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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

God

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god ( אלהים , 'ĕlōhı̄m , אל , 'ēl , עליון , ‛elyōn , שׁדּי , shaddāy , יהוה , yahweh ; Θεός , theós ):

I. Introduction to the General Idea

1. The Idea in Experience and in Thought

2. Definition of the Idea

3. The Knowledge of God

4. Ethnic Ideas of God

(1) Animism

(2) Fetishism

(3) Idolatry

(4) Polytheism

(5) Henotheism

(6) Pantheism

(7) Deism

(8) Semitic Monolatry

(9) Monotheism

II. The Idea of God in the Old Testament

1. The Course of Its Development

2. Forms of Its Manifestation

(1) The Face or Countenance of God

(2) The Voice and Word of God

(3) The Glory of God

(4) The Angel of God

(5) The Spirit of God

(6) The Name of God

(7) Occasional Forms

3. The Names of God

(1) Generic

(2) Attributive

(3) Yahweh (Jehovah)

4. Pre-prophetic Conceptions of God

(1) Yahweh Alone Is the God of Israel

(a) His Early Worship

(b) Popular Religion

(c) Polytheistic Tendencies

(i) Coordination

(ii) Assimilation

(iii) Disintegration

(d) No Hebrew Goddesses

(e) Human Sacrifices

(2) Nature and Character of Yahweh

(a) A G od of War

(b) His Relation to Nature

(3) Most Distinctive Characteristics of Yahweh

(a) Personality

(b) Law and Judgment

5. The Idea of God in the Prophetic Period

(1) Righteousness

(2) Holiness

(3) Universality

(4) Unity

(5) Creator and Lord

(6) Compassion and Love

6. The Idea of God in Post-exilic Judaism

(1) New Conditions

(2) Divine Attributes

(3) Surviving Limitations

(a) Disappearing Anthropomorphism

(b) Localization

(c) Favoritism

(d) Ceremonial Legalism

(4) Tendencies to Abstractness

(a) Transcendence

(b) Skepticism

(c) Immanence

(5) Logos , Memra) , and Angels

III. The Idea of God in the New Testament

1. Dependence on the Old Testament

2. Gentile Influence

3. Absence of Theistic Proofs

4. Fatherhood of God

(1) In the Teaching of Jesus Christ

(a) Its Relation to Himself

(b) To Believers

(c) To All Men

(2) In Apostolic Teaching

(a) Father of Jesus Christ

(b) Our Father

(c) Universal Father

5. God Is King

(1) The Kingdom of God

(2) Its King

(a) God

(b) Christ

(c) Their Relation

(3) Apostolic Teaching

6. Moral Attributes

(1) Personality

(2) Love

(3) Righteousness and Holiness

7. Metaphysical Attributes

8. The Unity of God

(1) The Divinity of Christ

(2) The Holy Spirit

(3) The Church's Problem

Literature

I. Introduction to the General Idea

1. The Idea in Experience and in Thought

Religion gives the idea of God, theology construes and organizes its content, and philosophy establishes its relation to the whole of man's experience. The logical order of treating it might appear to be, first, to establish its truth by philosophical proofs; secondly, to develop its content into theological propositions; and finally, to observe its development and action in religion. Such has been the more usual order of treatment. But the actual history of the idea has been quite the reverse. Men had the idea of God, and it had proved a creative factor in history, long before reflection upon it issued in its systematic expression as a doctrine. Moreover, men had enunciated the doctrine before they attempted or even felt any need to define its relation to reality. And the logic of history is the truer philosophy. To arrive at the truth of any idea, man must begin with some portion of experience, define its content, relate it to the whole of experience, and so determine its degree of reality.

Religion is as universal as man, and every religion involves some idea of God. Of the various philosophical ideas of God, each has its counterpart and antecedent in some actual religion. Pantheism is the philosophy of the religious consciousness of India. Deism had prevailed for centuries as an actual attitude of men to God, in China, in Judaism and in Islam, before it found expression as a rational theory in the philosophy of the 18th century. Theism is but the attempt to define in general terms the Christian conception of God, and of His relation to the world. If pluralism claims a place among the systems of philosophy, it can appeal to the religious consciousness of that large portion of mankind that has hitherto adhered to polytheism.

But all religions do not issue in speculative reconstructions of their content. It is true in a sense that all religion is an unconscious philosophy, because it is the reaction of the whole mind, including the intellect, upon the world of its experience, and, therefore, every idea of God involves some kind of an explanation of the world. But conscious reflection upon their own content emerges only in a few of the more highly developed religions. Brahmanism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are the only religions that have produced great systems of thought, exhibiting their content in a speculative and rational form. The religions of Greece and Rome were unable to survive the reflective period. They produced no theology which could ally itself to a philosophy, and Greek philosophy was from the beginning to a great extent the denial and supersession of Greek religion.

