While my desire to know Madeline L’Engle better was never fulfilled (with no regrets I might add as we did not run in the same cirlces!), there is Another whom I desire to know even more, and He has made the opportunity to know Him completely possible by revealing Himself to me in the words of Scripture. Of course I am talking about God who introduces us to Himself in the very first verse of Genesis by the name Elohim (pronounced Ellow- like yellow without the y – and heem). Nathan Stone wrote, “The knowledge of God is more essential for the Christian, and indeed for all the world, than the knowledge of anything else- yes all things together”. He continues to illustrate this by recognizing that Jesus desired the same for His disciples (Jn. 17:3) and that it was Paul’s “great goal” in life as well (Phil. 3:10). As Scripture progresses God reveals many things about Himself through the names ascribed to Him, so it is interesting to note the attributes of the name He is first introduced by. Elohim appearing in the first verse of Scripture is therefore foundational in helping us to understand Who God is and what He is like.
Elohim is one of the predominant names assigned to God in the Bible. It appears 2,570 times in Scripture with 32 of those citations appearing in the first chapter of Genesis! There is some discussion about the origin of the word. Some scholars feel that Elohim is derived from a shorter root word El which means “mighty, strong, or prominent”. This shorter form appears 250 times in Scripture and is often presented in conjunction with stories that feature God’s great power (It is Elohim who promises that Sarah will bear Abraham a son when it was physically impossible- Gen. 17:15-19 for example). This interpretation certainly agrees with Genesis 1 where God’s greatness and glory creates the entire universe “ex nihlo” (out of nothing). When an earthly artist creates there is always something they start with- a lump of clay, a blank page or empty canvas, a block of wood, a mineral or gem, but when Elohim first created, there was nothing to start with. He created everything through the sheer force of Himself by speaking it all into being (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; Heb.11:3). Thus we see in this name the grand attribute of God’s omnipotence (i. e. He is all-powerful). Another possible root word also emphasizes God’s creative power and is closely related to the idea of nurturing and tending to a garden (i. e. cultivating). This too causes us to look at Elohim as the One who “births” a crop and sustains it by caring for it. In this sense Elohim is both the Creator and Sustainer, a role aptly described by God Himself when He rebukes Job for questioning God and the way He goes about things (Job 40:6-41:34).
Perhaps the most peculiar, but extremely important, aspect of this name is its construction. While El the root is singular, him, the ending is plural! English would never allow this in a single word- but Hebrew takes it all in stride. The Trinity may not be as obviously seen in the Old Testament as it is in the New, but here in the name Elohim, we see God’s singular/plural nature illustrated by His name. This becomes particularly significant when Jesus Christ displays the same control over the creation as Elohim, an attribute His disciples readily recognized (Mt. 14:22-33; Lk. 8:22-25, etc.) as being divine.
Why then is it important to know God by this name? Because it is the name by which
God first introduces Himself to us, therefore, it is first and foremost what He wants us to know about Him. The trend today is to perceive God as our “buddy” and some even go so far as to portray Him as some sort of Heavenly Pez Dispenser, who like Santa passes out goodies when we behave well. That is NOT Elohim! Elohim is the God who can take what you feel is nothing and create something out of it. Elohim is the God Who has both created you and sustains you when everything else in life fails (even though you may not acknowledge for doing so.). In the name Elohim, God has introduced Himself to you. Don’t walk away from Him without getting to know Him better!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 1/10/2016