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1. God Most High (´El `Elyon), the Exalted God
Audio (27:01) |
Moon Worship in Ur and Haran
The place to begin Abraham's understanding of God is with his family. Abraham's ancestors were idolaters and polytheists (worshippers of many gods). Joshua reminds the people, "Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods" (Joshua 24:2). Jacob's wife Rachel, who probably grew up with Terah's religion, stole her father's "household gods" (Genesis 31:32-35; 35:2-4).Sumerian culture in southern Mesopotamia had seven of gods in its pantheon. Nanna, the moon-god, was the main deity of the Sumerian city of Ur in Lower Mesopotamia and of Haran, where Abraham had migrated with his family. Even the names of Abraham's relatives -- Terah, Laban, Sarah, and Milcah -- contain elements that reveal allegiance to the moon-god.1
Abraham's faith grew as God revealed himself. By the time we see him in Genesis 12 he is a monotheist, a worshipper of one God. He began with the basic word for God, the generic Canaanite name for the cosmic deity, 'El. While the name Yahweh is used in Genesis in connection with Abraham and the patriarchs, and many personal names of the period include Yah (short for Yahweh), that name probably didn't comprise his main understanding of God (Exodus 6:3).2 We'll discuss God's revelation of the name Yahweh (Jehovah, I AM THAT I AM) to Moses in Lesson 3. for now, let's consider the other ways in which he began to know God.
Abraham's monotheism contrasts sharply with the polytheism of his forebears. He believed God to be the Lord of the cosmos (Genesis 14:22; 24:3), supreme judge of mankind (15:14;18:25), controller of nature (18:14; 19:24; 20:17), highly exalted (14:22), and eternal (21:33). Whenever God spoke to him, he obeyed immediately in faith.3
Abraham's relationship with God was personal rather than formal. However, Abraham and the other patriarchs practiced various forms of worship, including building altars, offering sacrifices, calling on the name of the LORD, circumcision, prayer, making vows, and tithing -- as well as planting trees and setting up monuments.
´El and ´Elohim
As mentioned, the generic name for God is ´El. In the Ugaritic Canaanite culture, for example, ´El was the proper name of the titular head of the hierarchy of deities (as in numerous other Semitic cultures).4 In the Old Testament the word is found in three main forms: ´ēl, ´ĕlōah, and the plural ´ĕlōhīm. Together they appear 2,600 times in the Old Testament (compared to Yahweh, which appears 6,828 times). The basic meaning of the root word seems to be "strong,"5 having to do with "power."6 ´El, then, is the strong and powerful One.
Most often in the Old Testament, however, ´ēl appears in its plural form ´ĕlōhīm, usually reserved for the Israelite's God. Baker sums up the various theories about ´ĕlōhīm: "The plural form is debated, with some seeing it as a plural of majesty, or royal plural, as an intensification or claim to exclusivity, or as an honorific."7 Christians tend see in this plural term ´ĕlōhīm a testimony to the plurality of persons in the godhead,8 which is revealed more fully in the New Testament. Most celebrated, perhaps are verses where the pronouns referring to God are in the first person plural:
"Then God (´ĕlōhīm) said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" (Genesis 1:26)
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord (´ādōn) saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'
And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8)
These may reflect a plural of majesty, a plural of deliberation, or perhaps better "a plural of fullness" or "duality within the Godhead."9 Usually, however, ´ĕlōhīm is structurally plural, but treated grammatically as a singular noun. A New Testament word
Abraham and Melchizedek Worship the Most High God (´El `Elyon)
I've picked one passage for us to study in greater detail that focuses on the core name of God for this lesson, God Most High (´El `Elyon).
Abraham's nephew and other residents of Sodom have been kidnapped as slaves, a prize of war, by a coalition of Macedonian kings that has conducted raids in the region. Abraham gathers his men, stages a night-time raid on the unsuspecting armies, and rescues both the kidnapped Sodomites as well as all the booty which had been plundered from the city. On the road back to his home in Hebron, Abraham comes to Salem (now Jerusalem), to the Valley of Shaveh, just south of present-day Jerusalem.10
"17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley).