Biblical literature nearly all represents the spontaneous experience of religion, and contains comparatively little reflection upon that experience. In the Old Testament it is only in Second Isaiah, in the Wisdom literature and in a few Psalms that the human mind may be seen turning back upon itself to ask the meaning of its practical feelings and beliefs. Even here nothing appears of the nature of a philosophy of Theism or of religion, no theology, no organic definition and no ideal reconstruction of the idea of God. It never occurred to any Old Testament writer to offer a proof of the existence of God, or that anyone should need it. Their concern was to bring men to a right relation with God, and they propounded right views of God only in so far as it was necessary for their practical purpose. Even the fool who "hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1 ), and the wicked nations "that forget God" (Psalm 9:17 ) are no theoretical atheists, but wicked and corrupt men, who, in conduct and life, neglect or reject the presence of God.

The New Testament contains more theology, more reflection upon the inward content of the idea of God, and upon its cosmic significance; but here also, no system appears, no coherent and rounded-off doctrine, still less any philosophical construction of the idea on the basis of experience as a whole. The task of exhibiting the Biblical idea of God is, therefore, not that of setting together a number of texts, or of writing the history of a theology, but rather of interpreting the central factor in the life of the Hebrew and Christian communities.

2. Definition of the Idea

Logically and historically the Biblical idea stands related to a number of other ideas. Attempts have been made to find a definition of so general a nature as to comprehend them all. The older theologians assumed the Christian standpoint, and put into their definitions the conclusions of Christian doctrine and philosophy. Thus, Melanchthon: "God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, true, good, pure, just, merciful, most free and of infinite power and wisdom." Thomasius more briefly defines God as "the absolute personality." These definitions take no account of the existence of lower religions and ideas of God, nor do they convey much of the concreteness and nearness of God revealed in Christ. A similar recent definition, put forward, however, avowedly of the Christian conception, is that of Professor W. N. Clarke: "God is the personal Spirit, perfectly good, who in holy love creates, sustains and orders all" ( Outline of Christian Theology , 66). The rise of comparative religion has shown that "while all religions involve a conscious relation to a being called God, the Divine Being is in different religions conceived in the most different ways; as one and as many, as natural and as spiritual, as like to and manifested in almost every object in the heavens above or earth beneath, in mountains and trees, in animals and men; or, on the contrary, as being incapable of being represented by any finite image whatsoever; and, again, as the God of a family, of a nation, or of humanity" (E. Caird, Evolution of Religion , I, 62). Attempts have therefore been made to find a new kind of definition, such as would include under one category all the ideas of God possessed by the human race. A typical instance of this kind of definition is that of Professor W. Adams Brown: "A god in the religious sense is an unseen being, real or supposed, to whom an individual or a social group is united by voluntary ties of reverence and service" ( Christian Theology in Outline , 30). Many similar definitions are given: "A supersensible being or beings" (Lotze, Asia Minor Fairbairn); "a higher power" (Allan Menzies); "spiritual beings" (E.B. Tylor); "a power not ourselves making for righteousness" (Matthew Arnold). This class of definition suffers from a twofold defect. It says too much to include the ideas of the lower religions, and too little to suggest those of the higher. It is not all gods that are "unseen" or "supersensible," or "making for righteousness," but all these qualities may be shared by other beings than gods, and they do not connote that which is essential in the higher ideas of God. Dr. E. Caird, looking for a definition in a germinative principle of the genesis of religion, defines God "as the unity which is presupposed in the difference of the self and not-self, and within which they act and re-act on each other" (op. cit., I, 40,64). This principle admittedly finds its full realization only in the highest religion, and it may be doubted whether it does justice to the transcendent personality and the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In the lower religions it appears only in fragmentary forms, and it can only be detected in them at all after it has been revealed in the absolute religion. Although this definition may be neither adequate nor true, its method recognizes that there can be only one true idea and definition of God, and yet that all other ideas are more or less true elements of it and approximations to it. The Biblical idea does not stand alone like an island in mid-ocean, but is rather the center of light which radiates out in other religions with varying degrees of purity.

It is not the purpose of this article to deal with the problem of the philosophy of religion, but to give an account of the idea of God at certain stages of its development, and within a limited area of thought. The absence of a final definition will present no practical difficulty, because the denotation of the term God is clear enough; it includes everything that is or has been an object of worship; it is its connotation that remains a problem for speculation.

