What Does Adonai Mean?

We know that God often has many names throughout the Bible (Isaiah 9:6), all of these names having significant meaning or highlighting a certain attribute of God. 

One of the most prominent names used for God in the Old Testament is the name Adonai, meaning Lord, or Lord Master.  People throughout the Old Testament used it when addressing humans who were master or lord over them.

In this article, we’ll endeavor to discuss the use of Adonai in the human sense, the meaning of YHWH and its association with Adonai, and what this name means to us today.

Humans (and Angels) and Adonai

In 1 Samuel 24:8, when David has the chance to take the life of the King of Israel, Saul, who is trying to kill him, and he chooses to spare Saul, he emerges from a cave he has been hiding and calls Saul, “My lord,” its root form in the Hebrew similar to Adonai

We also see other instances scattered throughout the Old Testament.

Sarah, when she hears she will have a child, refers to Abraham as “my lord” showing he is a ruler over her.

When the angels visit Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot refers to them by this word in Genesis 19:2

There are 335 more instances where it appears in the Old Testament, examples are found here

Adonai in a human (and sometimes angelic) sense appears to be acknowledging a person who has power or leadership over another person. For instance, in the example of Saul listed above, David acknowledges that Saul has leadership over him. Even though he had the chance to end Saul’s life, he didn’t take it, because he realized God placed Saul as a ruler in his life for a reason.

In a husband and wife dynamic, Sarah acknowledges the husband has a sort of headship or leadership over her (Genesis 3:16).

And, as we see above, humans acknowledge that angelic messengers have a certain amount of power, majesty, and rule.

YHWH and Adonai

We may be familiar with the name of the Lord “Yahweh,” but we actually have no idea if it’s pronounced the way we think it’s pronounced. The Jews considered the name of God so holy they would not pronounce it aloud. 

Plus, ancient Hebrew, in writing, didn’t include vowel sounds, so they would’ve just had the name YHWH. Later, vowel sounds such as the ah and eh were added.

As mentioned in the article linked above, Jews were afraid of taking God’s name in vain, so they would not pronounce it. When reading Scripture aloud, they replaced YHWH with Adonai.

Often, we can see the two names Yahweh and Adonai paired together in the Bible. 

Although we see Yahweh pop up frequently (both Adonai and Yahweh meaning “The Lord”), Adonai gives us more of a hint about what the Lord’s role is in our lives. Adonai means “master” or “Lord,” showing God has sovereignty over us.

Why Does the Name Adonai Matter?

Why does it matter that we should know names for God such as Yahweh, El Roi, Adonai, etc.? 

It’s important that we know the names of God because names have important meanings in the Bible. They carry an origin and purpose of someone’s life. Whenever God names someone or renames someone in the Bible (John 1:42), it’s a big deal. He proclaims something important about their identity or about his plan for that person’s life.

In the example of Peter (John 1:42), Peter’s name becomes his purpose. He becomes the rock of the church (Acts 2:14-41).

So, when we learn the names of God, we learn about his attributes. We can get to know him better.

As far as the title of Adonai, learning this name can help us acknowledge that God is the master and sovereign over our lives. We cannot act outside of his plan for us.

And no human or angelic adonai can thwart that plan either (Romans 8:35-39). 

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/artisteer

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 600 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021)  Find out more about her at her website.


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