Summary: God reveals much of His character in the names by which He makes Himself known to mankind.
In the late 1800’s, a band of bank robbers with an ingenious leader began to roam the West. They moved from town to town for years without ever being caught, finally simply fading away into history. To this day, no one knows for sure who they were. In fact, no one is certain exactly how many of them there were. About all that we know is that there were always three men inside the bank during a robbery. One was very tall and skinny. The other two were average in height and build. You would think there would a better description than this after the gang had been in dozens of banks, but that was the most ingenious part of their plan.
Each of the men who entered the bank had a distinguishing feature about him. The tall thief always wore an enormous bandana with huge pink polka dots to cover his face. One of the others always had a massive Mexican sombrero with flashy gilding on his head. The third man in the bank had a large belt buckle made of gold with very intricate design. As the men would rush into the bank with guns drawn, the victim’s eyes were always attracted to these oddities. The well planned robbery was always over so quickly that no one ever noticed any other features of the men. Not the color of eyes or hair, not even how many men were outside holding the horses. Nothing. Of course the marshals were frustrated with the lack of information to go on, but every job was the same. People noticed the superficial details, but missed the things of significance.
Unfortunately we Christians too often approach God the same way. We attend church or study our Bibles so that we can meet God. We come into His presence and immediately we are attracted to some superficial element of worship. We want to walk away from the encounter with a good feeling or a short line we can quote. Sometimes it is enough to say we were present. After our brief encounter, these irrelevant things are all we remember. Just like the people in the bank, we missed the things of significance.
Sometimes we have only ourselves to blame for this sad state of affairs. We go into God’s presence with sin in our lives our the wrong motivation for worship. Our priorities are upside down so we don’t even realize how much we have missed. Sometimes the churches themselves promote this distracted worship by shifting the focus from God to entertainment and replacing the truths of Scripture with glamourous fluff. Whatever the reason, we miss the depth of the encounter and walk away from God’s presence with nothing of substance to show from our time with God.
This morning we are going to uncover one of these significant details that tend to slip by modern Christians unnoticed. We are going to begin a series of studies on the names of God presented to us in Scripture. You may be surprised to know that God names himself by many different titles in Scripture. There are literally dozens that we could study. I am sure you could name a few of the English translations if you thought about it for a minute. You know God of course, but we also are familiar with LORD. There are some combinations that come to mind like Almighty God and Most High. You might even know some of the Hebrew names of God, like Elohim, Adonai, and Jehovah. That fact that God would use different titles to identify Himself to man should alert us to some significance He attaches to his name. In fact, names were very important in Bible times for two reasons.
First, names were very significant because they revealed the character of the person named. They tell us what the person is like, how they might be expected to act, or what is important about them. My daughter’s name is Abigail Keakaokalani. Rhonda and I chose that name partly because we liked the sound of the name, but also for the meaning attached to it. Abigail means father’s joy, and my little girl is certainly the apple of my eye. Her Hawaiian middle name means shadow of heaven and was intended to remind us of the significance of her birth. Partly it reminds us that she was born in Hawaii. That is significant because we would never have been there except that we dedicated our lives to God’s use no matter where He might direct. Partly it reminds us of how precious a gift God had given us.
In Scripture, names also were used to tell part of the story about person. You remember Jacob the deceiver. When he finally submitted his life to God’s leadership, God changed the deceiver’s name to Israel, which means God prevails. This was the name God’s people would bear for the rest of time. Names in the Bible are significant for this revelation of character, but Bible names also reveal relationship in many instances.