3. The Knowledge of God

A third class of definition demands some attention, because it raises a new question, that of the knowledge or truth of any idea whatsoever. Herbert Spencer's definition may be taken as representative: God is the unknown and unknowable cause of the universe, "an inscrutable power manifested to us through all phenomena" ( First Principles , V, 31). This means that there can be no definition of the idea of God, because we can have no idea of Him, no knowledge "in the strict sense of knowing." For the present purpose it might suffice for an answer that ideas of God actually exist; that they can be defined and are more definable, because fuller and more complex, the higher they rise in the scale of religions; that they can be gathered from the folklore and traditions of the lower races, and from the sacred books and creeds of the higher religions. But Spencer's view means that, in so far as the ideas are definable, they are not true. The more we define, the more fictitious becomes our subject-matter. While nothing is more certain than that God exists, His being is to human thought utterly mysterious and inscrutable. The variety of ideas might seem to support this view. But variety of ideas has been held of every subject that is known, as witness the progress of science. The variety proves nothing.

And the complete abstraction of thought from existence cannot be maintained. Spencer himself does not succeed in doing it. He says a great many things about the "unknowable" which implies an extensive knowledge of Him. The traditional proofs of the "existence" of God have misled the Agnostics. But existence is meaningless except for thought, and a noumenon or first cause that lies hidden in impenetrable mystery behind phenomena cannot be conceived even as a fiction. Spencer's idea of the Infinite and Absolute are contradictory and unthinkable. An Infinite that stood outside all that is known would not be infinite, and an Absolute out of all relation could not even be imagined. If there is any truth at all in the idea of the Absolute, it must be true to human experience and thought; and the true Infinite must include within itself every possible and actual perfection. In truth, every idea of God that has lived in religion refutes Agnosticism, because they all qualify and interpret experience, and the only question is as to the degree of their adequacy and truth.

A brief enumeration of the leading ideas of God that have lived in religion will serve to place the Biblical idea in its true perspective.

4. Ethnic Ideas of God

(1) Animism

Animism is the name of a theory which explains the lowest (and perhaps the earliest) forms of religion, and also the principle of all religion, as the belief in the universal presence of spiritual beings which "are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man's life here and hereafter; and, it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and, it might almost be said, inevitably, sooner or later, to active reverence and propitiation" (E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture , I, 426-27). According to this view, the world is full of disembodied spirits, regarded as similar to man's soul, and any or all of these may be treated as gods.

(2) Fetishism

Fetishism is sometimes used in a general sense for "the view that the fruits of the earth and things in general are divine, or animated by powerful spirits" (J.G. Frazer, Adonis , Attis , Osiris , 234); or it may be used in a more particular sense of the belief that spirits "take up their abode, either temporarily or permanently, in some object.... and this object, as endowed with higher power, is then worshipped" (Tiele, Outlines of the History of Religion , 9).

(3) Idolatry

Idolatry is a term of still more definite significance. It means that the object is at least selected, as being the permanent habitation or symbol of the deity; and, generally, it is marked by some degree of human workmanship, designed to enable it the more adequately to represent the deity. It is not to be supposed that men ever worship mere "stocks and stones," but they address their worship to objects, whether fetishes or idols, as being the abodes or images of their god. It is a natural and common idea that the spirit has a form similar to the visible object in which it dwells. Paul reflected the heathen idea accurately when he said, "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man" ( Acts 17:29 ).

(4) Polytheism

The belief in many gods, and the worship of them, is an attitude of soul compatible with Animism, Fetishism, and Idolatry, or it may be independent of them all. The term Polytheism is more usually employed to designate the worship of a limited number of well-defined deities, whether regarded as pure disembodied spirits, or as residing in the greater objects of Nature, such as planets or mountains, or as symbolized by images "graven by art and device of man." In ancient Greece or modern India the great gods are well defined, named and numerable, and it is clearly understood that, though they may be symbolized by images, they dwell apart in a spiritual realm above the rest of the world.

(5) Henotheism

There is, however, a tendency, both in individuals and in communities, even where many gods are believed to exist, to set one god above the others, and consequently to confine worship to that god alone. "The monotheistic tendency exists among all peoples, after they have reached a certain level of culture. There is a difference in the degree in which this tendency is emphasized, but whether we turn to Babylonia, Egypt, India, China, or Greece, there are distinct traces of a trend toward concentrating the varied manifestations of Divine powers in a single source" (Jastrow, The Study of Religion , 76). This attitude of mind has been called Henotheism or Monolatry - the worship of one God combined with the belief in the existence of many. This tendency may be governed by metaphysical, or by ethical and personal motives, either by the monistic demands of reason, or by personal attachment to one political or moral rule.

(6) Pantheism

Where the former principle predominates, Polytheism merges into Pantheism, as is the case in India, where Brahma is not only the supreme, but the sole, being, and all other gods are but forms of his manifestation. But, in India, the vanquished gods have had a very complete revenge upon their vanquisher, for Brahma has become so abstract and remote that worship is mainly given to the other gods, who are forms of his manifestation. Monolatry has been reversed, and modern Hinduism were better described as the belief in one God accompanied by the worship of many.