18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19and he blessed Abram, saying,
'Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.'
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
21The king of Sodom said to Abram, 'Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.'
22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, "I made Abram rich." 24I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.'" (Genesis 14:17-24)
For a more detailed exposition of this passage see my "Faith of Abraham" series, Lesson 3 (www.jesuswalk.com/abraham/3_rescue.htm). Here I want to focus primarily on the names of God used in this passage.
Melchizedek (whose name means "king of righteousness") is both king of the (then) Jebusite city of Jerusalem and "priest of God Most High." His blessing uses this name:
"Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand." (Genesis 14:19-20)
Abraham's response to the king of Sodom likewise uses the name: "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath...." (Genesis 14:22)
Q1. (Genesis 14:19, 20, 22) What did Abraham and Melchizedek seem to believe in common about God Most High?
The Most High God (´El `Elyon)
Just who is this "God Most High"? Melchizedek's name for God is a pair of words, Hebrew ´el `elyôn (found also in Psalm 78:35). ´ēl, as we have seen, is the generic term for God. The Hebrew word `elyôn, means "most high," (from the root `ālā, "go up, climb, ascend). It expresses, "the exaltedness and overwhelming majesty of God. `elyôn, as a divine name signifying the supremacy of the deity, is known from both Ugaritic and Phoenician texts appearing there as epithets of the highest gods of the pantheons." Melchizedek sees ´El `Elyon as being "Creator of heaven and earth" (14:19b) in the same way as Abraham does (14:22) -- in other words, both Melchizedek and Abraham see ´El `Elyon as totally supreme over everything in earth and heaven,11-- total supremacy. This is trumpeted by the Psalmist:
"Let them know that thou alone,
whose name is the LORD,
art the Most High over all the earth." (Psalm 83:18)
Abraham clearly identifies ´El `Elyon with Yahweh in Genesis 14:22 and seems to welcome Melchizedek's blessing. Melchizedek is a priest serving the same God that Abraham himself serves. The question of Melchizedek's exact identity isn't important to this study.12
Supremacy and Monotheism
It's pretty clear that Abraham was a monotheist by this time; we just don't know enough about Melchizedek to know his belief system. But observe that Most High God could be a transitional term to describe the God that is greater than all other gods in a pantheon, if you believed in other gods.
In Abraham's Near Eastern world suzerain-vassal treaties were commonplace. A great king (suzerain) would conquer weaker kingdoms and extract pledges of allegiance -- and annual tribute -- from their kings (vassals). In return the suzerain had an obligation to protect vassal kingdoms in case they were attacked. The suzerain was known as the king of kings -- the king of all the other kings. In the Near East pantheon of gods there would be one which would be seen as superior to the others, the god of gods.
God revealed himself to Abraham as that Supreme King, God Most High. Thus Abraham no longer worshipped other gods but the Most High God only. The Ten Commandments require: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). Later God reveals full-blown monotheism, that these other so-called gods are not gods at all and have no power and that the LORD is the one and only God:
- "You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other." (Deuteronomy 4:35, cf. verse 39)
- "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deuteronomy 6:4)
- "See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me." (Deuteronomy 32:39)
- "Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD --
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth." (Psalm 83:18)
- "This is what the LORD says--
Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6)
- "So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4)
Most High in the Bible
The term "Most High" is found a number of places in both the Old and New Testaments, especially in the poetic books. A search of the RSV on "Most High" shows 110 references, some including combinations such as "God Most High" (´ēl `elyōn), the LORD Most High (YHWH `elyôn, Psalm 47:2; 97:9), and "God Most High" (´ĕlōhīm `elyōn, Psalm 57:2; 78:56). Most often the phrase "Most High" stands alone as the title of God. Here are a few well-known passages where the title occurs:
"The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire." (Psalm 18:13; "Most High," NIV, NRSV)
"You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty...." (Psalm 91:1)
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14, RSV) The NRSV interprets this "in the highest heaven."
