The Names of God: El Hakabodh

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The Bible teaches in no uncertain terms that there is only one true and living God. First Timothy 2:5 says it plainly: “There is one God.” Through Isaiah, Yahweh revealed himself as “the first and the last” and said, “Besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). Jude 25 speaks of “the only God” and Paul tells us that “an idol has no real existence” and “there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). This is Christianity 101.

At the same time, it is clear from the scriptural record that God’s people struggled with allegiance to the one, true God (see Exodus 32:4, 8; 1 Kings 12:28; Jeremiah 2:28; 11:13; Nahum 1:14). They frequently bowed to other gods and gave their allegiance to the creations of their own hands rather than the creator of all things. Because of this, God sometimes addressed his people as if other gods exist. The first commandment is an example: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The command implies the possibility that another god might take the place of the one, true God in a person’s life.

Perhaps the clearest place in the Bible that addresses the hypothetical existence of other gods is Psalm 29. David writes here of “heavenly beings,” a phrase that is used exclusively in the Old Testament of false gods (Exodus 15:11; Job 41:25; Psalm 89:6). He addresses these gods as if they are sentient beings and calls them to “ascribe to Yahweh … glory and strength” and to “worship Yahweh in the splendour of holiness” (v. 1).

Throughout the psalm, he compares the power of the true God with the powerlessness of false gods. The true God speaks, unlike the non-gods of the nations. While the nations recognised natural occurrences as under the control of their gods, David shows the power of God over the gods of the nations. Whereas the gods of the nations sometimes, for example, lost control of the weather, resulting in floods, the true God sits enthroned above even the greatest flood in human history (v. 10). The true God is far more powerful than the non-gods of the nations.

For our purposes in this article, however, we want to notice the name by which David sets the true God apart from false gods. While they are “heavenly beings” (v. 1) (literally, “sons of God” or “sons of might”), he is “the God of glory” (v. 3). He is El Hakabodh.

Psalm 29 recognises the reality that everybody is religious. Everybody has something of ultimate concern, and that which is of ultimate concern to you is your god. Our gods may provide fleeting satisfaction and security, but only El Hakabodh is able to provide lasting—indeed, eternal—satisfaction and security.

As idolatrous as God’s covenant people were, they nevertheless recognised something about this truth. As you try to pronounced the name El Hakabodh, perhaps the word Hakabodh sounds strangely familiar. It should, because a related word is used in 1 Samuel 4:21 as a proper name.

In that story, Israel was at war with Philistia and things were not going well. They quickly surmised that it was because they had not brought their silver bullet with them. “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3). They superstitiously believed that the ark would guarantee God’s protection. But when the ark arrived, it did not save them. Instead, Israel was defeated and the ark captured by the Philistines.

When news of the ark’s capture reached Eli and his very pregnant daughter-in-law, he fell over backward and broke his neck while his daughter-in-law went into spontaneous labour. She died giving birth but, before she breathed her last, named her son Ichabod, telling those standing by, “The glory has departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:19–21). Ichabod translates a negative form of the name used here for God. It speaks of non-glory or departed glory. When the symbol of God’s presence with his people was captured, it was understood that God’s glory had departed from Israel and that his people were now vulnerable to attack and defeat. Without the blessing of the God of glory, they had no hope.

In Psalm 29, glory is what sets Israel’s God apart from other gods. His glory is what makes him distinct and admirable, and his glory is seen in all creation. The seraphim before the throne of God sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). As we worship El Hakabodh, we recognise that his glory reaches to every corner of creation. We don’t make him more glorious by our praises; our praises acknowledge the inherent glory that belongs to him alone.

The Christian response as we recognise the glory of God is to reflect his glory in the way we live. We are divine image-bearers and God intends us to manifest his glory in creation. That is why Christians live for God’s glory, not their own. It is why, whether we eat or drink, we do all consciously to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is why we let our light shine before others: so that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

El Hakabodh reveals himself to be a jealous God who will not share his glory with others (Isaiah 42:8). When we place our hope, our trust, and our confidence in other things—in lesser gods—we detract from the glory that belongs to El Hakabodh alone.

As we pray this week to El Hakabodh, we must ask him to help us live our lives consciously to his glory. Since everything we do should be done to the glory of God, the ways in which this prayer might be answered is inexhaustible. But here are a few ways we can consciously pray for our lives to glorify El Hakabodh this week.

First, pray for your reliance on God this week to glorify El Hakabodh. When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he revealed that he had intended to come to Corinth but was hindered. Although his intention to come to them didn’t work out as he expected, he nevertheless trusted that God’s hindering providence was the right thing. He wrote, “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Whether God allowed him to go to Corinth or not, he trusted that God’s plan was perfect and his “amen” was evidence of that. Pray that your reliance this week on God’s providence will bring him glory.

Second, pray that your worship this week will glorify El Hakabodh. The seraphim in Isaiah 6 sang God’s glory before the throne. While every activity in which we engage should be to the glory of God, worship, in a particular way, is a means by which we can actively glorify God. Whether privately or corporately, pray that you will call on the Lord, sing to the Lord, and praise the Lord with his glory as your foremost goal.

Third, pray that your conduct this week will glorify El Hakabodh. Peter urges us to use the gifts that God has given to us “so that in all things God may be praised [glorified] through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10–11). Whatever you do this week, pray that God will use your service to others as a means to bring himself glory.

As we pray this week, let us make it our goal, as we always should, to do everything we do to the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be all the glory!

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