(7) Deism

The monistic tendency, by a less thorough application of it, may take the opposite turn toward Deism, and yet produce similar religious conditions. The Supreme Being, who is the ultimate reality and power of the universe, may be conceived in so vague and abstract a manner, may be so remote from the world, that it becomes a practical necessity to interpose between Him and men a number of subordinate and nearer beings as objects of worship. In ancient Greece, Necessity, in China, Tien or Heaven, were the Supreme Beings; but a multiplicity of lower gods were the actual objects of worship. The angels of Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Islam and the saints of Romanism illustrate the same tendency. Pantheism and Deism, though they have had considerable vogue as philosophical theories, have proved unstable and impossible as religions, for they have invariably reverted to some kind of polytheism and idolatry, which seems to indicate that they are false processes of the monistic tendency.

(8) Semitic Monolatry

The monistic tendency of reason may enlist in its aid many minor causes, such as tribal isolation or national aggrandizement. It is held that many Sere tribes were monolatrists for either or both of these reasons; but the exigencies of intertribal relations in war and commerce soon neutralized their effects, and merged the tribal gods into a territorial pantheon.

(9) Monotheism

Monotheism, ethical and personal: One further principle may combine with Monism so as to bring about a stable Monotheism, that is the conception of God as standing in moral relations with man. Whenever man reflects upon conduct as moral, he recognizes that there can be only one moral standard and authority, and when God is identified with that moral authority, He inevitably comes to be recognized as supreme and unique. The belief in the existence of other beings called gods may survive for a while; but they are divested of all the attributes of deity when they are seen to be inferior or opposed to the God who rules in conscience. Not only are they not worshipped, but their worship by others comes to be regarded as immoral and wicked. The ethical factor in the monistic conception of God safeguards it from diverging into Pantheism or Deism and thus reverting into Polytheism. For the ethical idea of God necessarily involves His personality, His transcendence as distinct from the world and above it, and also His intimate and permanent relation with man. If He rules in conscience, He can neither be merged in dead nature or abstract being, nor be removed beyond the heavens and the angel host. A thoroughly moralized conception of God emerges first in the Old Testament where it is the prevailing type of thought.

II. The Idea of God in the Old Testament

1. Course of Its Development

Any attempt to write the whole history of the idea of God in the Old Testament would require a preliminary study of the literary and historical character of the documents, which lies beyond the scope of this article and the province of the writer. Yet the Old Testament contains no systematic statement of the doctrine of God, or even a series of statements that need only to be collected into a consistent conception. The Old Testament is the record of a rich and varied life, extending over more than a thousand years, and the ideas that ruled and inspired that life must be largely inferred from the deeds and institutions in which it was realized; nor was it stationary or all at one level. Nothing is more obvious than that revelation in the Old Testament has been progressive, and that the idea of God it conveys has undergone a development. Certain well-marked stages of the development can be easily recognized, without entering upon any detailed criticism. There can be no serious question that the age of the Exodus, as centering around the personality of Moses, witnessed an important new departure in Hebrew religion. The most ancient traditions declare (perhaps not unanimously) that God was then first known to Israel under the personal name Jehovah ( Yahweh ( YHWH ) is the correct form of the word, Jehovah being a composite of the consonants of Yahweh and the vowels of 'ădhōnāy , or lord. Yahweh is retained here as the more familiar form). The Hebrew people came to regard Him as their Deliverer from Egypt, as their war god who assured them the conquest of Canaan, and He, therefore, became their king, who ruled over their destinies in their new heritage. But the settlement of Yahweh in Canaan, like that of His people, was challenged by the native gods and their peoples. In the 9th century we see the war against Yahweh carried into His own camp, and Baal-worship attempting to set itself up within Israel. His prophets therefore assert the sole right of Yahweh to the worship of His people, and the great prophets of the 8th century base that right upon His moral transcendence. Thus they at once reveal new depths of His moral nature, and set His uniqueness and supremacy on higher grounds. During the exile and afterward, Israel's outlook broadens by contact with the greater world, and it draws out the logical implications of ethical monotheism into a theology at once more universalistic and abstract. Three fairly well-defined periods thus emerge, corresponding to three stages in the development of the Old Testament idea of God: the pre-prophetic period governed by the Mosaic conception, the prophetic period during which ethical monotheism is firmly established, and the post-exilic period with the rise of abstract monotheism. But even in taking these large and obvious divisions, it is necessary to bear in mind the philosopher's maxim, that "things are not cut off with a hatchet." The most characteristic ideas of each period may be described within their period; but it should not be assumed that they are altogether absent from other periods; and, in particular, it should not be supposed that ideas, and the life they represent, did not exist before they emerged in the clear witness of history. Mosaism had undoubtedly its antecedents in the life of Israel; but any attempt to define them leads straight into a very morass of conjectures and hypotheses, archaeological, critical and philosophical; and any results that are thus obtained are contributions to comparative religion rather than to theology.

