Elyon and the ancient Hebrew poets

Elyon (‘God Most High’) is one of the biblical names for God. Not as common as Yahweh or El, but I think we need to look hard at the uncommon in the Bible – because rarities can characterize early as well as late texts.

This divine name, Elyon, always appears in the Bible in the most beautiful prophetic and poetic fragments; we never find it admixed with those tedious lines of racial narrative and high-priestly detail. I think poetry works better than prose to preserve a revelation in relatively unadulterated state. Its fixed structure is more resistant to redaction by later editors, because it is more difficult to adapt or change than a line of narrative.

The Elyon poetry is represented in strata of all three high watermarks in Israel’s recorded history of relation to God – from the time of Abraham (Gen 14:18), to that of Moses (Det 32:8), as well as David (2 Sam 22:14). It is used for God’s name in 11 of the Psalms. In fact the Elyon tradition extends down to the late Second Temple apocalyptic writings, where we read Daniel proclaiming that “the saints of Elyon shall receive the kingdom” (Dan 7:18).

And it doesn’t stop there; the evangelist Luke includes a tradition which identifies Jesus as ‘Son of Elyon’ (Lk 1:32) and the Baptist as ‘prophet of Elyon’ (1:76). Finally, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews ties is all together by linking the divine Son with the ‘order of Melchizedek’ (Heb 7:1). Remember Melchizedek was a bread-breaking and wine-sharing priest of Elyon who was ‘without generation’ – and we should not forget that he was the recipient of Abraham’s tithe (Gen 14:18).

So Elyon – the Most High – has a nice even spread of representation in the best poetic writing in the Bible. Like the more famous divine names, Jahweh and El, this Elyon takes its place as a distinct theological tradition of poet-prophets whose teaching stretched from the Patriarchal era to the days of the Savior himself.