What is the meaning of Adonai?Adonai is one of the names of God used in the Old Testament. In most English translations of the Bible it is translated as "Lord" with lower case letters, whereas the name YHWH (Yahweh) is written as "LORD" with all capital letters. Adonai is a form of the word adon, which comes from a root word meaning "to rule." So adon means "lord or master." Adon was used for governing authorities such as kings (Daniel 1:10). It was used for military commanders (2 Kings 5:1), teachers or mentors (2 Kings 6:5), and even oldest brothers (Genesis 32:4). Of course, it was also used for employers and owners of servants and slaves (Genesis 24:65).
Adonai is a form of adon that is both plural and possessive. Since Adonai uses singular pronouns when it refers to God, we know that God is one master, not many. So rather than showing plurality, this plural ending is a literary device in Hebrew sometimes used to emphasize intensity. In other words, using the plural ending conveys that God is a "very great lord master." This sentiment is seen in Deuteronomy 10:17, "For the LORD (Yahweh) your God is God of gods and Lord (Adonai) of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God."
The possessive ending personalizes the relationship. So God is not merely "the very great lord master"—He is "MY very great lord master." It is a relationship that is personal, ongoing, and two-sided. He is my master and I am His servant. In biblical times, masters had a responsibility to protect, provide for, and promote their servants to earned positions of authority. Jewish servants were considered members of their masters' households. Psalm 123:2 shows this positive relationship between master and servant. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us." Some translations say "until He shows us favor" (HCSB) or "until He is gracious to us" (NASB).
Psalm 86 has many examples where God, using the name Adonai, is shown to be this gracious master. Perhaps the ultimate example from Psalm 86 is verse 5 "For you, O Lord (Adonai), are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." This verse shows that God is ready to be a gracious and loving master to all who call upon Him. Everyone is invited into this relationship to place God as his/her own personal "very great lord master" and to experience the benefits of having Him as his/her Adonai.
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