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David ... The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God'" (Luke 1:32, 35).
"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways...." (Zechariah's prophecy in Luke 1:76)
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. (KJV "Highest") (Luke 6:35)
Other New Testament references include: Mark 5:7 = Luke 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17; and Hebrews 7:1.
Q2. Meditate on the title "Most High." What does it mean to you? How do you or will you incorporate it in your worship?
Concepts that Underlie the Most High God
One idea behind Most High God is supremacy of this God over all other gods. In Lesson 6, "God Our King," we'll consider other titles of supremacy -- God of gods, Lord of lords (Deuteronomy 10:17), and King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15). Our God is over all!
One of my favorite hymns, "Be Thou My Vision," recalls the ancient feudal structure that St. Patrick found when he brought Christianity to Northern Ireland. It was a patchwork of city-states, each with its petty king. The High King lived in Tara, who was over all the petty kings. In this ancient Irish poem, the unknown author addresses God using this terminology, which begins near the end of the third stanza and on into the fourth:
"Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heav'n's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."
The twin concepts in Most High God are found in a single verse -- supemacy and exaltation:
"For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods." (Psalm 97:9)
Exaltation carries the idea of being lifted up above all others, living on high. Here are some other titles, names, and metaphors that carry the idea of exaltation.
High and Lofty One
In Isaiah's prophecy, the Lord identifies himself as "the High and Lofty One."
"For thus says the high (rûm) and lofty (nāśā´) one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy...." (Isaiah 57:15, RSV)
Different Hebrew words are used, but we see the same idea of exaltation and being lifted up above all others. Twila Paris' song, "He Is Exalted" expresses this concept well:
He is exalted,
The King is exalted on high!
I will praise him.
He is exalted, forever exalted,
And I will praise his name!
He is the Lord,
Forever his truth shall reign.
Heaven and earth
Rejoice in his holy name.
He is exalted,
The King is exalted on high!13
So does "I Exalt Thee" by Pete Sanchez, Jr.
For Thou, O Lord, art high above all the earth
Thou art exalted far above all gods,
For Thou, O Lord, art high above all the earth
Thou art exalted far above all gods
I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, O Lord
I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, O Lord.14
Songs abound, taken from phrases in the Bible, such as "Make Mention That His Name Is Exalted" (Isaiah 12:4).
Q3. Meditate on the phrase "High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy...." (Isaiah 57:15, RSV). What do you learn about God from this phrase? How should this affect your outlook on life, your way of conducting yourself?
The Shekinah Glory of God
Another way of looking at exalting God is to focus on the idea of his glory (Hebrew kābōd, Greek doxa). The basic meaning is "to be heavy, weighty," that is :of substance, worthy of respect." Forty-five times this form of the root relates to a visible manifestation of God and whenever "the glory of God" is mentioned this usage must be taken account of. Its force is so compelling that it remolds the meaning of doxa from an opinion of men, in the Greek classics, to something absolutely objective in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and New Testament." God's overwhelmingly bright glory appears in a cloud (Exodus 16:10), fills the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), and Ezekiel's temple (Ezekiel 9:3). His glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3).15 A few times this idea is used as a title or metaphor of God:
"But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head." (Psalm 3:3)
In this verse extolling God's military prowess and protection, the Psalmist calls the Lord "my Glory." It is perhaps an adjectival description rather than a real title, but it expresses something of God's essence. Kidner comments that the phrase my glory "indicates the honor of serving such a master; perhaps, too, the radiance He imparts (cf. Psalm 34:5; 2 Corinthians 3:13, 18); certainly the comparative unimportance of earthly esteem, always transient and fickle."16 I see God as my Glory, the one I boast in, much as he is once called "the Pride of Jacob" (Amos 8:7).
