Last week we looked at the names of the main people mentioned in the Sabbath School lesson to see how there was often a story behind the story. Let’s do a few more this week, remembering that names meant more in the ancient world than they generally do in our time and culture. (My main, but not only reference, for the meaning of these names is http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning)
David means “Beloved” or “Beloved one.” A fitting name for a man who was admired by God for his heart (1 Sam. 13:14; 16:7; Acts 13:22). David’s heart had great capacities for courage (Goliath), worship (Michal), honor (Saul), and repentance (Nathan; Psalm 51), as well as rage (Nabal) and lust (Bathsheba). Jeremiah 17:9 warns us not to trust our hearts, because we are so liable to let our Goliath episodes deceive us into thinking we’re incapable of having Bathsheba escapades. David’s life shows us that the passion of love must be balanced with the principle of love. Interesting to note that King David is the only David named in the Bible. Sometimes noteworthy people inspire many to name their children in their honor (there’s more than one Joshua in the Bible, for example). In other instances, it’s the ultimate honor for parents to refrain from naming their offspring after people like David. He’s the one and only. Furthermore, the anticipated Messiah was to be known as “Son of David.”
Goliath’s meaning according to some is “Conspicuous,” and to others, “Exile.” Given his physical dimensions, I certainly trend toward conspicuous! Already a giant, his appearance was even more menacing as the sun’s rays ricocheted off of his armor every morning and evening for over a month. Imagine the shadow he cast at the hours of day when shadows are at their longest. Something else that made his morning and evening challenges conspicuous is that they coincided with the cycle of morning and evening sacrifices. Is there a Goliath interrupting your worship and challenging your trust in God? Are you even more terrified by his shadows than the giant himself? Has the brightness glancing of his armor instilled fear where there should be faith? Have you allowed yourself to be tricked into taking his insults personally, when they’re really directed toward God? David’s courage was ignited because he seemed to be the only one to recognize that it wasn’t his power and honor being tested, but God’s.
Bathsheba has two alternate meanings that seem unrelated at first glance, “Daughter of an Oath,” and “Daughter of Seven.” However, if we consider the story of Abraham’s surrendering of seven ewes to Abimelech to ratify their oath of peace, then we can see a better linguistic and cultural connection between “sheba” (masculine noun for seven) and “shaba” (feminine verb for to swear or take an oath). Whether she felt pressured or elated by the circumstances of her introduction to King David, she certainly didn’t live up to her oath to Uriah. And how many oaths did David break as he stole the wife of one of his closest friends and mightiest of his warriors (2 Samuel 23:8-39 & 1 Chronicles 11:10-47)?
Elijah combines two powerful names for God, El (usually translated as God) and Jah (or Yah, short for Yahweh/Jehovah. Most often translated LORD in the KJV). The meaning is then, “Yahweh/Jehovah is God” (For the purists and conspiracy theorists, I won’t entertain arguments about the true rendition of the tetragrammaton at this venue). There couldn’t have been a better name for the prophet who demanded an end to syncretism (the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions). It was time for the people to stop mingling service to Yahweh with worship of Baal. They needed to be decisive. If Yahweh is God, follow Him. If Baal is God, follow him (1 Kings 18:21). God had been working through the very name of the prophet to quicken the conscience of His people. Every time the king, queen, soldiers, and even the priests of Baal mentioned Elijah’s name, it was a reminder that Jah/Yah is God! Are there some people in your life, whose presence, or name, or memory quickens your conscience and reminds you of Who you’re supposed to be worshipping and serving?
Hezekiah means “Yahweh strengthens,” or “Strength of the Lord.” There are two main episodes of Hezekiah’s life that demonstrate the difference between depending on God’s strength and strutting your own stuff. When the Assyrian King, Sennacherib, went too far with his boasts and threats, Hezekiah finally trusted in God. Prior to that defining moment, Hezekiah had leaned on his own understanding by attempting to appease Sennacherib with silver and gold (2 Kings 18:14-16). As almost a last resort, Hezekiah prayed to God to vindicate His own name and by extension, the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 19:15-19). The result was Yahweh sending an angel to destroy 185,000 enemy troops in one night! However, Hezekiah reverted to materialism when visited by Babylonian ambassadors. Rather than boasting about God’s deliverance and healing, he showed off his stuff. The result? Babylon became envious of Jerusalem’s goods, but was indifferent to their God. Hezekiah was told that his failure to show off God’s strength would lead to the Babylonians returning to get the stuff he displayed to them (2 Kings 20). Do you glory in your wisdom or wealth, or do you glory in the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24)?
Esther was a common Persian word meaning “Star” and is akin to Ishtar (Ashtoreth in the Hebrew—Babylon’s primary female deity). Esther’s name change from Hadassah (Myrtle—a shrub with fragrant, white flowers used for perfume) could have been very much like the name changes Daniel and his friends received from the courts of Babylon. Theirs was a calculated move to assimilate them into their new culture and break her allegiance with the God of her homeland. It is worth noting that Mordecai probably experienced a name change as well, since it closely resembles Marduk, one of Babylon’s premier gods. No matter what the Persian intent may have been, Esther’s new name had other possibilities in Hebrew, “She Searches Out Evil,” or “I am a Hiding Place.” Esther’s presence at the palace truly did serve as a hiding place for her people to escape annihilation, didn’t it? She also helped the king search out evil that he had inadvertently endorsed.
Nehemiah can have a few variants to it: The Lord is Comfort, The Lord has Comforted, Comfort of the Lord. Nehemiah’s story reminds us that comfort doesn’t come easily or automatically. It was Nehemiah’s dis-comfort with the degrading conditions of Jerusalem and the people’s acquiescence to the status quos that served as a catalyst for creating the kind of change needed to bring true comfort. It wasn’t God’s design that they be comfortable in that setting. Nehamiah responded to the call described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “creative maladjustment” (in his speech at the American Psychological Association's 1967 convention). An excerpt of it states, “I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will.”
Does the spiritual, physical, educational, judicial, and economic state of people around you call you to creative maladjustment? Are there some things that you are comfortable with, that God is not? Do you ever feel God creating discomfort within you, so that you might bring comfort to your surroundings? Do you feel that the job of comforting is for the Lord alone? What if Nehemiah would have just prayed about the conditions and people of Jerusalem, then reset his personal comfort button like a snooze alarm?
What’s in your name?
Pastor Carl McRoy serves as the Publishing Director of the South Atlantic Conference of SDA