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  • Adam Schell

Elohim


On May 24, 1966, a little company called Botany 500 ran an ad in the Miami Herald for their classic sports coats and slacks. Now, their ad undoubtedly touted all the features that the well-dressed man was looking for back in the 60s — like a “free and easy feeling,” a “tapered, firm, and athletic design,” and “just the touch to please the classic taste.” — but that’s not why anyone remembers this ad.


No, this ad is remembered because of its tagline. This tagline is so well-known that it’s been credited to everyone from the poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, all the way to the movie star and humorist, Will Rogers…but it’s probably best known for being a part of Head and Shoulders commercials.


So what is this tagline? It’s: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Now, even though this particular tagline hasn’t even been around for sixty years, it’s become practical advice that we have all heard and probably shared. When your best friend from college manages to line up an interview with the company she’s always wanted to work for, you remind her, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When one of your co-workers gets excited about meeting up with someone he meet on eharmony, you tell him, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When one of your nieces or nephews moves to Hollywood to become an actor and they finally land their first big audition, you mention that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”


But if I could tell you one story that exemplifies this phrase, I’d have to tell you the story of a young man named Grant Kessler. Back in 2016, when Grant was 18 years old, he found out that his sister was pregnant and that he was going to be an uncle. Now, aside from having someone ask you to prom or getting your acceptance letter to college, there probably isn’t a lot more exciting news you can get when you’re 18 than finding out that you’re going to be an uncle or an aunt.


And that was definitely the case for Grant Kessler. So on the day that his niece was born, Grant showed up at the hospital wearing a suit and tie and even a pocket square. Seeing Grant all dressed up was so unbelievable that one of his other siblings snapped a picture of it and posted it on Twitter – when it was still called Twitter. And she captioned the picture:


My sister is about to have a baby and my brother showed up at the hospital in a suit and tie because “first impressions matter.”


Now that’s a cute picture and the Tweet went viral and has been liked more than 400,000 times…but you might be wondering what it has to do with us?


Well, last week at Melbourne Heights, we started a new sermon series called “Above All.” And in this series, we’re exploring what the Apostle Paul refers to as “the name above all names” in Philippians 2:9. We’re exploring the names of God. And we’re exploring the names of God because, as Old Testament scholar Roy Honeycutt explains, “In ancient Israel the name was the summation of one’s character, the self-disclosure of a person.” Or to put it another way, when God reveals his name, God is revealing who he is.

When God reveals his name, God is revealing who he is.

So last week, we spent our time together exploring the most common name that we find for God in the Bible — a name that is used more than 6,500 times — and that’s the name YHWH. And we saw that the name YHWH, which is commonly translated as “I am,” shows us that you cannot know God until you experience God in your own life.


But even though the name YHWH is the most commonly used name for God in the Bible, it’s not the first name that’s used for God in the Bible. Now, think about that for just a minute…the most commonly used name for God in the entire Bible isn’t the first name that’s actually used for God in the Bible.


And what that means is that when God has the chance to make his very first impression, God isn’t introduced as YHWH. God isn’t introduced as “I am.”


So, when God has the chance to make his very first impression, how is God introduced? Well, let me show you. If you will, go ahead and grab your Bible and turn with me to Genesis 1:1. That’s right, we’re going to be looking at the very first verse of the very first book of the Bible together today.


And that shouldn’t be too surprising because we believe that the Bible is a book that tells us about God, and there is no better way to start telling us about God than by introducing us to God. So let’s see how God is introduced to us in Genesis 1:1. Oh, and before I start reading, I’ll go ahead and let you know that I’m going to read part of this passage in the original Hebrew (or as close as I can get to it). So Genesis 1:1 says:


1 In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.


Genesis 1:1 (New International Version)


So in Genesis 1:1, we are introduced to God as Elohim. But what exactly does the name Elohim mean? Well, this is where things get interesting because the truth is that biblical scholars don’t agree on what the name Elohim means.


Some scholars believe that the word Elohim derives from the Canaanite word êl, which would mean that the name Elohim is just a generic name for God. But it’s also possible that the word êl comes from another word, ‘wl, which means strong. So the name Elohim might mean that God is the strong one. And there are other scholars who believe the word Elohim comes from another word altogether, and that word is ‘elôah. The word ‘elôah means fear, so the name Elohim could mean that God is the one who should be feared.


But even though scholars cannot agree on exactly what the name Elohim means, there are a couple of things they can agree on when it comes to this particular name for God. First, scholars agree that the name Elohim is actually plural.


But before you freak out and start thinking that I’m telling you there is more than one God, I’m not. Virtually every scholar agrees that even though the word Elohim is plural it still refers to only one God. So they refer to the fact that Elohim is plural by calling it the plural of majesty. Which is just a fancy way of saying that God has majesty over all other gods. Or to put it another, the name Elohim shows us that God is the God above all other gods.

God is the God above all other gods.