A couple more descriptors may fit in this category:
"He who is the Glory17 of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind." (1 Samuel 15:29, "Strength of Israel," KJV)
"The Light of Israel will become a fire,
their Holy One a flame;
in a single day it will burn and consume
his thorns and his briers." (Isaiah 10:17, compare Psalm 27:2)
Here the Light18 of Israel is illumination. But Isaiah sees the Holy One as a burning lamp, a flame. His light is also a fire that will burn and consume his enemies, which are counted as mere thorns and briars.
The King of Glory
One striking title is "the King of glory." We'll treat the idea of kingship in Lesson 6, but here consider the exaltation that is represented by the title King of Glory, or glorious King, that is, the King whose is characterized by glory.
"Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!" (Psalm 24:7-10)
In the New Testament we see the phrase, possible a title, "Father of glory."
"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him...." (Ephesians 1:17).
Jesus is called "the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8). The glory of God is a huge theme in the Bible, but let's conclude with a couple more verses:
"Blessed be your glorious name,
and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise." (Nehemiah 9:5b)
"Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen." (Psalm 72:19)
Q4. Meditate on the titles "King of Glory" (Psalm 24:7-10) and "Father of glory" (Ephesians 1:17). What do they tell us about God? How should they affect our attitudes as we worship God? According to 2 Corinthians
3:18, how does God's glory come to fill our lives?
The Exalted God
Now available as in paperback and e-book formats. Includes Hebrew & Greek word studies, discussion questions and handouts for groups or classes, suggests songs, comprehensive with 120 core names, titles, etc., total of 219 varieties. Detailed index. Modestly priced. Buy your copy today.
We began with ´El and ´Elohim, the generic word for God and the plural form of God used widely in the Bible. Then we examined the next clear revelation of God to Abraham -- the Most High God (´El `Elyon) and traced this common title elsewhere in Scripture. Then we took the concept of the exaltation of God to the highest place and found it in the High and Lofty One, the Lord of Glory, and the Father of Glory. The New Testament idea of Christ as Head over all things stems from this concept.
As you worship God, never forget his supremacy and his exaltation. The strutting kings, princes, and politicians of this earth are mere men. Satan is not God's equal, but merely a created and rebellious angel. There is no god or demon that can begin to match our God. He is over all. And he is exalted! He is the Most High God and his glory spills over onto us as we behold him (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Most High God, King of kings and Lord of Lords! To realize that you in your exaltation are my God and seek to bless me boggles my mind. Teach me to worship and exalt you as you deserve. Help me to exult in you, O Most High. In Jesus' name, I call upon you. Amen.
Names of the Exalted God
This list is not comprehensive, as there are variations on some of these names, titles, and metaphors. Scripture references are given for only a few of the hundreds of occurrences, especially for God and Most High:
- God ('El, ´Elohim)
- Most High God (´El `Elyon)
- Most High
- God of Gods, Lord of lords
- King of kings
- High and Lofty One
- My Glory
- Pride of Jacob
- King of Glory
- Father of Glory
- Glory of Israel/Strength of Israel
- Light of Israel
Songs to Worship the Exalted God
Many, many praise and worship songs lift up our Exalted God. These are just a few. If you have a song in this category to suggest, please let me know (www.joyfulheart.com/contact/).
"Arise!" by Don Moen and Paul Baloche (©2003, Integrity's Hosanna! Music)
"Be Thou My Vision" ("High king of heaven...."), words are attributed to Dallan Forgaill, 8th Century, translated by Mary E. Byrne(1905), and versed by Eleanor H. Hull (1912). The tune is of Irish folk origin.
"Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty," words and music by Bob Fitts (©1984, Scripture in Song, a division of Integrity Music, Inc.)
"Blessed Be the Name of the Lord," words and music by Clinton Utterbach (©1989, Utterbach Music Inc./PolyGram)
"He Is Exalted, the King is Exalted on High," by Twila Paris (©1985, Straightway Music, a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing)
"I Exalt Thee" by Pete Sanchez, Jr. (©1977, Pete Sanchez, Jr., Admin. by Gabriel Music, Inc.)