2. Forms of the Manifestation of God

Religious experience must always have had an inward and subjective aspect, but it is a long and difficult process to translate the objective language of ordinary life for the uses of subjective experience. "Men look outward before they look inward." Hence, we find that men express their consciousness of God in the earliest periods in language borrowed from the visible and objective world. It does not follow that they thought of God in a sensuous way, because they speak of Him in the language of the senses, which alone was available for them. On the other hand, thought is never entirely independent of language, and the degree in which men using sensuous language may think of spiritual facts varies with different persons.

(1) The Face or Countenance of God

The face or countenance ( pānı̄m ) of God is a natural expression for His presence. The place where God is seen is called Peniel, the face of God ( Genesis 32:30 ). The face of Yahweh is His people's blessing (Numbers 6:25 ). With His face (the Revised Version (British and American) "presence") He brought Israel out of Egypt, and His face (the Revised Version (British and American) "presence") goes with them to Canaan (Exodus 33:14 ). To be alienated from God is to be hid from His face (Genesis 4:14 ), or God hides His face (Deuteronomy 31:17 , Deuteronomy 31:18; Deuteronomy 32:20 ). In contrast with this idea it is said elsewhere that man cannot see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20; compare Deuteronomy 5:24; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22 ). In these later passages, "face" stands for the entire being of God, as distinguished from what man may know of Him. This phrase and its cognates enshrine also that fear of God, which shrinks from His majesty even while approaching Him, which enters into all worship.

(2) The Voice and Word of God

The voice ( ḳōl ) and word ( dābhār ) of God are forms under which His communion with man is conceived from the earliest days to the latest. The idea ranges from that of inarticulate utterance ( 1 Kings 19:12 ) to the declaration of the entire law of conduct (Deuteronomy 5:22-24 ), to the message of the prophet (Isaiah 2:1; Jeremiah 1:2 ), and the personification of the whole counsel and action of God (Psalm 105:19; Psalm 147:18 , Psalm 147:19; Hosea 6:5; Isaiah 40:8 ).

(3) The Glory of God

The glory ( kābhōdh ) of God is both a peculiar physical phenomenon and the manifestation of God in His works and providence. In certain passages in Exodus, ascribed to the Priestly Code, the glory is a bright light, "like devouring fire" ( Exodus 24:17 ); it fills and consecrates the tabernacle (Exodus 29:43; Exodus 40:34 , Exodus 40:35 ); and it is reflected as beams of light in the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29 ). In Ezekiel, it is a frequent term for the prophet's vision, a brightness like the appearance of a rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 10:4; Ezekiel 43:2 ). In another place, it is identified with all the manifested goodness of God and is accompanied with the proclamation of His name (Exodus 33:17-23 ). Two passages in Isa seem to combine under this term the idea of a physical manifestation with that of God's effectual presence in the world (Ezekiel 3:8; Ezekiel 6:3 ). God's presence in creation and history is often expressed in the Psalms as His glory (Psalm 19:1; Psalm 57:5 , Psalm 57:11; Psalm 63:2; Psalm 97:6 ). Many scholars hold that the idea is found in Isa in its earliest form, and that the physical meaning is quite late. It would, however, be contrary to all analogy, if such phenomena as rainbow and lightning had not first impressed-the primitive mind as manifestations of God. See GLORY .

(4) The Angel of God

The angel ( mal'ākh ) of God or of Yahweh is a frequent mode of God's manifestation of Himself in human form, and for occasional purposes. It is a primitive conception, and its exact relation to God, or its likeness to man, is nowhere fixed. In many passages, it is assumed that God and His angel are the same being, and the names are used synonymously (as in Genesis 16:7; Genesis 22:15 , Genesis 22:16; Exodus 3:2 , Exodus 3:4; Judges 2:4 , Judges 2:5 ); in other passages the idea blurs into varying degrees of differentiation (Gen 18; Genesis 24:40; Exodus 23:21; Exodus 33:2 , Exodus 33:3; Judges 13:8 , Judges 13:9 ). But everywhere, it fully represents God as speaking or acting for the time being; and it is to be distinguished from the subordinate and intermediate beings of later angelology. Its identification with the Messiah and the Logos is only true in the sense that these later terms are more definite expressions of the idea of revelation, which the angel represented for primitive thought.

