Time and again across the pages of Scripture the Lord is put to the test against various gods and idols. In our modern sensibility we laugh at the thought of the ancients who fashioned pieces out of wood, stone or precious metal and then placed them in a temple to worship. We uncover these things, place them in museums and admire them as art. But we forget that in the ancient world this was serious business! Appeasing, placating and worshipping the right gods was your paycheck, IRA, and overall well-being. The God of Israel, however, had a different plan for His people (Ex. 4:23; 20:4). When they strayed from worshipping Him there were disastrous consequences (Dt.28:15-68). Through His creation and His prophets He constantly reminded them that gods made by human hands were no comparison to Him (Is. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-20; Rom. 2:18-23).
The names of those ancient gods often depicted what they stood for or what they controlled. The names we see assigned to God in Scripture are used in the same way. Each one reveals to us the nature or a characteristic of the God we serve. Isaiah 9:6 contains a four-part name assigned to a child which is regarded to be the Messiah and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. It has become associated predominantly with the Advent season although it really speaks of the Second Advent (that is Christ’s return) rather than the first (His birth). The second part of that name, Mighty God (El Gibbor), recalls those ancient showdowns between God and the man-made rivals for His position (further proof that this title is not speaking of an infant!).
What exactly does this portion of the name mean? El is one of the oldest terms used for God occurring most often in Genesis, Job, Psalms and Isaiah. Sometimes it is used to denote other “gods” (Ex. 34:14; Dt. 3:24; Ps. 44:20; Mal. 2:11) but it is predominantly used of the One True God (Ps. 5:4; Is. 40:18) in contrast to those other gods which are false. El is quite frequently used with a descriptive adjective or attribute such as “Holy God” (Is. 5:16), “The God of Salvation” (Ps. 18:46; 25:5; 65:5), “Gracious God” (Neh. 9:31), and in Is. 9:6 “Mighty God”. The adjective “gibbor” means brave, strong, and mighty (Is. 10:21; Jer. 32:18) and the Lord is usually designated this way because He has saved His people (Dt. 10:17; Ps. 24:8; Zeph. 3:17). In Is.9:6 it is associated with the nature and character of the kingdom which the Messiah will rule and the way He will govern it. There will no longer be a need for the Messiah to debunk the false gods whom humans put in His place. The Messiah will have over powered them all and His kingdom will be marked with peace (Is. 60:1-22; Rev. 21:1-5, 23-27; 22:1-5).
Jesus demonstrated that He had the same character as El Gibbor throughout His earthly ministry. One of the most graphic demonstrations of this was His interaction with the demoniac (Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8: 26-39) by the Sea of Galilee. There are subtle cultural nuances at play in this account. “Legion” is not only the name of the man, it is a unit of soldiers in the Roman army and a boar’s head was the symbol of the Tenth Legion. Since the territory is Gentile, the economy hums around the raising of pigs, most likely for animal sacrifice at pagan altars. Like the gods of Egypt in Moses’ day, the demons who’ve possessed this man are no match for Jesus. Jesus later declared to Peter that the “Gates of Hell” (another popular pagan worship site) would never overcome His kingdom (Mt. 16:18). John begins His gospel by proclaiming the “Light” would never be over-powered by the darkness (Jn. 1:5). But do we really recognize this about Jesus? It seems strange we should attach this name to His first advent. The conquering King of Revelation (Rev. 17:14) hardly seems apparent in a small baby. But believe it or not, the Mighty God achieved His greatest victory over the god of this world by being born in a manger. Be careful not to put the gods of our culture in His place.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/11/2016
*For further explanation see: http://www.stat.rice.edu/dobleman/Dinotech/10_Egytian_gods_10_Plagues.pdf