Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the character of God is and it’s importance to the Christian faith.
One way to learn about God is to study what names He is known by. Different names can describe different aspects or characteristics of God. Today we will look at the Hebrew word adonai which means “lord” or “master”. When this specific word refers to God, it is a proper noun and is capitalized as Lord.
Adonai is the plural form of the word adon and can literally be translated as “my lords.” RC Sproul comments that the suffix ai intensifies the meaning of adon so that adonai means the ultimate Lord, the Lord of all. The plural form is used primarily in reference to God but sometimes refers to men as well. It occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament, is used heavily in Isaiah and Ezekiel, and first appears in Genesis 15:2. Sometimes adonai is used in place of the personal name for God, YHWH, in the Old Testament to prevent violation of the Third Commandment.
In the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, adonai and YHWH, are translated kurios or lord. The New Testament uses the same word, and when the Apostles and Gospel writers quote from the Old Testament, they are usually quoting from the Septuagint, although not always. Jesus is referred to as “lord” over 700 times in the New Testament. This does not mean that those who called Him “lord” were always referring to Him with a proper noun, but usually were using a polite form of address, such as we use the word “sir” today.
When we realize that adonai is speaking of God and Jesus as Lord and Master, we need to recognize a few things. The word Adonai speaks to God’s right to rule us as our Master. Since God is our master, we are His slaves. The slave is to be in complete submission to the master. As mentioned before, adonai denotes Lord over all, even for those who refuse to submit. This little word speaks strongly against the self-centered mindset of today’s culture, where everyone wishes to be his or her own master. The word adonai shows us that such thinking is futile and irrational, because one day, every knee will bow to the Lord Jesus and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, (Phil. 2:10-11) whether they like it or not.
Submit to Him today and receive His loving embrace, for Jesus is not a harsh Lord, but a wonderful benevolent Master. Adonai speaks to the power of God and His willingness to supply for all of our needs (Ps 68:19). It denotes a relationship, for God has total possession of us. His people must gladly submit and obey to Him, not with just our lips, but with our entire life. James Montgomery Boice helpfully points out that the early church would have understood Adonai in the way I’ve described it in this article:
The Greek word for Lord is kurios, the word used by citizens of the Roman empire to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar. This title was never used of the emperors until they were thought to be deified through a religious ceremony; therefore, it was used as a divine title. Within the empire there was a test phrase used to check the loyalty of the people. It was Kyrios Kaiser, and it meant “Caesar is Lord.” Christians who would not say these words were later singled out from pagans and executed. In those days when a Christian insisted that Jesus is Lord he meant that Jesus, not Caesar, is divine. The same meaning is present when the word occurs in Hebrew, only more so. The Hebrew word is Adonai. It is a title somewhat like our “sir,” but it assumed an extraordinary importance in Hebrew speech because in practice it replaced the personal name of God, Jehovah. No Jew pronounced the word “Jehovah,” even when reading the Bible. Instead he said, “Adonai.”[i]
[i] (Boice, J. M.. Philippians : An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books)
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There have been many difficult times in my life, times where looking back I thought for sure that I wasn’t going to make it through them. Through these times, God has always shown Himself faithful to His Word. Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of our country said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Every single one of us has had these times—times that have tried us.
We are living in difficult times, but through them God promises to use these situations for His glory (Genesis 50:20). The Apostle Paul went through many, many trials (2 Cor. 11). In 2 Corinthians 1:1-11, Paul relates to his audience by showing that he is an afflicted leader (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 11:23-33), who is writing to a congregation that is experiencing affliction. His response to their trials is to direct them to the “God of all comfort” (1:3). This understanding of God’s nature is grounded in the person and work of Jesus, who experienced ultimate suffering and affliction on the cross, and who, in his resurrected rule, abundantly comforts his people.
By knowing this and experiencing the comfort that he provides, we are able to understand our own afflictions as evidence of our solidarity with Christ. We can never suffer for the purpose of redemption, for we cannot add to the atoning work of Christ. However, our afflictions can serve as windows to the reality and benefits of our union with Christ. If we experience affliction as Christ did, we can expect to be comforted as Christ was (v.5). If we undergo suffering, we can anticipate consolation. Even if we experience deadly peril, our hope has been set on a God who delivers us from death (v.10).
The reason for our afflictions is “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (v.9). This reliance translates into a life of patience (v.6) and prayer (v.11). As we experience the deep comforts of the gospel, which transcend circumstance and self-centeredness, we become comforters of the afflicted (v.4; 2:7). Those who share in the comforts of the gospel are those who actively share the comforts of the gospel with those in need.
Today you might be going through a lot of difficulties, and life may be coming at you a million miles an hour. Know that your Redeemer—Jesus Christ—lives to make intercession for you, and that, as John Flavel once said, “The more afflictions you have been under, the more assistance you have had for this life of holiness.”
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I recently had a bout with laryngitis, that fun little inflammation of the vocal chords that renders a person unable to speak above a whisper. Those who know me well, in particular, my close family, know that I like to talk. This means that being struck with laryngitis has forced me to have to utilize some of my other senses while I partake of some very interesting home remedy concoctions to try and help my throat speed up the healing process.
One particular sense that has been forced to become more acute during this period of time is that of listening. Now we all hear things all day long, but I am not quite sure we take the time to listen to what enters into our ear canal. Perhaps too much ear wax stops the noise from being processed by our brains or maybe it is just our inability or unwillingness to take the needed time to listen.
How many of us have just sat out on the porch without the television on, with the radio off, and with all other electronic forms of entertainment unplugged. I mean sitting there long enough to soak in all the sounds one might hear – birds singing, cars driving, dogs barking, the wind whistling through the trees, or during this time of year, all those air conditioners trying to keep the homes cool. For that matter, how many of us take the time to really hear what our children or spouse is saying before we provide our super-fast and ill thought out response.
There are a multitude of Scriptures that speak of the need to listen. The Shema begins with “Hear O Israel” implying the need for the people to listen carefully to what is about to be stated. John 10:27 states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” noting the reality that as followers of Jesus listen and know the voice of the Great Shepherd they are able to hear and identify His voice over all the others. The Proverbs are replete with the command to listen. For example, Proverbs 19:27 says, ”Cease listening, my son, to discipline, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”
As I noted, there are numerous verses all throughout Scripture that speak of the necessity of hearing and listening with the express purpose of moving to a place of understanding. Hearing is more than noise entering your eardrum. Listening is more than nodding your heard and murmuring an “Uh-huh” when someone is talking to you. Both activities require the hearer to process and understand what is being stated and, of course, that will require effort. It seems the real effort is rooted in keeping our mouth closed long enough to process and understand what we are hearing. For most of use, it takes a rather herculean effort to keep those lips from moving.
So as this bout of laryngitis has ended now, I am being challenged to listen and understand. It is quite honestly something I am not well-versed in doing, but it is high time I begin to exercise some spiritual muscles in this area of my life and in turn take heed to God’s repeated commands in His Word to listen. I need to listen to Him more. I need to listen to those around me more. I need to take time and enjoy the sounds of God’s creation a bit more which will require turning off technology and turning on my ears.
I encourage you to join me in exercising your hearing. God has noted that those who listen will be on the path to knowledge and maturity. Those who fail to listen will stray from the words of knowledge. This means keeping on the path God has outlined requires us to listen. Will you be willing to close your mouth, open your ears, and actually listen? Let’s all give it a try, shall we?
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