(5) The Spirit of God

The spirit ( rūah ̣ ) of God in the earlier period is a form of His activity, as it moves warrior and prophet to act and to speak ( Judges 6:34; Judges 13:25; 1 Samuel 10:10 ), and it is in the prophetic period that it becomes the organ of the communication of God's thoughts to men. See HOLY SPIRIT .

(6) The Name of God

The name ( shēm ) of God is the most comprehensive and frequent expression in the Old Testament for His self-manifestation, for His person as it may be known to men. The name is something visible or audible which represents God to men, and which, therefore, may be said to do His deeds, and to stand in His place, in relation to men. God reveals Himself by making known or proclaiming His name ( Exodus 6:3; Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:5 , Exodus 34:6 ). His servants derive their authority from His name (Exodus 3:13 , Exodus 3:15; 1 Samuel 17:45 ). To worship God is to call upon His name (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:25; 1 Kings 18:24-26 ), to fear it (Deuteronomy 28:58 ), to praise it (2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 7:17; Psalm 54:6 ), to glorify it (Psalm 86:9 ). It is wickedness to take God's name in vain (Exodus 20:7 ), or to profane and blaspheme it (Leviticus 8:21; Leviticus 24:16 ). God's dwelling-place is the place where He chooses "to cause his name to dwell" (2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 3:2; 1 Kings 5:3 , 1 Kings 5:5; 1 Kings 8:16-19; 1 Kings 18:32; Deuteronomy 12:11 , Deuteronomy 12:21 ). God's name defends His people (Psalm 20:1; Isaiah 30:27 ). For His name's sake He will not forsake them (1 Samuel 12:22 ), and if they perish, His name cannot remain (Joshua 7:9 ). God is known by different names, as expressing various forms of His self-manifestation (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 17:1; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 34:6 ). The name even confers its revelation-value upon the angel (Exodus 23:20-23 ). All God's names are, therefore, significant for the revelation of His being.

(7) Occasional Forms

In addition to these more or less fixed forms, God also appears in a variety of exceptional or occasional forms. In Numbers 12:6-8 , it is said that Moses, unlike others, used to see the form (temūnāh ) of Yahweh. Fire smoke and cloud are frequent forms or symbols of God's presence (e.g. Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2-4; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17 ),and notably "the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night" (Exodus 13:21 f). According to later ideas, the cloud rested upon the tabernacle ( Exodus 40:34 ), and in it God appeared upon the ark (Leviticus 16:2 ). Extraordinary occurrences or miracles are, in the early period, frequent signs of the power of God (Ex 7ff; 1 Ki 17ff).

The questions of the objectivity of any or all of these forms, and of their relation to the whole Divine essence raise large problems. Old Testament thought had advanced beyond the naïve identification of God with natural phenomena, but we should not read into its figurative language the metaphysical distinctions of a Greek-Christian theology.

3. The Names of God

All the names of God were originally significant of His character, but the derivations, and therefore the original meanings, of several have been lost, and new meanings have been sought for them.

(1) Generic

One of the oldest and most widely distributed terms for Deity known to the human race is 'Ēl , with its derivations 'Ēlı̄m , 'Ĕlōhı̄m , and 'Ĕlōah ̌ . Like theos , Deus and God, it is a generic term, including every member of the class deity. It may even denote a position of honor and authority among men. Moses was 'Ĕlōhı̄m to Pharaoh ( Exodus 7:1 ) and to Aaron (Exodus 4:16; compare Judges 5:8; 1 Samuel 2:25; Exodus 21:5 , Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7; Psalm 58:11; Psalm 82:1 ). It is, therefore, a general term expressing majesty and authority, and it only came to be used as a proper name for Israel's God in the later period of abstract monotheism when the old proper name Yahweh was held to be too sacred to be uttered. The meaning of the root 'Ēl , and the exact relation to it, and to one another, of 'Ĕlōhı̄m and 'Ĕlōah , lie in complete obscurity. By far the most frequent form used by Old Testament writers is the plural 'Ĕlōhı̄m , but they use it regularly with singular verbs and adjectives to denote a singular idea. Several explanations have been offered of this usage of a plural term to denote a singular idea - that it expresses the fullness and manifoldness of the Divine nature, or that it is a plural of majesty used in the manner of royal persons, or even that it is an early intimation of the Trinity; other cognate expressions are found in Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22; 1 Kings 22:19 f; Isaiah 6:8 . These theories are, perhaps, too ingenious to have occurred to the early Hebrew mind, and a more likely explanation is, that they are survivals in language of a polytheistic stage of thought. In the Old Testament they signify only the general notion of Deity.

(2) Attributive

To distinguish the God of Israel as supreme from others of the class 'Ĕlōhı̄m , certain qualifying appellations are often added. 'Ēl ‛Elyōn designates the God of Israel as the highest, the most high, among the 'Ĕlōhı̄m ( Genesis 14:18-20 ); so do Yahweh ‛Elyōn (Psalm 7:17 ) and ‛Elyōn alone, often in Psalms and in Isaiah 14:14 .

