Seven Prime Names: 2. Adonai
We are looking at different names for our Father God, seeking through them to become closer to Him whilst all the while knowing that He is the one who has created the opportunity for close relationship, through the sacrifice (and resurrection) of His son, Jesus.
We have seen that ‘YHWH’ (which became Jehovah or Yahweh: I exist and always exist; I Am who I Am) is a holy name; a sacred name; not to be taken for granted. Indeed, the ancient Jews (and many to this day) would not pronounce it. In Christian English translations of the Bible, this spilled over into writing the name as ‘G-d.’ But that created a problem for people trying to tell the wondrous stories of … well, how do you tell of someone when you can’t actually mention that person?
One answer was to use the word Adonai. It means simply “Lord.” It is actually the plural of ‘Adon’ (Master) and denotes an early understanding of what we have come to know as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Adonai is often referenced as God’s relationship with Gentiles, whereas YHWH is in the context of Israelites. A lord, of course, is simply someone in authority. In 1 Samuel 24:8, for example, David refers to Saul as ‘my lord, the king’ and he uses the word ‘adonai.’ Consider, for example, Lord Nelson: a specific peer of the realm, ennobled, in authority. But not to be deified.
What began as Hebrew scriptural references to one name (YHWH) became, in speech and in writing, a completely different word (Adonai). But Adonai was also used in its own right – for example:
When they had gone, an angel of Adonai appeared to Joseph in a dream… (Matthew 2:13)
When the Bible came to be translated into English, both were ‘Lord.’ To distinguish them, YHWH became LORD and Adonai became Lord. And someone simply in authority became lord, thus:
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ (Genesis 18:12)
Intriguingly (and beware, for we can start to tie ourselves in knots here instead of doing what we are supposed to do and drawing closer to our Father), in Psalm 110:1 David could say: ‘The Lord says to my lord’ but in some translations it is ‘The LORD [YHWH] says to my Lord [Adonai].’
When Saul first encountered Jesus, he did not actually know who was speaking (although his answer was as insightful as Caiaphas who said that it was better for one man to die for the people than that the whole nation should perish):
‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. Acts 9:5 [‘Who are you, Adonai?’]
Adonai means ‘Lord’ – the ruler; the master. Everything is His. We do well to remember not just who is lord but who is Lord … and it is the LORD.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Adonai of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see His glory. (Psalm 97:5)
[from Timothy Pitt]