And, when you stop and think about it for a second, it makes sense that God would want to be introduced as the God above all gods. Because when the book of Genesis was written — which was about 3,500 years ago — most cultures believed in a multitude of gods. If you’re at all familiar with Greek or Roman mythology, you kind of understand how this worked.


Like in Greek mythology, there were dozens of different gods. You had the primordial gods — the gods that existed before the world began. Gods like Chronos — the god of time, or Eros — the god of love, or Gaia — the goddess of the earth. Then you had the titans which included gods like Hyperion — the god of light, and Phoebe — the goddess of prophecy. And then there were the Olympians which included gods like Zeus — who was the ruler of the gods, and Poseidon — who was the god of the sea, and Hades — who was the god of the underworld.


So, from the very beginning, God wanted to show us that he is not just another god in the long list of gods. God wanted to show us that he is the God above all gods. And God does that by using the plural name of God to say that he has majesty over all.


So, the fact that the name Elohim is plural is the first thing that all scholars agree on when it comes to this name for God. The second thing that scholars agree on when it comes to the name Elohim is that if we really want to understand who Elohim is, we also have to understand what Elohim does in Genesis 1.


So let’s take another look at Genesis and see what God does. In Genesis 1:1, we’re told:


1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


Genesis 1:1 (New International Version)


Then, in Genesis 1:27, we’re told:


27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.


Genesis 1:27 (New International Version)


And, in the culmination of this account of creation, in Genesis 2:3, we’re told:


3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.


Genesis 2:3 (New International Version)


So what does God do throughout the creation account in Genesis? God creates. But God doesn’t just create. The Hebrew word for what God does in Genesis 1 is bārā. Now the word bārā literally means “he created.” But here’s the thing, the word bārā is only used in the Bible when it refers directly to God. So God is the only one who bārās, and that means that no one else can do what God did when God created.


No one else could create the heavens and the earth. No one else could create mankind. No one else could do the work that God did when God created. So when we are introduced to God as Elohim who bārā, we are introduced to a God who has no competition.

God has no competition.

And that was something important for the people of Israel to know when the book of Genesis was written because of what we talked about early. When Genesis was originally written, most cultures believed in multiple gods. And all of these gods were competing for love and loyalty from people.


So if we go back to the example from Greek mythology, the god Zeus would’ve been competing with Poseidon, and Poseidon would’ve been competing with Hades, and Hades would’ve been competing with Zeus. So if you ended up worshiping Zeus, then you couldn’t worship Poseidon. And if you worshiped Poseidon, you couldn’t worship Hades.


But when God reveals himself as Elohim who bārās, God says that he has no competition. God is God, period. So God wants the people of Israel to know that he is the only God for them to love, the only God for them to be loyal to, the only God for them at all.


So when you put the words Elohim and bārā together, you really start to see who God is. God is the God above all gods, and God does something that no one else could do when God creates. So God is the only God for us.


And remember, when God reveals himself as Elohim who bārās, this isn’t just another name for God. The name Elohim is used over 2,500 times in the Bible. And it’s also the very first name for God that we find in the Bible.


And that shows us just how important it is for us to know God as Elohim because, like we talked about at the beginning of this message, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So God wants to make a first impression that not only lasts, God wants to make a first impression that shows us exactly who God is.


And that reminds me of something I had to do for a psychology class that I took during my freshman year of college. The first time that this class met, the professor introduced herself and said that she was teaching multiple classes throughout that semester. And that meant that she was going to have a couple hundred students.


She went on to say that some professors would use that as an excuse so that they didn’t have to really get to know any of their students throughout the semester. But she didn’t want to be that way. She wanted to know her students. So she told us that after she went over the syllabus, she’d let us all leave early if we did one thing.


She told us she brought along her video camera — and this was back in 2001 when having a video camera meant you were packing around a great big camcorder — and she wanted each of us to record a short video for her. In this video, she wanted us to look directly at the camera and say our name and she wanted to share something about ourselves that would help her remember who we were.


Now, think about what this professor was asking all of her students to do. She was asking us to make a first impression that she wouldn’t forget. So that meant that when we introduced ourselves on camera, we all had to say something so unique about us that she wouldn’t confuse us with another student.


Now, it’s been over 20 years since I had to record that video…but I still remember exactly what I said. I looked at that camera and said, “I’m Adam Schell, and I have had over 100 stitches in my head.” And some of you are probably thinking that that little fact explains a lot about me…but that’s not the point.


The point is that when I had to make a first impression on this professor, I had to think of something that was so unique about me that she wouldn’t confuse me with any other students.


And God does the same thing in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, we are introduced to God as Elohim who bārās. We are introduced to the God who creates what no one else could create. And with that introduction, God makes a first impression that is so unique that we cannot confuse God with anyone else.


There is no one else who could create the heavens and the earth. There is no one else who could create humankind. There is no one else who could create what God created when God created the world.


So calling God Elohim shows us that God is truly the God above all gods. That is who God is.


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