It might surprise you to learn that the Old Testament is not set in a world of monotheism. This is not to say that the Old Testament teaches the existence of other gods (see Isaiah 45:5; 43:11), but simply that it was written in a world in which the existence of other gods was assumed. The Gentiles served a plethora of other gods and Israel itself was guilty of bowing to other gods. And while the consistent testimony of Scripture is clear that these false gods were, in fact, no gods, the biblical authors wrote as if the gods existed and had some form of power, even as they highlighted that the true God—Israel’s God—ruled over lesser gods.
Consider, for example, Deuteronomy 17:17. Yahweh, the God of the Bible, called his people to fear him, obey him, love him, and serve him with heart and soul (vv. 12–13). While Yahweh rules over all creation, he chose to set his particular love on Israel and set them apart as his special people (vv. 14–15). He therefore called them to submit gladly to him (v. 16) and, as motivation for that, said to them: “For Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (vv. 17–18). The phrase “God of gods” translates the Hebrew name Elohei Haelohim, which is the name of God under consideration for the coming week.
As I have said, the Bible does not actually support the notion that the other gods actually exist, but it does assume, for the sake of argument, that they exist in order to show that Yahweh is superior to the gods of our imagination. The gods of human creation are partial to those who serve them well and can always be expected to respond favourably to bribes that are offered to them. To receive the favour of the gods, a worshipper need only offer a suitable sacrifice. The gods of the nations could hardly be said to be gods of justice, for injustice was rife among the Gentiles. Yahweh’s laws, on the other hand, display his commitment to justice for the vulnerable. Unlike the false gods, Yahweh is great and mighty and awesome. In every respect he is the God who rules over the lesser gods of the nations.
This particular name is a name usually spoken by Yahweh’s own people (see Joshua 22:22; Psalms 50:1; 84:7; 136:2) but even Nebuchadnezzar came to recognise Yahweh as powerful over the many gods that he recognised (Daniel 2:47). When Yahweh acts, it becomes clear to anyone with eyes to see that he is Elohei Haelohim.
The focus of this name is Yahweh’s absolute supremacy. Elohei Haelohim is infinitely more powerful and greater than any other so-called god. As Elohei Haelohim, Yahweh alone is worthy of worship. The gods of the peoples do not compete with him but must, in fact, bow in worship and adoration to him.
But what evidence is there that Yahweh—the God of the Bible—is Elohei Haelohim? Why should he not simply be considered one god among many? What sets him apart from and above the gods of the nations? The list is endless, but it might help to zoom in on a few specific proofs of Yahweh’s supremacy.
First, Yahweh is supreme—God of gods—because he is the creator, while other gods are creations. Yahweh alone is worthy to receive glory and honour and power because all things were created by and for him (Revelation 4:11; cf. Colossians 1:16–17). While the other gods have creation myths ascribed to them, Yahweh’s creative power stands apart. Very often in the pagan creation myths, the gods are not all powerful and are dependent upon one another to help create. In the Bible, there is one God who pre-existed creation and simply spoke into being everything that is.
Not only does God stand apart from the pagan God’s in the power of creation but also in his purpose for creation. In the pagan creation myths, humanity was either an afterthought or humans were created for some nefarious purpose: to be slaves to the gods or to irritate other gods, etc. In the biblical creation account, humanity is the special, careful creation of Yahweh, made not because he needs servants but specifically to bear his image to the rest of creation. In every way, the biblical creation account stands apart from the creation myths of the nations.
Second, Yahweh—Ehohei Haelohim—is supreme because of his character. Unlike the selfish, arrogant, lustful, hateful gods of the people “Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). It does not surprise us to see the gods of human imagining created in the image of their creator. They are selfish because humans are selfish. They are arrogant because humans are arrogant. They are lustful because humans are lustful. They are hateful because humans are hateful. The God of the Bible is superior in his character. He is without sin. He is perfectly holy and righteous. He is loving and longs for a relationship with his creation. And his laws reflect his just and righteous character.
Unlike the gods of the nations, Elohei Haelohim is not a divine bully. He is transcendent and yet he stoops down so that we might know him.
Third, Elohei Haelohim, unlike the gods of the nations, is eternal. He was not created and can never die. He is not at war and on equal footing with the other gods, at risk of being destroyed. He was from eternity and will be unto eternity (Psalms 41:13; 90:2).
Wonderfully, Elohei Haeolohim is not an abstract God who remains distant from his creation. Incredibly, he became a part of his creation. He took on human flesh in order to redeem sinful humans from the power of sin. Jesus Christ is “Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 7:14; 19:16). It is our responsibility to submit to him and to bring our every passion and priority into ultimate submission to him. We live in a day in which we might not be tempted to bow down to images of wood and stone but we all know our tendency to idolatry. We know what it is to place our supreme trust and find our supreme joy in things other than the God of the Bible. As we reflect on Yahweh as Elohei Haelohim, may we bring every thought captive in obedience to Christ. May we subject our every thought, desire, and passion to the God of the Bible. May he stand in our hearts and minds as God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God. And may his absolute supremacy guide our prayers as we adore him as the true God who stands above all the lesser gods of our imagination.