God the Lord (Adonai)

Genesis 15:2

January 23, 2005 | Brian Bill

This week I saw someone I don’t know real well and called out her name.  I thought I got it right but as soon as I said it I realized that I had used a shortened form of her proper name, and she wasn’t too happy about it.  She corrected me quickly and told me what she prefers to be called.  I apologized and made a mental note to get it right next time.  

God has some strong feelings about what He goes by as well.  And He doesn’t want us to use names that are too casual or even commonplace.  I’m sure He’s not real impressed when we refer to Him as the “big guy in the sky” or the “man upstairs.”  

We learned last week that the first name He wants to be called is “Elohim.”  He is creatively powerful, completely sovereign, and gloriously great and because of who He is, we can draw four conclusions.

  1. He is eternal…therefore His existence is established.
  2. Creationism is correct…therefore evolution is in error.
  3. The Trinity is true…therefore redemption can be received.
  4. Every person has a purpose…therefore the preborn must be protected.

The name we’re going to get to know today is “Adonai.”  It’s used over 300 times in the Old Testament, and is a bit difficult to see in our English Bibles because many translations use two different renderings of the same name to make a distinction between “Yahweh” and “Adonai.”  Yahweh appears with capital letters: “LORD” and Adonai is “Lord” with one capital and the rest in smaller case.  When this word is used of God it is almost always plural and possessive.  Like the name Elohim, this name also supports the doctrine of the Trinity.  

In the singular, the word Adon often refers to “Master” and is also defined as “Lord” or “Owner”  and is used for how slaves speak to their masters and subjects to their kings.  When we say that God is Adonai, we are stating that He is Lord of all and that He is supreme over His subjects.  Deuteronomy 10:17 uses three names for God and captures His majestic supremacy: “For the LORD [Yahweh] your God [Elohim] is God [Elohim] of gods [Elohim] and Lord [Adonai] of lords [Adonai], the great God [Elohim], mighty and awesome…”

In order to help us capture the meaning of Adonai, let’s turn to the world of pets.  How many of you have a dog?  Let me see your hands if you’re a cat lover.  Do any of you have both a cat and a dog?  We have counselors set up in the back of the auditorium for you!  In his book called, “Cat and Dog Theology,” Bob Sjogren describes the different attitudes between a dog and a cat.

  • A dog says: “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, and you love me… you must be God.”
  • A cat says: “You pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, and you love me…I must be God.”

In a humorous way, this book captures how we often approach God.  Both cats and dogs want obedience in their lives.  Dogs want to obey God; cats want God to obey them.  Dogs worship God primarily for who He is; while cats enjoy what He’s done for them.  Dogs study “Theology” and cats study “MEology.”  

Isn’t it easy to think that life is all about us?  God does not exist for our benefit; we have been given good gifts for His glory.  Let’s do a selected Scriptural survey of “Adonai” to help us get our priorities and purposes back on track so that we become more like canines instead of cats.  

Adonai in the Old Testament

We’ll look at two Old Testament individuals who struggled to fully surrender and then at two who got it right.

1. Abraham argues with Adonai. 

Adonai is first used by Abraham in Genesis 15:2: “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”  The NIV translates Adonai as “Sovereign,” while other versions use the name “Lord.”  This interaction should encourage us since it shows us that Abraham was a real person.  He had left his country in Genesis 12 and at Bethel “called on the name of the LORD” (12:8).  He obeyed the Lord but then he resorted to a lie to protect his wife when they were in Egypt.  In chapter 13, Abram and Lot separate, and then Abram experiences the blessings of God in verse 17 when God tells him, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”  In chapter 14, Abram rescues Lot from some trouble.  

