Biblical vocabulary: עֶלִיוֹן (The Most High)

Last updated on March 3, 2022

Biblical vocabulary - The Most High

This time we consider the word עֶלִיוֹן, pronounced ‘elyon’. As an adjective it has the general meaning: highest, upper. For example, it is used with regard to the location of a city: “Upper Beth-horon” (Joshua 16:5), or with regard to the position of something, such as “the uppermost basket” (Genesis 40:17), “the upper gate of the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:35), or “the upper court” (Jeremiah 36:10).

The word ‘elyon’ appears 53 times in the Hebrew Bible. However, the word has a remarkable function, because of all the times that ‘elyon’ occurs, it is used 31 times with a special meaning with regard to the Lord God: Most High, Exalted, Most Exalted. It is noticeable that ‘elyon’ concerning God only appears in poetic texts, predominantly in the Psalms. In that sense it can be said that ‘elyon’ is a poetic word used in poetry to God’s glory!

Honorary title and form of address

When ‘elyon’ is used with regard to God, the word starts functioning as proper name, honorary title, nomination, designation or form of address: ‘elyon’, the Most-High and Most Exalted. By title, ‘elyon’ describes the Lord as the Most-High God who dwells in the highest, the God of heaven and earth, the Exalted One who is enthroned above the whole universe (Psalm 83:18; Deuteronomy 32:8). We also hear this recognition of the Lord as the Most Exalted above and over everything and everyone in the words of the psalmist who confesses: “For You, O Lord, are ‘elyon’/Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 97:9).

David describes the Lord as the Almighty God who asserts himself and makes himself heard: “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the ‘elyon’/Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire” (Psalm 18:13).

As a form of address, ‘elyon’ functions as a holy name of God that the believer may cry out in faith: “I cry out to God ‘elyon’/Most High, to God Who fulfills His purpose for me” (Psalm 57:2). We joyfully sing along with the psalmist: “I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O ‘elyon’/Most High” (Psalm 9:2).

We may also make our peace-offerings to the Most Exalted One and even make promises to Him. The Scriptures call on us to be faithful and to live up to what we have promised: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to ‘elyon’/ the Most-High…” (Psalm 50:14).

The Lord is not always recognized as the Most High

Unfortunately, the Lord is not always recognized and confessed as the Exalted One, and one can stray from Him. Psalm 78 teaches us that mankind can sin and rebel against ‘elyon’/the Most-High (Psalm 78:17, 56).

Israel’s history shows us that there is always a way back through reflection and repentance: “they remembered that God was their rock, the ‘elyon’/Most High God their redeemer” (Psalm 78:35). Disobedience to the Exalted One and rejection of his Word always leads to pain and grief, as Psalm 107 teaches us: “for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of ‘elyon’/the Most-High” (Psalm 107:11).

But the Most Exalted God hears and redeems who repentantly calls to Him: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:13).

‘Elyon’ as an expression of God’s omnipotence and exaltation

As a title and as God’s name, ‘elyon’/the Most High is the expression of God’s omnipotence and absolute superiority, universality, omnipresence, sovereignty, royal rule and majesty: “For the Lord, ‘elyon’/the Most-High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2). Similarly, the glorious exaltation of the city of God and “the holy habitation of the Most-High” are also spoken of (Psalm 46:4).

Even a king like Nebuchadnezzar had to acknowledge that the Lord is the “Most High God” who preserves his own people (Daniel 3:26; 4:2). Even the great ones of the earth must finally recognize that “the Most-High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will” (Daniel 4:32: cf. Daniel 5:21).

Hiding with the Most High

As the title of God, ‘elyon’ expresses safety, protection, steadfastness and certainty to the believer who seeks and calls on Him. With God ‘elyon’ is a place of protection for Israel, shelter for every believer who may reside as helpless “in the shelter of the Most-High” and take refuge in Him (Psalm 91:1,9). A small, fearful and humble person may feel safe and hidden with ‘elyon’/the Exalted One.

That is reason for songs of faith and thanksgiving: “I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O ‘elyon’/Most High” (Psalm 9:2). “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Your name, O ‘elyon’/Most High” (Psalm 92:1). We may sing to the Exalted One: “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the ‘elyon’/Most High” (Psalm 7:17).

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