The Names of God: Adonai

While other names of God draw us to stand in awe of God’s majesty, holiness, and love; remind us of the way He fights for us; and comfort us with the reality of His intimate knowledge of our situation, this name of God for some perhaps requires a bit of warming up to. This name of God has been a real challenge to me to write about. This name of God reminds us of a reality that is difficult to grasp in the 21st Century.

This name Adonai means “Master.” He is the Master of masters and the Lord of lords. So, why was “master” so hard for me to write about?

Well, many people discuss this in terms of a master/servant relationship, which, indeed it is. Yet, that is not the complete reality. Servant would indeed bring to mind the idea of laying claim to one’s obedience and service. However, this name goes beyond even that.

It is a definite, complete claim to one’s obedience and service.

Ultimate Claim To Our Service

You always want to study God’s word in terms of what it meant to the people of the time in which it was written. Let’s have a little history lesson before we delve into this name. Otherwise, you might be looking at it through the same dimly shaded glasses that I had great difficulty taking off.

Take a look at the New Testament use of this word. According to InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, in the first and second centuries AD, an estimated 80-90% of the inhabitants of Rome and the Italian peninsula were slaves or of slave origin (p. 881).

Did you catch that??

Eighty to Ninety Percent of 1st and 2nd Century Rome were Slaves


Photo by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

Existing evidence suggests a comparable percentage in the Roman provinces, of which Israel was one (Patterson, p.105-31).

In very early Roman history, slaves were slaves largely due to debt. By this time, however, many slaves were prisoners of war. These slaves were not just farm workers or semi-skilled laborers. These were the artisans and architects, the physicians and philosophers, the administrators, writers, and teachers. Many of them were highly trusted, holding roles such as estate managers, accountants, librarians, and doctors.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of slavery, I do not think about rights. Slaves in the first century had many rights. They often:

  • Were paid wages
  • Worked alongside freed persons and freeborn workers
  • Could worship as members of the extended family of their owner
  • Could marry (though their children would be property of their owner)
  • Were considered part of the household and family of their master
  • Could rely on their masters for their needs and for protection

What About Old Testament Slavery?

The Israelites were known among the nations for their care of slaves and the laws that protected them.

Slaves bought with money or born into a master’s house had special privileges (Genesis 17:12, 23, 27; Exodus 12:44; Lev 22:11).  They were able to take part in Israelite culture and participate in the Passover.

The Old testament puts limits on punishments allowed to slaves (Ex 21:20) and requires asylum to be provided for mistreated slaves (Ex 21:21; Deut 23:15). More than that, followers of the law were to treat them as part of their household and to eat with them at the table (Lev. 22:11, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery p.798).  Provisions, such as the year of jubilee, were made for the freeing of slaves.

Women and children were provided special protection. They:

  • Could not be sold to foreigners (Ex. 21:8)
  • Could have equal rights if adopted or given in marriage (Ex 21:9)

Hebrews were known among the nations as being good masters (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p.798). You can see other nations may abandon their slaves (1 Sam 20:13). In contrast, the New Testament centurion who sought Jesus out to heal his sick slave was an example of the Hebrew ideal (Luke 7:2).

Kidnapping fellow Hebrews and making them slaves was forbidden and punishable by death (Deut 24:7).

Why All the Trepidation?

Well, for one, I live in America. Our history has a long dark history of subjugating specific races and peoples. We have not done well, to say the least. Thinking about what the people of our nation have done to Native Americans (I’m 1/16th Native American, and my husband comes from a line of Native Americans as well) is disturbing, infuriating, and just plain depressing.

Thinking about what was done in our nation and abroad to the princes, princesses and peoples stolen from their homes in Africa- the red and anger and boiling inside mixed with deep sorrow cannot really be put in words. These individuals created in the image of God with souls eternal were stolen and put into slavery for generations.

Our present with this history is still sketchy. There is so much justifiable hurt. This wells up in me when I think about slavery.

And then there is modern day slavery. All around the world men and women and children are still bought and sold. The dimmest, darkest, most terrifying part of this to me is sex trafficking. Where I live, close to major highways leading to larger cities, it is known that moms like me need to hold their children extra close in grocery stores and when out and about. I’ve personally known two people who had attempts taken at stealing their children. Little children.

I. feel. like. I. can’t. breath. thinking. about. what. is. happening. to. these. little. children.

I know that for older youth’s there is a strategic approach to trafficking them. So subtle. So crafty. So dangerous. Young people targeted at their jobs and clubs without their knowing. Every youth should be aware of the ways they might be targeted. For smaller children, though, it seems there is a lot of snatch and grab going on.

This is why my kids are in the cart and my hand is on it at all times in the grocery store (even though they fill the cart now with little room for anything else). It is why I choose to do pickups instead of walking around whenever possible.

This is what I know of slavery.

My heart hangs heavy at the thought.

Adonai: Master

So, through months of major personal difficulty related to other things, I have been dragging my feet on coming back to this particular blog- my next in the Names of God series.

Adonai carries the idea of Him as our Master and us as His slaves.

But think of the sheer beauty of this.

Take your arm and wipe the clutter of your culturally-bound perspectives on slavery off the table in front of you and onto the ground. Take off your dim glasses and look at this through clear eyes.

What are we without Him?

We are slaves.  Slaves to sin.

It is not as though we are free people, enjoying all we see and want and suddenly offered to enslave ourselves to a God that wants to be our Master. No. We are slaves of the worst kind. In the worst pit. With the prospect of the darkest future.

The Beauty of Redemption

God’s salvation in terms of “redemption” is clear in light of our slavery to sin.

Every. person. is. sold. in. the. slave-market. of. sin.

