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The Name that is Above Every Name
Chapter 3


ALTHOUGH "the LORD" is by far the most frequently used expression in the Old Testament, the passages containing other Divine titles are still numerous enough to call for attention. They are sometimes used in combination with the Memorial Name itself.

We first consider a title common enough for men, which is nevertheless used rarely with respect to God. Its general meaning is perfectly clear from Scripture itself, and the reason why it occurs in a specific passage can best be determined from its context. The Hebrew for this word "Lord" is adon, and signifies "lord" or "lord and master", in the sense of one who has authority over another. This authority can be absolute, as in the case of a king over his people or a master over his servants; or it can be confessed as a form of respect, as the following will make clear.

In its first occurrence in Scripture it was used by Sarah of her husband Abraham, when she said ". . . shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" (Gen. 18:12). Here adon expresses the Divine]y established relationship between husband and wife (and, it is to be noted, Sarah honoured it, even "in her heart"), the mutual obligations of which are expounded by both Peter (1 Peter 3) and Paul (Ephesians 5 and elsewhere).

The term is applied to Pharaoh as king of Egypt, and is found frequently in the form of address "My Lord the king" in the books of the Kings. It is used throughout Genesis 24 by his servant of Abraham in his capacity of owner of men and property, and is frequently translated "Master" whenever this relationship is described. When Jacob uses it of Esau, however, he is expressing his respect for his brother, in the hope of averting his anger by implying the superiority of the one over the other (Gen. 32 and 33). When Aaron so addresses his brother on the other hand, he is acknowledging the Divine authority in Moses which he and Miriam had challenged and God had so dramatically confirmed in His anger: "Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly and wherein we have sinned" (Num. 12:11).

God Is Lord
The appropriateness of the title for God Himself is therefore evident. Why then is it so rarely used in Scripture? The answer is twofold: first, God has chosen to reveal Himself in a name rather than a title, a distinction to be discussed later; and secondly, there is some important truth to be learned from the uses of adon for us, especially where it is carried over into the New Testament.

When God declared to Israel that He was "the LORD thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt", He was enunciating a basic principle of the covenant He was to make with them (Exod. 20:1). But He had also "brought you unto myself" (19:4) and they were especially His. He was not only their Creator but their Redeemer, who had bought them; so He was their Lord and Master, a title added to His Name, and distinguishing Him as Israel's God.

How fitting then that the deliverance from Egypt by the God of their fathers and His bounty as Creator and Sustainer should be commemorated in the feasts of the passover, of firstfruits and of harvest, when the representatives of the people who owed Him their very lives and freedom should appear before Him by royal command: "Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel" Exod. 34:23; 23:17). In rejoicing in the grace of their salvation and in the fact that there was no other nation that had God so nigh unto them, they were also to remember that their God was a Great King, a Lord whose will is sovereign and His commands absolute.

"Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave and sware by his name." (Deuteronomy 10:20)

For them there could be no other allegiance:

"For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God. a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward." (verse 17)

Indeed, Israel's God was "the Lord of the whole earth" (Josh. 3:11,13; Psalm 97:5; Micah 4:13; Zech. 4:14; 6:5). This form of the title occurs in Scripture when He is exercising His great power over the nations, usually on Israel's behalf, which explains why the covenant Name is usually coupled with it. In the Book of Joshua, for example, the God who "made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth, and hath determined before the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26) is about to apportion His land amongst His people. So Joshua informs them:

"Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites . . . behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan . . . the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth." (Joshua 3:10-13)

"The Lord reigneth"
Because "the LORD reigneth", then, declared the Psalmist, the very hills "melted like wax in the presence of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth", to the confusion of all idol-worshippers and the great joy of Zion and the daughters of Judah (Psalm 97).

In Zechariah the theme is the ultimate triumph of God's purpose with His people, foreshadowed in the return from exile. So in vision the anointed ones of chapter 4 "stand by the Lord of the whole earth" and from Him the four spirits of the heavens go forth, the black spirits northwards to "quiet my spirit in the north country'' (6:1-8).

The prophet Micah looked forward to the great day of victory over the nations which had gathered against Zion, when God Himself would "consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth" (4:13).

In the Psalms the mood is one of joyous exultation in the presence of the Lord, the God of Jacob, who triumphed over Egypt (114:7), who was Lord of lords, a great and infinite God (135:5; 136:3; 147:5), or who as Lord of heaven and earth had revealed the excellency of His Name in granting dominion over the works of His bands to the Son of Man-a rich theme to be considered more fully later. It is significant that the phrase "O LORD our Lord" in Psalm 8:1 becomes on the lips of the Lord Jesus, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Matt. 11:25). We have his authority for this meaning to be given to Adon as a Divine title.

