Most of us have several names or titles. In my work, I'm called Dr. Hemphill. In most social settings, I'm called Ken. My wife calls me Honey. My mother refers to me as Son. My three daughters use Dad or Daddy, which melts my heart.
Names are important. They tell people something fundamental about us. When we meet a person, we ask their name, the prelude for building a relationship.
Throughout the Old Testament, God reveals himself to his chosen people through various names or titles—both those he gave himself and those his servants ascribed to him. These names identified and described God, but they also exhorted God's people to holy living, gave them hope, reminded them of their heritage, and challenged them to continue their pilgrimage of faith.
His names are one way God speaks to us. They're an invitation to know intimately and fully the God of creation and redemption.
All biblical names of God are built around two core names. El means "first" and indicates that God is the strong and mighty one, such as El Shaddai (God Almighty) or El Elyon (God Most High). And Yahweh—a more personal and covenantal moniker—is the closest thing we have to a proper, personal name for God.
Yahweh comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (to have life). The name Yahweh implies that God is self-existent. He is the one who in himself possesses life and permanent existence. When God spoke to Moses through the burning bush in Exodus 3, he revealed himself as "Yahweh," or I AM WHO I AM—to convey the idea that God was, is, and always will be. He is the uncaused cause. He is the first cause and before him there was no other and after him there will be no other. Life is found in him.
When we discover the unique emphasis of each new title of God, it's as if we're turning a diamond in our hands and the light of revelation is striking a new and previously unexplored facet of the stone. God's names continually unveil his character in response to the unique challenges his people face.
As I've prayed and meditated on God's names, my understanding of God's Word has been enhanced and my spiritual walk deepened in three ways.
1. It enhances my worship and prayer. Note how the psalmist teaches us to sing praise (7:17), set up banners (20:5), boast in (20:7), ascribe glory to (29:2), trust in (33:21), exalt (34:3), fear (61:5), wait on (62:5), lift up our hands (63:4), and rejoice (89:16) in the name of the Lord.
2. It promotes spiritual growth. As I understand the significance of God's names, I better understand God's character as well as his desire for my life. The Holy Spirit calls certain names to mind when I pray (and throughout the day). When I face temptation and possible spiritual defeat, I'm reminded that he is Yahweh-Nissi, my banner of victory. Yahweh-Mekadesh (The Lord Who Sanctifies You) reminds me that he is constantly transforming me into his likeness (Leviticus 20:8). And, of course, all of the names point to the ultimate revelation of God to his people. In the New Testament we find names, such as Immanuel (God with Us) and Abba (Aramaic for Father), that take our relationship with God to a whole new realm. Through Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit, God now dwells among and within his followers.
3. It reminds me of my witness to the world. God wants his people, who are called by his name, to glorify his name through their daily behavior.
We bear God's name; therefore our speech, attitudes, and actions lead others to make conclusions about the credibility of the God we serve. In Psalm 23:3, David says: "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (ESV). That phrase doesn't mean that God is acting to save his reputation. It means that God is acting in conformity with his own nature. That is, God leads in paths of righteousness because he is by nature a righteous God. His names are a reflection of his character.
The day I left for college, my dad gave me a single piece of advice: "Son, I have only one thing to give you—my name. Don't take it anywhere I wouldn't. Don't associate it with anything I wouldn't." With that sage counsel he sent me out into the world.
Just as I carry and represent the name Hemphill, I also bear my heavenly Father's name. The question is: What am I going to do with it?