Stories Behind the Stories: What’s in a Name?

We only need to read about a few people in Genesis (Jacob, Israel; Abram, Abraham; Sarai, Sarah; Isaac, etc.) to realize that names meant a lot to people in that culture. They didn’t just see how imaginative they could be by spelling an old name in a new way or name their children after popular cars. Names were based on character traits they either desired or observed in the child. Sometimes, they would name their children based on the circumstances of the birth. Let’s see what’s behind the names of the people in this week’s biographical sketches.

Barak means “to kneel, bless.” It’s interesting how people automatically associate our president with being Muslim because of his name. It doesn’t take very much depth to see that Barack is derived from Barak? Anyway, how does Barak’s name correspond with his role and actions in Judges 4 and 5? Is he too ready to kneel and too reluctant to stand?  Chapter 5 is a song of victorious rejoicing. How many times does the word bless appear?

Deborah means “bee.” What are bees known for most? Honey and stinging, right? Honey was a precious commodity since it was the only sweetener of the ancient world. It is interesting that we meet Deborah the Prophet and Judge near the place where Deborah the Nurse was buried (Judges 4:5; Genesis 24:59, 61 & 35:8). The first Deborah fed milk to Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife. The second Deborah fed the word of God, which is compared to honey in many places (Ps. 119:103), to the Israelites. The scroll God gave Ezekiel to eat tasted like honey. The Israelites said the manna they ate in the wilderness tasted like honey, which Jesus compared Himself to (John 6:31-35). It seems the land of milk and honey had richer promises than its beneficiaries first understood. In what way(s) did Deborah demonstrate the ability to sting?

Midianites were offspring of Abraham, when he took Keturah as his wife after Sarah died (Genesis 25:1-4). They seemed to relate fine with the sons of Ishmael (Abraham’s son via Hagar), but had a rocky history with the offspring of Isaac. It seems that both the Ishmaelites and Midianites were involved with Joseph’s purchase and resale into slavery—bad. However, it was to Midian that Moses found refuge from Egypt—good. His father in law was a worshipper and priest of the true God. A Midianite, Hobab, was a relative of Moses through marriage and assisted in guiding the Israelites through the wilderness—good. Yet, there were Midianites that joined the Moabites (remember who their father was and how they’re related to Abraham? Gen. 19:30-38) in conspiring against the Israelites as they traveled toward the Promised Land—bad. Again, in Judges 6, the Midianites are harassing the Israelites. How often does the great controversy theme play out through your family relationships? Are you in danger of setting things in motion that will plague your children?

Gideon means “hewer,” “hacker,” “feller,” or “cutter.” What is it we see Gideon doing when the angel meets him? Threshing wheat—separating the grain from the rest of the plant that he had just cut down. What was the first thing Gideon was called to do? Cut down the altar of Baal and the Asherah shrine. Then, of course, he cut down the Midianites in battle. Gideon even cut some switches to discipline some elders in Judges 8! Unfortunately, Gideon led his people toward idolatry once again toward the end of chapter 8. Had Gideon forgotten his conversation with the angel, who explained why his people were being oppressed by the Midianites? Or did he think that the shrine he set up was different? How can we be so zealous on one point of faith and so negligent of rebellious on another point?

Samson means “man of the sun,” or “sun man.” Curious name for a special child given there were so many people serving some form of a sun god in that day. Did the angel who announced his birth have a bright appearance, thus inspiring the name? Was it inspired by the same Spirit that referred to the coming Messiah as the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2)? Was the lifelong Nazarite vow to have him reflect God’s holiness to such a degree that the light of his life would be like the sun in a dark world? I have no idea. Perhaps we’ll never know what might have been since his rebellious actions eclipsed his parent’s training. The great controversy is built upon the fact that God gives us choices, no matter how specifically He outlines how we should live and what direction our lives should take. It is also filled with hope that even when we mess up real bad, God is able to forgive and do mighty things through us. How ironic that the last years of the sun man were spent in darkness!

Ruth means “friend,” or “companion” (according to most scholars, yet there’s a variety of other options). It is easy for us to see that the commonly accepted meaning fits the character of the foreigner who’s famous for telling her former mother in law, “your people will be my people and your God my God.” But where is she from? Moab?! Don’t they have a horrible history with Israelites? It gets even more interesting when we ask, “Who was Boaz’s mother?” Matthew 1:6 says it was Rahab! No matter how the devil tries to prove people unworthy and unable to be saved, God shows his love and mercy in amazing ways. Has it occurred to you that the main reason for the book of Ruth is to show how God was preserving the seed, the bloodline, of the one who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15)? But think of another lesson of the book—Elimelech (God is King) took Naomi (pleasant) and their two sons from Bethlehem (House of Bread) to Moab in search of food. He and his sons, Mahlon (sickly, invalid) and Chilion (failing, pining, wasting away) died there. So much for a better life by moving to an area God your King tells you not to go! Naomi was so depressed as she left Moab that she was going to change her name from Pleasant to Mara (bitter). As we learn, desperate times did not last in Judah, as evidenced by the well to do Boaz and the other of kinsman who was eligible to buy Elimelech’s land. God restocked the House of Bread. What if Elimelech had trusted in the Lord instead of leaning on his own understanding? Maybe his name or his son’s names would appear in Matthew 1?

Samuel means “heard of God,” and was given by his mother because only God could hear the whole prayer of 1 Samuel 1:10-13. Isn’t it interesting that Samuel’s first encounter with God wasn’t through what he saw, but what he heard? After all, “He didn’t say, show me Lord because your servant seeth.” Although 1 Sam. 3:15 speaks of a vision, it was the spoken word of God that Samuel was careful not to let fall to the ground (verse 19). Heard of God, practically speaking, became Heard from God. Unfortunately, Samuel seems to follow the flawed fatherhood practices of Eli by not restraining his sons and training them to be wise, fair leaders. Although he delivered the word of God condemning Eli’s practices, he didn’t adhere to this word in his own life. Why does God’s word sometimes seem so much clearer when applying to others rather than ourselves?

Pastor Carl McRoy serves as the Publishing Director for the South Atlantic Conference of SDA

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