"In the Orient a name is more than an identification. A man's name is not only descriptive of its bearer, it may stand as the equivalent to his very nature and individuality. . . The names of God as they are revealed in scripture serve to depict His person and His attributes." J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament.
Following Dr. Payne's thought, I decided to see what I could learn from an examination of God's names and titles as revealed in the scriptures. I found not only the normally known names and titles of God, but many self-descriptions as God taught His people about Himself. Let's start by examining the more commonly known names.
This is simply the Hebrew word for deity. It not only refers to the Lord, but is used of idols and all false gods. Scripturally, the word elohim becomes defined by who God is, the true Elohim. Meaning deity, this just emphasizes that God is the boss, the one in control. As you likely already know, elohim is a plural word, with el being the singular word for god. Hebrew doesn't have superlatives (-er and -est) and so often uses repetition and plural words for singular nouns to indicate greatness or majesty. It is not an early hint of the Godhead, but rather the method the Israelites used to emphasize how great their God was.
"God Almighty" was the characteristic divine name used by the patriarchs, e.g. Gen. 17:1. This is the Overpowering God, the creator, the flood sender, the God who confused the languages at Babel. The All Mighty God.
"God Most High" This is the descriptor given by Melchizedek in Gen 14:18-19 after Abraham defeated the kings from the north. Most High shows that there is none with more authority than He. God is the sovereign Lord of all creation and all nations.
"The Everlasting God", from Gen. 21:33, just points to the eternal nature of God.
This is the Name God gave Himself in Ex. 3:14 when Moses asked. Unlike the previous entries, this is not a title or descriptor, but the chosen Name of God. Older translations of the Bible transliterated this as Jehovah, probably erroneously. Newer scholars guess that the pronunciation is closer to Yahweh. Far less important than the pronunciation is what the name stands for. I AM THAT I AM probably does not refer to God's eternal self-existence, as we have often heard from the pulpit. Instead it likely refers to God's continued activity in the lives of His people. J. Barton Payne says that the flavor of Ex. 3:14 is closer to "I AM Present is who I AM", while Walter Kaiser paraphrases it as "I AM the God who will be there." As this is the name God always invokes when referring to the covenant relationship between Himself and His people, it makes sense that the Name itself reminds of His continued active presence.
So what we have so far is that our God is, indeed, God. He is the highest authority, the most powerful of all, and He is eternal. Finally, He chose a name for Himself that emphasizes His relationship with His people. Despite His power and lofty status, He is the God who cares.
This also shows through in the self-descriptions God uses and the testimonials of His closest followers. For example, in Gen. 15:7 God identifies Himself to Abram as "the God who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldees". Moses declares Him the God who will go before and "will himself fight for you". (Deut. 1:30). He is the God who will keep his covenant and will display lovingkindness. (Deut. 7:9). He is the God who delivers from enemies, saves from calamities and pardons iniquities (Judges 8:34, 1 Sam. 10:19, Micah 7:18). Most often God identifies Himself as the God who brought the Israelites out from the bondage of Egypt. That self-description is used at least 16 times in the Old Testament.
From all of these descriptions, we learn of a God who maintained a relationship with His people, who fought for them, looked out for them, forgave them and freed them from slavery. These self-descriptions show us a God who is active and present in the lives of His people. This is not the absent God of Deism, nor some mystical force, but a Personal God who cares and is active in our lives and who actively looks out for us.
Over the next several entries we will examine a few of "the God who" passages in which God reveals Himself through self-description and see if we can't come to a fuller understanding of the person of the God we worship and serve.
1 Peter 5:7 "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."