After the Babylonian Exile (6th century BCE), and especially from the 3rd century BCE on, Jews ceased to use the name Yahweh for two reasons. As Judaism became a universal rather than merely a local religion, the more common Hebrew noun Elohim (plural in form but understood in the singular), meaning “God,” tended to replace Yahweh to demonstrate the universal sovereignty of Israel’s God over all others. At the same time, the divine name was increasingly regarded as too sacred to be uttered; it was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures.”
Elohim basically translates as Creator. It is often used in other forms to show aspects of Creator’s ability to meet every need in our lives. According to the Hebrew incarnations of Elohim, Creator, is our healer, our provider, our source, our strength, our nurturer, and everything else we need.
NO MATTER THE NAME.
Regardless of what title you choose to give God—the character of the YeHOvah/Yahweh/Elohim never changes; the Spirit remains the same. If I, a being with partial spiritual amnesia in a limited physical body with limited understanding, can figure out who you’re talking to, regardless of which title you use when you talk to me, surely the Great Spirit and Creator of the universe can do so even better. If you know God, then you know God, no matter what name you use, because you know the heart and character. “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD (YeHOvah–I AM) who formed it and established it, the LORD is his name. Call to Me, and I will answer and show you great and mighty things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:2-3 NKJV)
*the word used here translates from YAHWEH, YeHOvah, the Self-Existing (I Am), Eternal. (see blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h3068/kjv/wlc/0-1/)