'Ēl Shaddāy , or Shaddāy alone, is a similar term which on the strength of some tradition is translated "God Almighty"; but its derivation and meaning are quite unknown. According to Exodus 6:3 it was the usual name for God in patriarchal times, but other traditions in the Pentateuch seem to have no knowledge of this.

Another way of designating God was by His relation to His worshippers, as God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 24:12; Exodus 3:6 ), of Shem (Genesis 9:26 ), of the Hebrews (Exodus 3:18 ), and of Israel (Genesis 33:20 ).

Other names used to express the power and majesty of God are cūr , "Rock" ( Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 30:29 ), 'ăbhı̄r (construct from 'ābhı̄r ), "the Strong One" (Genesis 49:24; Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 132:2 ); melekh , "King"; 'ādhōn , "lord," and 'ădhōnāy , "my lord" (Exodus 23:17; Isaiah 10:16 , Isaiah 10:33; Genesis 18:27; Isaiah 6:1 ). Also ba‛al , "proprietor" or "master," may be inferred as a designation once in use, from its appearance in such Hebrew proper names as Jerubbaal and Ishbaal. The last three names describe God as a Master to whom man stands in the relation of a servant, and they tended to fall into disuse as the necessity arose to differentiate the worship of Yahweh from that of the gods of surrounding nations.

A term of uncertain meaning is Yahweh or 'Ĕlōhı̄m cebhā'ōth , "Yahweh" or "God of hosts." In Hebrew usage "host" might mean an army of men, or the stars and the angels - which, apart or in conjunction, made up the host of heaven. God of Hosts in early times meant the war god who led the armies of Israel ( 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 7:8 ). In 1 Samuel 17:45 this title stands in parallelism with "the God of the armies of Israel." So all Israel is called the host of Yahweh ( Exodus 12:41 ). In the Prophets, where the term has become a regular appellation, it stands in relation to every form of the power and majesty, physical and moral, of God (e.g. Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 6:3 , Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 10:23 , Isaiah 10:33 ). It stands in parallelism with Isaiah's peculiar title, the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 5:16 , Isaiah 5:24 ). It has, therefore, been thought that it refers to the host of heaven. In the Prophets it is practically a proper name. Its original meaning may well have been forgotten or dropped, but it does not follow that a new special significance was attached to the word "hosts." The general meaning of the whole term is well expressed by the Septuagint translation, kúrios pantokrátōr , "Lord Omnipotent."

(3) Yahweh (Jehovah)

This is the personal proper name par excellence of Israel's God, even as Chemosh was that of the god of Moab, and Dagon that of the god of the Philistines. The original meaning and derivation of the word are unknown. The variety of modern theories shows that, etymologically, several derivations are possible, but that the meanings attached to any one of them have to be imported and imposed upon the word. They add nothing to our knowledge. The Hebrews themselves connected the word with hāyāh , "to be." In Exodus 3:14 Yahweh is explained as equivalent to 'ehyeh , which is a short form of 'ehyeh 'ăsher 'ehyeh , translated in the Revised Version (British and American) "I am that I am." This has been supposed to mean "self-existence," and to represent God as the Absolute. Such an idea, however, would be a metaphysical abstraction, not only impossible to the time at which the name originated, but alien to the Hebrew mind at any time. And the imperfect 'ehyeh is more accurately translated "I will be what I will be," a Semitic idiom meaning, "I will be all that is necessary as the occasion will arise," a familiar Old Testament idea (compare Isaiah 7:4 , Isaiah 7:9; Psalm 23:1-6 ).

This name was in use from the earliest historical times till after the exile. It is found in the most ancient literature. According to Exodus 3:13 f, and especially Exodus 6:2 , Exodus 6:3 , it was first introduced by Moses, and was the medium of a new revelation of the God of their fathers to the children of Israel. But in parts of Genesis it is represented as being in use from the earliest times. Theories that derive it from Egypt or Assyria, or that would connect it etymologically with Jove or Zeus, are supported by no evidence. We have to be content either to say that Yahweh was the tribal God of Israel from time immemorial, or to accept a theory that is practically identical with that of Exodus - that it was adopted through Moses from the Midianite tribe into which he married. The Kenites, the tribe of Midianites related to Moses, dwelt in the neighborhood of Sinai, and attached themselves to Israel (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11 ). A few passages suggest that Sinai was the original home of Yahweh (Judges 5:4 , Judges 5:5; Deuteronomy 33:2 ). But there is no direct evidence bearing upon the origin of the worship of Yahweh: to us He is known only as the God of Israel.

