The word most often used for God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim. Many think elohim is a name for God, but as we shall see, the word and its usage in the Bible is not a name for God.
“Elohim” is found 2602 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. The Hebrew word elohim can be singular or plural, just as our English word “deer” can denote one or several deer. When referring to the creator God elohim is capitalized.
Elohim is used to denote the true God. (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 2:3; Psalm 50:1) It is also used in reference to false or foreign gods and goddesses. (Exodus 20:3; 32:1 Psalm 82:1) It is used of angels (supernatural spirits) in Psalm 8:6; 97:7; 138:1.
In 1 Samuel 28:13, Samuel’s afterlife appearance before the witch of Endor was called an elohim. “And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods (elohim) ascending out of the earth. “
Moses was referred to as an elohim in Exodus 4:16 and 7:1. Moses was not a god, but he was God’s representative and in this role, he was considered to be standing in the role of an elohim. Exodus 7:1 “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god (elohim) to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.”
The shoftim (judges-governors) were called elohim in Exodus 21:6; 22:7, 8, 27. “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges (elohim); he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” Exodus 21:6
In Psalm 45:7, the Messianic king is referred to as an elohim. Then again, we know that Jesus was God. He was not just an elohim, he was the Elohim, the creator God.
When we see the word God (capital G), we tend to attribute certain attributes to that word. The attributes of the highest God, the God of Genesis 1:1. However, as already shown, the word itself does not carry those attributes, rather the context of its usage determines who or what is being discussed.
When used of the true God, “Elohim” denotes what is called by linguists a plural of majesty, honor, or fullness. That is, he is GOD in the fullest sense of the word. He is “GOD of gods” or literally, “ELOHIM of elohim” (Deut 10:17; Ps 136:2). “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: ” Deuteronomy 10:17
About 250 times elohim designates angels (non-human servants of the one God) or foreign, pagan deities. The Bible affirms that many beings exist in the same “elohim class” as the one supreme Elohim. That is, there are supernatural, semi-divine beings other than God. So “elohim” seems to mean simply “Deity” or “deity(ies).” And the term does not, inherently, tell us if they are good or evil.
The first of the Ten Commandments says, “I am YHVH your Elohim… you shall have no other elohim in my presence” (Exod 20:2-3).
In Scripture individual gods and one goddess, such as Dagon, Chemosh, Baal, Ashtoreth, can be called an elohim (1 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 11:33; 18:24; 1 Kings 11:5).
In the Bible, God is the fulness, greatness, or totality of deity. In him reside all the powers and manifestations embodied in the word “God.” To call him Elohim emphasizes his supreme stature as deity. He is also supreme Lord (Adonim) over all human creation. But his sovereignty is also personally experienced by a faithful child of his, who can call him “my LORD” (Adonai).
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is known as Elohim in relation to non-Israelites. To his covenant people he further revealed himself through his personal name (YHVH). Then, in the New Testament, he expanded the revelation of his covenant name through his Messiah who wore his name in person.
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