"Lift up your Heads, O ye gates", chorus No.33 from Handel's Messiah (1741). Definitely for better choirs, but great to play for celebrative atmosphere.
"Lord Most High," words and music by Don Harris and Gary Sadler (©1996, Integrity's Hosanna! Music)
"Make Mention That His Name Is Exalted" (Isaiah 12:4).
"My Glory and the Lifter of My Head," by Ruth (Mae) McAlister (©1967, Ruth (Mae) McAlister)
Common Abbreviations https://www.jesuswalk.com/names-god/refs.htm
- Kidner, Genesis, p. 111. Sarai (Sarah) is the equivalent of sarratu, "queen," an Akkadian translation of a Sumerian name for Ningal, the female partner of the moon-god Sin. Milcah is the same as the name of the goddess Malkatu, the daughter of Sin. Laban means "white," or "white one," a poetic name for the full moon. (Hamilton, Genesis 1:363.)
- It may appear in Exodus 3:8 that God had never before been called Yahweh, but that clearly isn't the case. The revelation of I AM to Moses was new, but Yahweh had been worshipped by Abraham and his descendents and had found its way into the names of their children for generations. "In Exodus 6:3 the Lord explains to Moses that by his name Yahweh he had not been "known" to the patriarchs, meaning "know" (see yada') in its fullest sense: the name was in use (12:8; 15:2, 7, 8) but was not appreciated in the redemptive significance that it acquired under Moses. (J. A. Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name, cited in TWOT #484).
- Roland K. Harrison, "Abraham," ISBE 1:17.
- David W. Baker, "God, Names of," DOTP 359-368.
- Jack B. Scott, ´lh, TWOT #93.
- Baker, DOTP 360.
- Baker, DOTP 362.
- TWOT #93.
- Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Eerdmans, 1990), pp. 133-134. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Volume 1 (Eerdmans, 1965), p. 254, sees the wisdom in the traditional church interpretation "to regard the Lord as using the plural form to indicate that in the Speaker Himself there is a plurality of persons. Let us not fear to acknowledge that here is an adumbration of the doctrine of the Trinity, which in the New Testament receives its fuller revelation."
- Hamilton, Genesis 1:408.
- G. Lloyd Carr, TWOT #1624h; Stephen J. Andrews, "Melchizedek," DOTP 562-564; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (McGraw-Hill, 1961), p. 310. "Creator" (NIV), "maker" (NRSV), and "possessor" (KJV) is the Hebrew verb qānā, "get, acquire, create." Here the idea of "create" seems both possible and likely (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #2039 and Hamilton, Genesis 1:410-412).
- On the basis of the Messianic Psalm 110:2-4, some people state categorically that Melchizedek in the Old Testament is an appearance of Christ. Since the Scriptures themselves don't state it nearly so clearly, I think it is wiser to see Melchizedek as a type of Christ, an historical figure who had some things in common with the Messiah (see also Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10-11, 15, 17). Fortunately, the exact identity of Melchizedek isn't important to our study of the names of God.
- Words and music by Twila Paris, © 1985 Straightway Music (ASCAP) (a division of EMI Christian Music Publishing) / Mountain Spring Music. (Administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing).
- Words and Music by Pete Sanchez, Jr. ©1977 Pete Sanchez, Jr. (Admin. by Gabriel Music, Inc. PO Box 840999, Houston, TX. 77284-0999)
- John N. Oswalt, kābēd, TWOT #943e.
- Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 54.
- "Glory" (NIV, NRSV) and "strength" (KJV) is nēṣaḥ, which deontes "both 'brilliance' (yielding the connotations 'preeminence, surpassing, glory, victory, leadership') and 'endurance' (supplying 'longlasting, perpetual')" (Milton C. Fisher, nēṣaḥ, TWOT #1402).
- "Light" is ´ôr.
Copyright © 2023, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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