"Other lords beside thee . . ."
According to the prophet Isaiah there will be "in that day" a gong "sung in the land of Judah" in which the confession will be made:

"O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us." (Isaiah 26:13)

It was to bring home to Judah and Jerusalem particularly the heinous nature of their rebellion against the Holy One of Israel that Isaiah was sent to speak to them the word of the LORD. His words lay appropriate emphasis upon the holiness of God and the true nature of His worship, and also upon the sovereignty of God who can do what He wills with His own:

"Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies. (1:24)

We shall comment later on the title "the LORD of hosts", but it is to be noted that in Isaiah it is usually associated with the LORD'S determination to preserve the faithful remnant of the people who had now become His adversaries because of their rebellion. The prophet's use of the title Adon with Yahweh Tz'vaoth, "the Lord, the LORD of hosts", therefore expresses the idea of God's sovereign will as Lord of heaven and earth, Israel's Lord who had redeemed them, and the God of the covenant who would multiply Abraham's seed in spite of the rebellion of his natural descendants. This combination of titles appears in the context of God's judgement in 3:1 and 10:16,33, and with reference to Egypt in 19:4 where Assyria would exercise dominion over Pharaoh at the bidding of the Lord.

"If I be a master (adon), where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests that despise my name" (Malachi 1:7). The last of the Old Testament prophets proclaimed that even the returned exiles were no more dedicated in heart than their fathers. They worshipped and offered sacrifice, all unaware that though outwardly seeking God they were in practice despising His Name and polluting His altar. So He declared:

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in; behold he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 3:1)

In the New Testament quotations from the Old Testament Adon, like Yahweh and Adonai, is usually translated "the Lord". But there were occasions where the apostles used as a Divine title the exact Greek equivalent of adon which is despotes, the ordinary word for a master or sovereign lord, as in the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter 2:18. In Luke 2:29, Simeon uses it to express, in humble gratitude for the Lord's grace, his complete submission to the will of God: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word." Notice how the true Lord is merciful to His servants, for He is the King of Creation who so gently sustaineth.

When the early church faced the combined might of "the powers that be", who commanded them not to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus, what better could they do than turn to Him by whom all kings rule and who "will realise His plan"?

"Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is . . . The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ . . . thy holy child (servant) Jesus . . . for to do all whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." (Acts 4:23-31)

The assurance that all things work together for good to God's faithful servants was given to the persecuted in later years, even though their obedience cost them their lives: "How long, O Lord, holy and true" they cried, "dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:9-11). The answer was ''in due season", when the purpose which included their fellow servants and their brethren should be carried out.

There is both exhortation and warning for us in the contemplation of the greatness and sovereignty of our God. We may boldly say that He is our helper and we will not fear what man shall do unto us. We may also take comfort from the fact that His promises to us are as much a part of His fixed design as the heavens and the earth which He has made. But we must be His and only His, and we must not abuse His grace in resisting His will. To do so is to be numbered amongst those false teachers, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4).


Chapter 4


NOWHERE does the truth of the maxim "a little learning is a dangerous thing" appear so plainly as in the subject of the names and titles of God. If we seek to dogmatise about them purely on the basis of Hebrew grammar, then we have to recognise that we are dealing with a language and idiom not our own, upon which the scholars do not agree. We may be tempted, on the strength of our own limited understanding of a few grammatical terms, to feel that this interpretation or that must be the truth of the matter, and we run the grave risk of misleading not only ourselves but others who are unable to follow the linguistic argument.

If, however, we limit the grammatical discussion to its essentials and clothe the bare bones of it with the living Word, we shall find that Scriptural usage is a sure guide to Scriptural meaning.

Adon, the Lord, is a title applied to man as well as to God. A title applied exclusively to God is Adonai, the Lord. This is a plural form, meaning literally "lords" and "my lords" according to the actual vowel points used. {At least, so B. Davidson affirms in the Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon. Gesenius treats it as a personal name.} (Perhaps "lordship" would be a more helpful concept for English readers.) It would seem, therefore, to be a term of great reverence or respect, magnifying God as Sovereign Lord, Disposer Supreme of all things in heaven and earth. Can this view be justified from Scripture?

It is a sound principle to examine the circumstances in which a word is used first in the Old Testament as a valuable guide to its meaning. Our word appears first on the lips of Abraham in Genesis chapter 15:

"And Abram said, Lord GOD, (Adonai Yahweh), What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my honse is this Eliezer of Damascus?"