God wants to redeem us. To buy our freedom. Our freedom to become part of His family. To have total redemption and become a new creation.

Being given the opportunity to have God as our Master instead of sin is like a drink of fresh water to a dehydrated desert traveler on a scorching day.

Slaves to Sin or Slaves to Righteousness

Paul puts it this way in Romans 6:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Where is Adonai in the Bible?

You can find this name translated as Lord, with the first letter capital and the other letters lowercase. (As opposed to LORD, which refers to Yahweh). It is found over 300 times in reference to God in the Old Testament alone.

It is almost always in plural possessive form: Lords’. Just as the Trinity is inherent in the name Elohim,  the reality that God is One and exists in three persons is evident in this name being plural.

It is used in singular form (adon) some 215 times to refer to men. These references are translated in our bibles with terms such as “master,” “sir,” “owner,” and “lord.”

The brilliant Creator of the heavens and the earth fashioned the stars that could swallow 1,700 of our suns and holds together every subatomic particle of every atom that makes up everything in our universe. He finely crafted the bones of birds for flight, the pollen of flowers to dazzle and nurture, and the structure of water to be a vital part of our essence.

He breathed life into man, forming us in His image- to be His image bearer. To know Him and make Him known.

We Were Created Free

He created us free. Free to love Him. Free to obey Him. Free from the taste of evil, sin, and death.

And we chose bondage. The lure of knowing evil was too tantalizing. Adam and Eve chose to doubt their Creator’s love and goodness. They chose death. They chose slavery to sin which passed down generation by generation, passed down to my Scots-Irish ancestors, my German ones, my French-Canadian ones, my Native American ones and passed down to me. Passed down from your ancestors to you.

We Bit the Forbidden Fruit To Death

That bite. The one of distrust in the Creator. The one of rebellion. The bite that promised death. The one that whispered, “…but you will not surely die.” It promised more than it could deliver.

It always does.

Slavery to sin is never savory. The brightness it brings is always dampened by coming storm, no matter how far out that storm seems to loom.

Slavery to sin mars the soul. It distorts it. Like an elderly woman I met who’d sipped to long from her cup of bitterness- body bending only slightly with its weight, but soul completely shriveled by it.

I have tasted the darkness that slavery to sin can bring in this lifetime.

Slavery to sin is selfishness dressed up in an overstuffed costume of a heart, passing itself off as love to the unsuspecting naive soul. Slavery to sin is a soul drawn back to that gnawing compulsion- the promise of what one needs that delivers only shame and agony for more again and again. Slavery to sin is the movement to rob children of the wonder of their childhood and youth the sparkle of their innocence. Slavery of sin is that which tears family photos in two, cuts individuals out, and boxes them up as if to put a lid on the overflow of tears and overwhelming sad of seeing that which will never be again.

How do I know? I’ve tasted the effects that ripple out of each.

Having tasted the darkness that slavery to sin can bring in this lifetime, I have no desire to discover what it can bring in the next life, the one eternal.


Slaves to sin is the gravest of bondages available. It leads not just to suffering and death, but it leads to ultimate suffering and death for eternity.

God offers redemption from slavery to sin. Freedom from its bondage.

And slavery to righteousness. To life. To Him.

(I have to keep carefully putting down my dim, dark, 21st Century skewed glasses regarding slavery).

Because Adonai is a beautiful name of God.

He bought our redemption with His own blood.

This name was used in reverence by Abraham, Moses, Gideon, the psalmists, David, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah….on and on. We see it in Isaiah, when he stands in the throne room of God with the train of His glory filling the temple.

We see it in Christ.

Christ the Ultimate Slave

Christ showed us the ultimate example of One who became obedient even unto death. In Philippians 2, we read:

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

He chose to evoke the imagery of a bond-servant-  a slave who loves his master and has his ear pierced to show he is his servant forever.

Christ is the Promised One. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[i] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

He was obedient to death so that I could be freed from death. Freed from the death of slavery to sin. Freed to a new Master. The Master who extends His hand out of the slave market of sin and says in Matthew 11:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Reflect on Adonai

As you spend time with God this week, consider the reality that He is:

  • Your Master
  • The One who bought you with His own blood
  • Your redeemer from slavery to sin
  • The One who created you and to whom you owe all you have
  • The One who has every right to tell you what to do and how (and whose every command is for your good with your well-being in mind)

Search through the places in the Bible where this name is found, and consider the depth of this name in the context of the verses.

What other verses use this name? Check out verses with Adonai here.

Pray to and Praise Adonai

Dear Adonai,

Thank you for purchasing my soul from the slave market of sin. The suffering of being enslaved to sin is torment. You saved me from torment in this life and in the next by redeeming me.

Thank you for paying for my freedom with your own blood.

You created me. You designed me. You laid out a way for me that is good. You have every right to all I am and all I have, for it is all from you and it is all yours. I am yours.

Thank you for being the God who sees me in my slavery to sin. For noticing my sorrow and anguish. Thank you for humbling yourself to satisfy your justice and make a way to extend your compassion to me freely.

Thank you for purchasing me into your family. Thank you for bearing the cost of my freedom. Thank you for being a good Master. Thank you, Lord of lords, and Master of masters for being good, for being love, for being righteous.

Thank you for the chance to serve You, to know You, to be under your protection, provision, and direction.  Thank you for your laws which are my good.

All of my dreams, all of my hopes, all of my abilities and belongings, my very self- they are yours. I lay them down at your feet. Please use me as you will for your glory. Help me remember when I forget that I belong to You, and that you are the only One worth belonging to.

Help me live so close to your heart that my life reflects it. Help me run the race You have set before me to run in such a way that in the end I will hear you say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”



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8 thoughts on “The Names of God: Adonai

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