This is the third of four studies on the Hebrew names of God. Click on this post to also see studies on Elohim and Yahweh on my blog site.
Adonai, also spelled Adonay, and translated as Lord (with only the first letter capitalized), means master, sovereign ruler, and indicates to us that He is master over us and we are His servants.
The name is used of both men and God. About 300 times the name is used of a human master, and 467 times as God. When used for a man it is always in the singular form—Adon, and the first letter of its English form, “lord,” is never capitalized. When used for God it is “Lord” and is always in the plural form—Adonai, which suggests God’s trinity (as Elohim also does).
ADONAI IS OFTEN USED WITH YAHWEH
Adonai appears in scripture 182 times by itself as “Lord,” but 285 times along side of His other name Yahweh. In just three cases Adonai is written as “LORD our Lord” (or Yahweh our Adonai, Neh. 10:29; Ps. 8:1; Ps. 8:9). But it appears 282 times as “Lord GOD” or as “Sovereign LORD” (in the NIV and NLT). Notice that when Yahweh is written as GOD” it is in all caps. And when translated as “Sovereign LORD” the translators are telling us what Adonai means—that He is sovereign.
The reason, I suppose, that Adonai is written with Yahweh, as “Lord GOD,” is to confirm to us that Yahweh is our master and is sovereign. And we could also take it the other way, that our Lord (Adonai) is GOD (Yahweh).
Among the 282 times Adonai is written as Lord God, 222 of them are in the book of Ezekiel. This is because one of the major themes of Ezekiel is God’s holiness and sovereignty. Over and over again when the prophet Ezekiel prophecies what God would do in the way of judgments against the sin of Israel (esp. against the false prophets), and also against other nations, the concluding statement is “Then you [Israel] shall know that I am the Lord God” (NKJV, Ezek. 13:9; 23:49; 24:24; 28:24; 29:16). Hence, the major teaching of the prophet was that they, through God’s judgments, would learn who He is, that God is the almighty ruler of the Universe, that He alone is GOD and they should bow down to Him as servants.
ADONAI SUGGESTS THE MASTER-SERVANT RELATIONSHIP
The following things are true of Adonai—our Master:
1. He owns us as a master owns his slave.
2. As Our owner, He cares for us and watches over us as a husband loves and cares for his wife (Eph. 5:28-29).
3. He demands and expects our obedience; and He rewards the obedient and disciplines the disobedient.
4. Our Master is sovereign. The writer of Psalms 115:3 says, “…our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” This is the foundation of His sovereignty. Branching off of that, we can say, along with John Piper, from his book, Desiring God that none of His purposes can be frustrated; hence, “He must be the happiest of all beings.” Adonai is strong enough and wise enough to make all things work together for His good—for His happiness. The evil intentions of men cannot frustrate the decrees of God. They can only bring His plans to their fruition—to make Him happy.
The following things are true of God’s servants:
1. We are not our own. We are His. Adonai owns us so we belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19).
2. As God’s servants, we should expect His protection and care. Just as servants in Old
Testament times were regarded as part of the family, we as His servants are also part of His family and we will reap the benefits of His care if we are yielded to Him as servants.
Read how Old Testament servants were so privileged—more than hires servants and foreigners.
And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it. 44 But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. 45 A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it.
Here we see that the slaves who were purchased lived with their masters in their own house, were circumcised, were privileged to eat the Passover, and were partakers of God’s covenant. Wow! Not at all like slaves have been treated in the last few hundred years. Old Testament slaves were treated as an adopted member of the family! And that’s a good representation of how we should look at our relationship with Adonai our Master. He owns us and cares for us. We are adopted members of His family and we are partakers of the new covenant in His blood.
3. Since God is sovereign, and always happy in Himself, when we yield to Him as servants and delight in Him, we will be happy as He is. And since nothing can frustrate His happiness—no matter what happens in the world around us—nothing should frustrate our happiness (our joy) either.
ADONAI IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
We will examine the following Old Testament characters to see how they knew Adonai and regarded themselves as His servants.
Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord [Adonai], I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Notice that Moses addressed God as Adonai and said that he was “Your servant.” This was a humble beginning for Moses, but because he yielded himself as God’s servant he became a great man of God.
So he said to Him, “O my Lord [Adonai], how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
Here again, like Moses, Gideon admitted his weakness, but he addressed God as Adonai (Master). And as a result Gideon trusted Him as Adonai and became a great warrior.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord [Adonai] sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord [Adonai], saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
Here we see that Isaiah’s vision of Adonai’s greatness and holiness no doubt made him a willing servant so that he said “Here am I sent me.”
I am Your servant;
Give me understanding,
That I may know Your testimonies.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
Until He has mercy on us.
Here I think it is interesting that “LORD” is Yahweh, but it could have been written as Lord (Adonai), because David is speaking of God as His Master.
THE MEANING OF ADONAI IS CARRIED OVER INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT
Lord and Lord Jesus in the New Testament mean the same as Lord (Adonai) in the Old Testament. Hence, our Lord Jesus is our Master. He bought us with a price—the price of His own blood (2 Pt 2:1).
Just as a master in the O.T. was expected to provide for and protect His slaves, the Lord Jesus delivers His servants from every evil (2 Tim 4:18).
But our Lord Jesus is not only our Lord. He helps us to be His servants by giving us an example to follow. He has provided Himself as the perfect example of a servant; He was the ideal servant of God, as the following verses demonstrate:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”
But made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
WHAT DOES ADONAI MEAN TO US?
Well, here’s what this study means to me: if I want to get to know God as Adonai, and if I want to be a true servant of God and reap the benefits of a servant, I must act like a servant—I must yield myself to Him as a servant would to his master.
And what are the benefits of the servant of God? Well, I suppose there are many, but the main one is that when I yield to Him I become free from sin! For scripture says that when I am a servant of God I am no longer a slave of sin. Yielding to God (to Adonai, who is my Master) sets me free from sin—from the slavery of sin (Rom. 6:16-18).
But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
Oh the joy of submitting to Adonai! He gives so much to us when we submit as servants to Him!