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God, Name of


The biblical use of the names for God provides a valuable insight into the richness and complexity of Semitic thought. For the Semitic peoples, an unnamed thing was a nonexistent thing; names were considered to identify and describe the very being and function of their bearers (Eccl 6.10; Gn 1.310; 27.36; Is 40.26). A man's name represented him wholly, was his alter ego. To know a name was to be able to exercise influence over the owner by using it. To change a man's name was to show one's power and authority over him (2 Kgs 23.34: cf. Gn2.1920; Dt 28.10). To cut off a man's name was the same as destroying him (Jer 11.19; Ps 82[83].5).

In religious matters, knowledge of the name of a god was considered the most effective way of establishing contact with him. The priests of baal tried to obtain Baal's intervention by the repeated shouting of his name (1 Kgs 18.2628). In Israel, where one also called upon the name of the Lord (1 Kgs 18.3637), belief in the magical properties of the divine name never took root. The divine name was not a carefully guarded secret, whereas secrecy was an essential feature of magical names and formulas. Moreover, the Lord had freely revealed His name and commanded that He be addressed by it and by no other (Ex 3.15; 23.13). It was a name that should not be profaned (Ez 36.21). Legislation against its misuse was quite explicit (Ex 20.7).

The divine name was evocative, not only of God's being, but of His relationship with His people. He was not the God of a land, nor of a particular city, but the God of the people of Israel, into whose life He intimately penetrated. In Israel His name was held in great esteem, and became an all-embracing part of the religious life of the nation. The "name of the Lord" was loved (Ps 5.12), praised (7.18; 148.13), and used in prayer (Jer 14.21); it was blessed (Jb 1.21), proclaimed (Dt 32.3), and thanked (Ps. 96[97].12). Israel lived and acted in His name (Mi4.5), trusting in His help and interest (Ps 123[124].8). The divine name was synonymous with God's glory (Is 42.8; Jer 10.6; Ps 101[102].16). Prophets spoke "in the name of the Lord," with all His authority and power (Jer 11.21).

The Temple was built to honor the Lord's name (2 Sm 7.13; 1 Kgs 8.16, 29). Not only did the Temple bear His name (Jer 7.10, 14); it was also His name's abode (Dt 12.5, 21). All nations would honor the Lord's name in Jerusalem (Jer 3.17). Isaiah declared (30.27) that the divine name comes from afar to punish Assyria. Such personifications reconciled the transcendence of Yahweh with His presence in the Temple. Eventually, Yahweh was referred to simply as "the Name" (Lv 24.11) without any further specification.

See Also: adonai; el (god); elohim; elyon; jehovah; shaddai; yahweh.

Bibliography: h. gross, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:112729. w. eichrodt, Theology of the Old Test., tr. j. a. baker (London 1961). e. jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. a.w. heathcote and p. j. allcock (New York 1958). j. p. e. pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 4 v. in 2 (New York 192640; repr. 1959). p. van imschoot, Théologie de l'Ancien Testament, 2v. (Tournai 195456). t. vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, tr. s. neuijen (Newton Centre, Mass. 1958).

[r. t. a. murphy]

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