Abram is acknowledging his own insufficiency in light of God’s sufficiency

Things are going along pretty well and then we come to chapter 15.  Abram knows God as Creator and God Most High (see 14:22), but now he questions Adonai in verse 2.  He calls him “Sovereign” with his lips but in his heart he is filled with doubt.  God had promised him a son but all he has is a servant.  Do you ever feel like that?  In order to expand Abram’s view of Adonai, God takes him outside in verse 5 and declares, “‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.’  Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” God is really saying, “Abe, since I placed the stars in the heavens, do you think your childlessness is an insurmountable problem to me?”  Once he is reminded of the bigness of God, Abram “believed the LORD…”  But then he yo-yos again in verse 8: “O Sovereign [Adonai] LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”  Abram is acknowledging his own insufficiency in light of God’s sufficiency.  He doesn’t understand, but he does use the name Adonai to communicate his commitment to live under the leadership of the Lord, while at the same time, he has questions.  God then confirms His word by entering into an irrevocable covenant with Abraham.

Abraham was suffering from “MEology.”  When he didn’t understand something or when things started getting difficult, in essence he hissed like a cat at the Creator.  God was taking him through a process so that he could eventually learn that He is Lord, not Abram.  Likewise, we have to come to the point of realizing that God is the Lord of all we own, all that we are, and all that we do.

Adonai was teaching Abraham two truths that run through the entire Bible.

  • Adonai owns everything.
  • We must obey Adonai.

We could say it this way.  Because God has possession of me, I must be in submission to Him.  Since He is Lord, I must live under His leadership.  He is majestic and mighty; I am but a manager of the resources He has given me.  I need to become more like a dog and less like a cat.  I exist for Adonai; He doesn’t exist for me, myself and I.  This is summed up beautifully in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  He’s the owner and I must obey Him.  Peter Forsythe was right when he said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but it’s Master.” 

In one of his recent books Larry Crabb writes this: “There are two basic approaches to life-two pathways.  One creates pressure, the other provides freedom.  In the Old Way of life, ‘you’ve decided that what you most want out of life is within your reach, and you’re doing whatever you believe it takes to get it.’  But in the New Way of life, ‘you’ve realized that what you most want is beyond your reach, and you’re trusting God for the satisfaction you seek.  You want Him.  Nothing less, not even His blessings, will do.” 

When Queen Victoria had just ascended to her throne, as is the custom of Royalty, she went to a performance of “The Messiah”   Her advisors told her that she must not rise when the others stood at the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.  When the choir belted out, “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth…” she stayed seated with great difficulty.  But when they proclaimed the Messiah as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” suddenly the young queen rose and stood with her head bowed, as if she would take her own crown and cast it at His feet.  She had learned the lesson of the lordship of Adonai much like Abram eventually did

2. Moses rejects His Master. 

Moses also came face-to-face with Adonai.  When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3, He did so as Yahweh (which we will study in three weeks).   Moses seems to understand that God is the self-existent One but still struggles to submit to His sovereignty.  God has given him an assignment and Moses doesn’t want to do it.  His response is very candid in Exodus 4:10: “Moses said to the LORD [Yahweh], ‘O Lord, [Adonai] I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue.’”  Ken Hemphill points out that this is really a curious contradiction.  Moses addresses God as Lord and acknowledges that he is a servant, “but then attempts to excuse himself from obeying his Lord based on his supposed inability.” 

In verses 11-12, the Lord responds to Moses by reminding him that since He is the Creator who made him, He can certainly put words in his mouth.  Don’t you wish Moses would have just surrendered at this point?  But he doesn’t.  Once again, he tries to avoid obedience.  He’s acting more like a cat than a dog.  Look at verse 13: “But Moses said, ‘O Lord, [Adonai] please send someone else to do it.’” God’s anger then burns against Moses because on the one hand, he confesses Him as Lord, but on the other, he contradicts this confession with his lack of obedience.  We do the same thing, don’t we?  We call Him Lord and live the way we want.  God will not tolerate this.  Jesus put it this way in Luke 6:46: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  Friends, if we affirm His ownership, than we better obey Adonai.