4. Pre-Prophetic Conceptions of Yahweh

(1) Yahweh Alone was the God of Israel

Hebrew theology consists essentially of the doctrine of Yahweh and its implications. The teachers and leaders of the people at all times worship and enjoin the worship of Yahweh alone. "It stands out as a prominent and incontrovertible fact, that down to the reign of Ahab ... no prominent man in Israel, with the doubtful exception of Solomon, known by name and held up for condemnation, worshipped any other god but Yahweh. In every national and tribal crisis, in all times of danger and of war, it is Yahweh and Yahweh alone who is invoked to give victory and deliverance" (Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures (3), 21). This is more evident in what is, without doubt, very early literature, even than in later writings (e.g. Judges 5; Deuteronomy 33; 1 Samuel 4 through 6). The isolation of the desert was more favorable to the integrity of Yahweh's sole worship than the neighborhood of powerful peoples who worshipped many other gods. Yet that early religion of Yahweh can be called monotheistic only in the light of the end it realized, for in the course of its development it had to overcome many limitations.

(A) His Early Worship

The early worship of Yahweh did not exclude belief in the existence of other gods. As other nations believed in the existence of Yahweh (1 Samuel 4:8; 2 Kings 17:27 ), so Israel did not doubt the reality of other gods (Judges 11:24; Numbers 21:29; Micah 4:5 ). This limitation involved two others: Yahweh is the God of Israel only; with them alone He makes a COVENANT (which see) (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 6:4 , Exodus 6:5; 2 Kings 17:34 , 2 Kings 17:35 ), and their worship only He seeks (Deuteronomy 4:32-37; Deuteronomy 32:9; Amos 3:2 ). Therefore, He works, and can be worshipped only within a certain geographical area. He may have been associated with His original home in Sinai long after the settlement in Canaan (Judges 5:4; Deuteronomy 33:2; 1 Kings 19:8 , 1 Kings 19:9 ), but gradually His home and that of His people became identical (1 Samuel 26:19; Hosea 9:3; Isaiah 14:2 , Isaiah 14:25 ). Even after the deportation of the ten tribes, Canaan remains Yahweh's land (2 Kings 17:24-28 ). Early Israelites are, therefore, more properly described as Monolatrists or Henotheists than as Monotheists. It is characteristic of the religion of Israel (in contrast with, e.g. Greek thought) that it arrived at absolute Monotheism along the line of moral and religious experience, rather than that of rational inference. Even while they shared the common Semitic belief in the reality of other gods, Yahweh alone had for them "the value of God."

(B) Popular Religion

It is necessary to distinguish between the teaching of the religious leaders and the belief and practice of the people generally. The presence of a higher religion never wholly excludes superstitious practices. The use of Teraphim (Genesis 31:30; 1 Samuel 19:13 , 1 Samuel 19:16; Hosea 3:4 ), Ephod (Judges 18:17-20; 1 Samuel 23:6 , 1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7 ), Urim and Thummim (1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 14:40 , Septuagint), for the purposes of magic and divination, to obtain oracles from Yahweh, was quite common in Israel. Necromancy was practiced early and late (1 Samuel 28:7; Isaiah 8:19; Deuteronomy 18:10 . 11 ). Sorcery and witchcraft were not unknown, but were condemned by the religious leaders (1 Samuel 28:3 ). The burial places of ancestors were held in great veneration (Genesis 35:20; Genesis 50:13; Joshua 24:30 ). But these facts do not prove that Hebrew religion was animistic and polytheistic, any more than similar phenomena in Christian lands would justify such an inference about Christianity.

(C) Polytheistic Tendencies

Yet the worship of Yahweh maintained and developed its monotheistic principle only by overcoming several hostile tendencies. The Baal-worship of the Canaanites and the cults of other neighboring tribes proved a strong attraction to the mass of Israelites (Judges 2:13; Judges 3:7; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 8:8; 1 Samuel 12:10; 1 Kings 11:5 , 1 Kings 11:33; Hosea 2:5 , Hosea 2:17; Ezek 20; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 22:20; Exodus 34:16 , Exodus 34:17 ). Under the conditions of life in Canaan, the sole worship of Yahweh was in danger of modification by three tendencies, coördination, assimilation, and disintegration.

(i) Coordination

When the people had settled down in peaceful relations with their neighbors, and began to have commercial and diplomatic transactions with them, it was inevitable that they should render their neighbor's gods some degree of reverence and worship. Courtesy and friendship demanded as much (compare 2 Kings 5:18 ). When Solomon had contracted many foreign alliances by marriage, he was also bound to admit foreign worship into Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:5 ). But Ahab was the first king who tried to set up the worship of Baal, side by side with that of Yahweh, as the national religion (1 King