“LORD” and “Lord”
I know that in the Old Testament God’s title “LORD” stands for “Jehovah” and that “Lord” is “Adonai.” But what exactly is the difference between them?
The difference between these two titles, (as well as between “LORD” and God’s other names and titles), is something that God began to pointedly explain to Israel when He began to educate them in what His name “Jehovah” is all about. And God began to do this when He brought them out of Egypt. It began with Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, as recorded in Exodus 3, and it continued on until God brought them to Mount Sinai. During this time God told Moses to use “my name JEHOVAH,” and in so doing He explained its meaning and significance.
Now as God told Moses, the name literally means “I am that I am” and also “I am ____ ,” where the blank space remains to be filled in. In accordance with this the name “Jehovah,” or “LORD,” primarily conveys how that God is both graciously willing to be, and fully able to be, whatever Israel needs Him to be. In other words, the ‘blank space’ is like a ‘carte blanche.’ It can be filled in with the name of some particular need that Israel has, (something they cannot do for themselves), and God is saying that He will undertake for them to become, or provide for, the fulfilling of that need.
Now God Himself identifies and manifests Israel’s specific needs. And in so doing He gives them 7 specific ‘Jehovah compound names,’ by which He ‘fills in the blank’ for them after the “I am.” (For example, He composed the names ‘Jehovah-jireh’ and ‘Jehovah-nissi,’ in connection with being their Redeemer and their Victory.) God, therefore, fills in the blank with a description of Himself being something for Israel, and thereby declares how that He Himself will undertake for them to meet the specified need that they have.
So very simply stated, this is what God’s name “Jehovah” is all about. Hence every time “LORD” in all capital letters is used, it denotes that God is using His name “Jehovah” with Israel, and He is doing so in accordance with what the name should mean to them having educated them in its meaning and significance.
Now the other title “Lord,” (capital “L” followed by lowercase “ord”), is more basic in meaning. It is primarily used when God wants to signify and stress what is true of Him being not only God in general, but being Israel’s God and Maker in particular.
What “Lord”/“Adonai” signifies and stresses first and foremost is the issue of God being the sovereign ruler over all things. Being God, (and as such the Creator of all), He is naturally “Lord of all.” He is creation’s sovereign ruler, and He is also the owner and possessor of all things. As such God is also the one to whom all creation is accountable. Hence He is “Lord.”
However God is also Israel’s God and Maker in particular. And as their “Lord” He is the one to whom they are to render exclusive and faithful service, especially in contradistinction to the idolatry of the nations and their lords.
There are other matters involved in each of these titles, but these are the basic issues that are either being stressed, focused upon, or simply denoted, in contexts in which “LORD” or “Lord” is the title that God uses.
– K.R. Blades
Note: the following two questions and answers deal with some further matters regarding the use of God’s name “Jehovah.”
- Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 6:3
- John 6:53–57