3. David is devoted to Adonai. 

One of the most frequent names used by David for God is the name Adonai.  In 2 Samuel 7:18-20, it appears four times and is translated “Sovereign” in the NIV: “Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?  And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?  ‘What more can David say to you?  For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD.’”  David recognizes God’s Sovereignty and his role as a servant.  Even though he is king, he acknowledges that Adonai owns everything and as a result he must obey Him.  David understands the awesome power of Adonai when he writes in Psalm 114:7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord…”

4. Daniel addresses Adonai in confession. 

In Daniel 9, we come to a chapter of contrite confession, where Daniel addresses Adonai ten times in seventeen verses.  He owns up to the fact that he and his people have not been serving the Sovereign Lord and instead have been selfishly serving their own interests.  They were more like cats than dogs.  Notice verse 19: “O Lord, [Adonai] listen!  O Lord, [Adonai] forgive!  O Lord, [Adonai] hear and act!  For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” 

In the Old Testament, those who called on Adonai were acknowledging His right to reign supreme and the resultant responsibility all believers have to serve the Sovereign Lord.  Since God owns everything, I must obey Him.  If we’re going to call Him Lord, than we better be living for Him.

“Lord” in the New Testament

The meaning of Adonai as Sovereign Lord is carried over into the New Testament and is used of Jesus with the Greek word kurios no less than 747 times.  In the Book of Acts, Jesus is referred to as Lord 92 times, while He’s called Savior just twice.  I’m afraid that in the evangelical church we’ve overemphasized His role as Savior at the expense of His Lordship.  Actually, we’ve often created a false dichotomy by saying that someone can accept Jesus as Savior and not submit to Him as Lord.  In order to help us understand the centrality of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I’m going to lean on some insights I’ve gleaned from John MacArthur’s book called, “The Gospel According to Jesus.”

Let’s chew on some verses.  

Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  

Acts 2:36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 

Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.”

Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’”

The Lordship of Jesus Christ means that He has dominion, authority, sovereignty and the right to rule over His creation, including you and me.

MacArthur spends some time discussing the common phrase, “Making Christ Lord” of our lives: “Jesus is Lord of all, and the biblical mandate for both sinners and saints is not to ‘make’ Christ Lord, but rather to bow to His lordship” (page 203).  In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus Himself says that a verbal use of “Lord” is not enough: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Grace is not cheap and we must resist the urge to spread the gospel of “easy believism.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was surrounded by lukewarm church leaders and cultural Christians who supported Hitler.  He was imprisoned for his faith and while in prison he wrote these words: “Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ.  It remains an abstract idea, a myth…there is trust in God, but no following of Christ…If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps.  The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence.”

I’d like to suggest some steps we can take right now because it’s certainly easier to call Him Creator (Elohim) than it is to accept Him as Adonai and live under His Lordship.  

1. Serve sacrificially. 

Are you holding back in any way?  Do you just serve when it’s convenient?  It’s time to give your all to Adonai because He has given His all for you.  Remember the words of Joshua, who didn’t care if others decided to live for the Lord or not: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).  If you’re not in a ministry right now, determine to find one and begin serving.

2. Watch your words. 

to call Him Lord means that we are serious about living in light of His Lordship

Be careful about using the name “Lord” if you’re not interested in obeying Him.  The very mention of His name should cause us to shudder if we’re serving our own interests.  Some of us “overuse” His name even when we pray.  Remember, to call Him Lord means that we are serious about living in light of His Lordship.  See if these words challenge you like they do me:

Ye call Me Light and see me not,
Ye call Me way and follow me not,
Ye call Me Life and desire me not,
Ye call Me wise and acknowledge me not,
Ye call Me fair and love me not,
Ye call Me rich and ask me not,
Ye call Me eternal and seek me not,
Ye call Me gracious and trust me not,
Ye call Me Noble and serve me not,
Ye call Me mighty and honor me not,
Ye call Me just and fear me not,

Ye call Me Master and obey me not,
If I condemn you, blame me not.

3. Give generously. 

One of the best ways to remind yourself that you belong to the Lord is to make sure He is Master over your money.  Some of us are not fully devoted in our discipleship because frankly we’re more committed to cash than we are to Christ.  Jesus stated in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”  It’s an impossibility to adore Adonai and be devoted to dollars.  Augustine once said, “Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.”