First we notice that Abraham used Adonai in association with the covenant Name which, as we indicated in chapter one, we believe he "knew" as a fact, although its full significance was to be a matter of future revelation. (In our opinion, the theory that Moses as author and compiler of the Pentateuch added the Name in later is untenable.) Abraham's words were in response to what God had declared Himself to be to Abraham: "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (v.1). It was with great respect and reverence that Abraham then asked how this was to be, given the circumstances of his household.

The fact that Abraham had previously "called upon the name of the LORD" (12:8; 13:4), but now added the title Adonai to it, emphasises the solemnity of the occasion. For he was in the presence of El Shaddai, and presented before the Creator and Sustainer of all things his humble request. And He who was the Maker of the seven stars and Orion (Amos 5:8) had respect unto the man who trembled at His Word:

"And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." (verse 5)

A Sense of Wonder and Awe
It was in no spirit of disbelief -- for was it not declared (v.6) "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness"? -- that Abraham then asked "Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (v.8). Rather was it with a sense of awe, to be further heightened by the experience that followed, that the father of the faithful addressed God as Adonai Yahweh. The combination of title and covenant Name seems always to carry this special sense of solemnity and reverence as we shall see later.

That the title Adonai is one of the deepest respect is confirmed by Abraham's use of it in his prayer on behalf of Sodom, where it occurs four times. The situation is similar to that in chapter 15, in that one of God's creatures is seeking the favour of his Creator, conscious on the one hand of the grace and condescension he is seeking and on the other of how much higher are the ways and thoughts of God:

"Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes . . . Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak . . . Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord . . . Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once." (verses 27, 30, 31, 32)

Abraham addressed God by that title no more, as far as the record goes. Abimelech does so, however, in the context of the threatened judgement upon him for taking away Sarah: "Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?" (20:4). God's answer was gracious and merciful, since Abimelech had humbled himself before Him.

Divine Displeasure
The uses of the title by Moses are instructive, strengthening the impression we already have of its meaning. Once more it is a form of address: indeed, Adonai occurs much more frequently in prayer or petition than in any other form. In Exodus 4 Moses seeks to evade the task which God has laid upon him, but presents his excuse with reverence:

"O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant . . . O my Lord, send I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send." (verses 10, 13)

The Divine answer, expressed with displeasure, emphasised the power and majesty of God, who had made man's mouth: "I will be with thy mouth, and with (Aaron's) mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do" (verses 11-15).

After the sin of Israel in the matter of the golden calf, God declared that Moses had found grace in His sight and that He knew him by name; that is, He had respect unto Moses as a man who trembled at His word and was completely committed to the honour of the Name and the salvation of God's people (see Exodus 32:30-35). In the personal conversation that followed (33:12-23), Moses pleaded for a further revelation of the glory, asking that the LORD should change His mind about His refusal to go any further with the people. Then came the proclamation of the Name in all its 'majesty and fulness, "And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped" (34:8). In this attitude, deeply impressed with the sense of God's power and holiness, yet venturing to plead the promise of His grace, Moses said:

"If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord (Adonai), let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance. And (the Lord) said, Behold, I make a covenant ...

Rebellion and Forgiveness
This incident is recalled (Num. 14:9,10) when in a similar situation -- the rebellion of the children of Israel at Kadesh-barnea and the LORD'S threat to cut them off and work out His purpose through Moses -- the leader pleads with God to reconsider for the sake of His Name and glory. Again, the combination of ideas inherent in both Name and title strengthens our understanding of this profound and deeply moving subject:

"And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord (Adonai) be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The LORD (Yahweh) is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty . . Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of thy mercy . . . And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word." (Numbers 14:17-20 with Exodus 34:5-7)

In Deuteronomy 9:26, Moses, when referring to this incident, joins both title and Name in a way which allows us to understand the evocative meaning of the phrase Adonai Yahweh: it should summon up before us the recollection of the power and majesty of the God of the covenant:

"I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness . . ."

Moses uses Adonai once more, in the second of the only two personal requests he ever made as leader of God's people (the other was, "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory", Exod.33:18). The occasion was one for special, earnest pleading in full recognition of the Sovereignty of the Disposer Supreme of all things in heaven and earth: it was prayer for the reversal of the edict that Moses should not enter the Land:

"And I besought the LORD at that time, saying, O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land . . . But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me; and the LORD said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter." (Deuteronomy 3:23-26)

There can be no greater testimony to the depth of Moses' understanding of the ways of God and his sensitivity to His commands, than the way in which he accepted the Divine edict, and zealously prepared to commit his charge into the hands of Joshua and the priests.

In the next chapter we consider a further selection of Scriptures on this theme. This one we conclude with the words of the Song at the Red Sea:

"Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwelt in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established." (Exodus 15:17)