Friday, January 26, 2024

Are names significant?

All Photos courtesy of Unsplash

The name of Caesar Augustus


The Roman Emperor who was in power when Jesus was born had many titles some of which have a strange similarity to those given to Jesus. The Roman Caesars made claims to deity that the Bible teaches only God can make. For instance, Caesar Augustus was  known as the Blessed One, the Anointed One (the Messiah), the  Pax Romana - The one who brings peace, the Pontifex (i.e. the Priest). He was regarded as a god and claimed that at the age of 17 he could bring men to God. He was also called the Divine Son of God in 42 BC at the age of 21. History shows  that the claims to be divine were not supported by lifestyle, behaviour or power.  


The claims that Jesus is God revealed in the flesh have been substantiated time and time again by eyewitness records to his perfect life, miraculous powers and glorious resurrection. 

Names are significant in Western culture.   


Parents choose names for their children after much thought and discussion. For the rest of a person's life, he/she is identified by the name he/she was given before birth. Proverbs 22:1, ‘A good name is more desirable than great riches.’ In the biblical world, a good name meant more than even a good reputation, because it identified the character of the person carrying it.  




There are three aspects of names and naming:  

1.    a name identifies the character of the person; 

2.    to name someone means the namer knows or understands the named; and 

3.    to name someone implies   the namer has authority over the named.




In the ancient Near East, a person's name identified something about the person's character or his circumstances (e.g., birth or family). Isaac's name, "he laughs", described the response of Sarah, his mother, when God told her she would give birth even though she was elderly. Moses' name, from the Hebrew "to draw out", was given to him after he was pulled from the Nile River. The angel told Mary to name her baby Jesus (actually Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua or Joshua), from the Hebrew ‘to save’ or ‘saviour ‘, because ‘he will save his people from their sins,’ Matt. 1. 21.




To name someone implies that the namer understands enough about the person and their circumstances to describe them. Adam, the first man, named the creatures of the earth. This meant he understood each one clearly enough to define its character and function. Our word 'classify' comes close to the activity of naming. So, when God tells us ‘I know you by name,’ Exo. 33. 17, it means more than that he recognizes us individually. Instead, it indicates that he understands thoroughly who and what we are. We will now look at the final aspect of the naming process.   



To name someone or something also implies that the namer has authority over the named. God changed Abram's name to Abraham in Genesis 17 verse 5 because God had authority over him. Pharaoh renames Joseph for the same reason, Gen. 41. 45. This aspect of the naming process proved significant for the Hebrews when it came to their knowing and using God's name. 



To use God's name meant one understood something of his essential character and being, that one could identify and understand (know) him. But God is the sovereign Creator of the universe. God existed before anyone or anything. Who among his creatures truly realized who he is? And who has authority over him? Only God can understand his being enough to name himself, and he alone has the power to do it.       


It was Moses who finally dared to ask God to give himself a name. In the Book of Exodus, Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell  them?," Exo. 3. 13. God answered Moses by revealing his name to him.   








The Israelites were afraid to use God's name because they might use it in ways that he had not revealed. Instead, they called him Lord’ (Hebrew: Adonai), ‘God (Hebrew: Elohim), The Name’ (Hebrew: Ha-Shem), or by some other title. After they returned from the Babylonian Captivity (ca. 500 BC), they refused to use God's name at all, out of respect and fear for what it represented ‘the holy God's self’ description. The people said Adonai whenever the sacred name was intended.




Modern Christians use Jehovah because they believe it is the name God gave himself. Many other believers use Yahweh because it is closer to the Hebrew original. The main point is to recognize that only God can understand and describe himself. We are dependent upon his revelation of his nature to understand him. Therefore, we must use his name carefully. Using it to refer to things other than God, such as when we swear, is, in effect, to claim authority over God. That was Adam and Eve's sin and what caused them, and their descendants, to be exiled from the Garden of Eden.


The biblical characters whose names included reference to God, and whose very identities pointed to God, should be our role models. What they did with their names, we must do with our lives. Every aspect of our characters, our very identities, must speak of the living God so that the world may know that he alone is God.


Praise God that he revealed his name to us and granted us the privilege of using it for his glory!


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