Let me make a suggestion.  If you’re not experiencing the joy of tithing at least 10 percent of your income to kingdom purposes, may I encourage you to take God up on His challenge?  Because He knows how difficult it is for us to give, He actually tells us to put Him to the test in Malachi 3:10: “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”  Take the tithing challenge and you will experience innumerable blessings, and even more than that, you will grow in your love for the Lord and bring glory to God.  We will then learn that we give not to get blessings but to grow in our love for the Giver of those blessings.  

4. Surrender to His Sovereignty. 

The litmus test in determining if you are following Adonai is to ask yourself these questions: “Have I surrendered everything to Him?”  “Since He owns everything, am I obeying Him?”  “Am I a devoted dog or a cranky cat?” Imagine that I want to purchase an expensive pearl.  Here’s how the dialog might go between me and the seller .

Buyer: “I want this pearl. How much is it?”
Seller: “Well, it’s very expensive.”
Buyer: “But, how much?”
Seller: “Well, a very large amount.”
Buyer: “Do you think I could buy it?”
Seller: “Oh, of course, everyone can buy it.”
Buyer: “But, didn’t you say it was very expensive?”
Seller: “Yes.”
Buyer: “Well, how much is it?”
Seller: “Everything you have,” says the seller.
Buyer: (Thinking for a while and then making up my mind) “All right, I’ll buy it.”

Seller: “Well, what do you have?  Let’s write it down.”
Buyer: “Well, I have ten thousand dollars in the bank.”
Seller: “Good–ten thousand dollars.  What else?”
Buyer: “That’s all.  That’s all I have.  Well … I have a few dollars here in my pocket.”
Seller: “How much?”
Buyer: “Well, let’s see–thirty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred dollars.”
Seller: “That’s fine. What else do you have?”
Buyer: “Well, nothing.  That’s all.”
Seller: “Where do you live?”
Buyer: “In my house.  Yes, I have a house.”
Seller: “The house, too, then.”
Buyer: “You mean I have to live in my camper?”
Seller: “You have a camper?  I’ll take that, too.  What else?”
Buyer: “But I’ll have to sleep in my car!”
Seller: “You have a car?”
Buyer: “Three of them.”
Seller: “They become mine.  What else?”
Buyer: “Well, you already have my money, my house, my camper, my cars.  What more do you want?”
Seller: “Are you alone in this world?”
Buyer: “No I have a wife and four daughters…”
Seller: “Oh, yes, your wife and daughters, too. What else?”
Buyer: “I have nothing left!  I am left alone now.”
Seller: Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot!  You yourself, too!  Everything becomes mine–wife, children, house, money, cars–and you too.”  After the seller pauses for a bit, he concludes: “Now listen–I will allow you to use all these things for the time being.  But don’t forget that they are mine, just as you are.  And whenever I need any of them you must give them up, because now I am the owner.”  

It was Abraham Kuyper who said, “There is not an inch of any sphere of life of which Jesus Christ the Lord does not say, ‘Mine.’”  Jesus is Lord and everything I have belongs to Him.  Have you ever surrendered completely to Him?  Are you afraid to give yourself fully to Adonai?  I love what Andrew Murray said in this regard: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.”  God is ready…are you?

I want to close this morning by asking you to do something.  God calls Himself Sovereign and owns everything, including you and me, and we are called to be servants.  If you’re ready to give everything to Him, I want you to just bow your head.  While you’re doing that, would you also take your hands and form a fist?  If you’re ready to give Him everything, will you now slowly open your fists to indicate that you are surrendered before Him and that you will serve Him with everything you’ve got?  

Let’s pray now to Adonai.

Psalm 16:2 says, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”  That’s the confession of our hearts today.  You are Lord and we are not.  You are owner of everything; we are but managers of what you’ve given to us.  You are Sovereign; we are servants.  We are your possession; therefore we live in submission to you.  Do with us what you may and what you must in order to make us more like your Son that we might serve you more fully this day and forevermore.  Amen.


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