Most ancient cultures worshiped many gods, not just one. Often the word el (god) was combined with a descriptive word or words that would identify a god's attributes or characteristics. We find the God of the Bible referenced in this way too. One such name is El Elyon. With Elyon in Hebrew meaning highest or most high, the combination El Elyon simply means God Most High or the highest God of all.
In the most high position, the Hebrew God was believed by His people to be sovereign over all. Throughout Scripture we find verses that speak of the sovereignty of God and just what He rules over as God Most High. This list includes: fertility (1 Samuel 1:5-6), life and death, wealth, foundations of the earth, the saints and the wicked alike (1 Samuel 2:6-10), light and darkness, prosperity and disaster (Isaiah 45:7), His purposes and plans, (Isaiah 46:9-11), time and the seasons, kings, secrets, wisdom (Daniel 2:20-23), and more. Only the highest God could rule over all this, over all, and sometimes this God that is Most High can seem a bit too high. Too far out of earshot. Too distant to see the struggles of His weary, creation.
Sometimes when I seek answers from this Most High God, the heavens are stoically quiet. So high is He, El Elyon seems quite content to not explain Himself. And according to Isaiah 55:8-9, perhaps it would make very little difference if He did.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
I am coming to realize as I continue this long walk of faith, that even should He condescend to explain His purposes and plans to me, the odds are awfully long that I would understand them anyway. He is so far above me, so much higher than me, so beyond me in His ways and His thoughts there is very little I really understand. My mind is so very small and my thoughts woefully low.
But Isaiah 55:8-9 takes on a different kind of beauty if we back up to verses six and seven and give the passage some context:
“Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.”
This is just one of the many ways God’s thoughts and ways are higher than mine. Did you catch it? He will forgive generously. My thoughts and ways are often not nearly this high. I don’t always forgive generously. I hold on to hurts, gnawing on the bones of the past. I don’t always show mercy. Sometimes I want a pound of flesh because my flesh demands it. Low thoughts. Low ways.
But the psalmist rejoiced that El Elyon’s ways are higher still. Psalm 78:35 says, “They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.”
Only the highest God can redeem. Only the highest God will redeem. Only El Elyon shows mercy to an undeserving people. Only the Most High God forgives generously.
But to do it, El Elyon had to come low. He came so low as to dwell among us, called Son of the Most High by the angel who announced Him to His mother and the demons who cowered in His presence. The Most High God humbled Himself and became one of us, taking on flesh. Leaving the splendor of heaven, He subjected Himself to the ridicule of the religious leaders. He lowered Himself to wash the filthy feet of His disciples while they argued over who was the greatest among them. Betrayed by one friend, abandoned by the others, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, tortured for sport, the Most High endured a lowly criminal’s death and all the shame that went with it.
And so we would not miss the point of His high thoughts and high ways, He neatly boiled it down. The crux of His call is as high as it is clear:
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Loving enemies. Kindness undeserved. Forgiving generously. Mercy poured out without reservation….
High thoughts. High ways.
God Most High came very low indeed. But that is often the cost of high ways and high thoughts. That is what our redemption cost. There was no other way. Only the Most High God would come so very low.
How else would ever reach us?