The great significance of what the characters of Scripture were called
Generally speaking, names have far greater significance in ancient society than in Britain today.
Exploring the meaning of the names of biblical characters and how that relates to unlocking theological truths is a fascinating exercise. Here then is a snapshot survey of some key Scripture names culminating with the Lord Jesus Christ, the name above all names.
The family of Adam
Some words in Hebrew and Greek are almost impossible to describe with a single English word. The name Adam means ‘red earth, dust, clay and man’. ‘Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living’ (Genesis 3.20). The Bible teaches that Adam was the first representative of the human race, formed from the dust and that the Lord Jesus is the Second Man and the Last Adam and that, as a result of Adam’s sin, sin entered the world and death spread to all men, yet through the Second Man, grace abounded to many (1 Corinthians 15.45-49; Romans 5.12-15).
Interestingly, the family of Adam, listed in Genesis 5, down to Noah, appears to outline the gospel message.
Adam Man; Seth appointed; Enosh mortal ; Cainan sorrow; Mahalel the blessed God; Jared shall descend; Enoch teaching; Methuselah his death shall bring; Lamech the despairing; Noah rest. Putting together the meanings we get, ‘man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God shall descend teaching, his death shall bring the despairing rest’. The inspired Scripture is very rich.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Abram was one of several individuals whose name God changed. Abram translates aslofty father, while Abraham means father of a multitude. Meanwhile, Sarai became Sarah, formerly a princess but becoming a princess of many nations. God named their son Isaac laughter, an on-going reminder of their reaction to his sovereign intervention. Isaac was one of the ‘seven’ who received a name by divine prophecy prior to birth, the others being Ishmael his half-brother, Solomon, Josiah, Cyrus, John the Baptist and Jesus. Not only would the previously-barren Abram and Sarai beget innumerable descendants, more crucially, the world would be blessed through the birth of the Messiah from their family line (Genesis 12.3; Acts 3.25-26).
Jacob received his new name while engaged in a wrestling bout with, as I understand it, Jesus in pre-incarnate form. For many years, Jacob lived up to his name as a crooked deceitful supplanter or trickster. Jacob spent most of his life wrestling with others. When he was born, he immediately grabbed Esau’s heel and then tricked him and their father to obtain the birthright. He almost met his match when Laban made him labour 14 years to obtain Rachel and he had his wages altered on no less than ten occasions. Interestingly, when Jacob struggled at Peniel (Genesis 32.24-30) and insisted on knowing his opponent’s name, God blessed him and Jacob’s name became Israel, which can mean straightened by God.
A friend like Ruth
What her name was, so was she. Ruth, the Moabitess, was faithful to her mother-in law saying: ‘Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be My people’ (Ruth 1.16).
Ruth’s great-grandson was David. His name means beloved and he is a type of Christ (God’s beloved Son), and a man whom God described as ‘a man after his own heart who would do all his will’ (Acts 13.22). In addition he was born in Bethlehem, and from his seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel the Saviour, Jesus.
Samuel and Eli
Do you ever struggle to hear from God? Ironically, Samuel the prophet (and the function of a prophet is a spokesperson or mouthpiece for God), whose name means heard orasked of God, thought his master Eli (which translates as my God) was calling him when it was actually God who was communicating with him!
This helps us to understand the confusion at Jesus’s crucifixion when he quoted Psalm 22.1 saying: ‘Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani, that is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27.46). Some present thought he was calling on Elijah, which translates as Elohim my Yahweh or God my God.
If you think God may have spoken to you, it would be wise to take a leaf from Samuel’s book, so to speak, and say: ‘Speak, for your servant hears’.
The root of salvation
The names Joshua, Isaiah and Hosea all have their root meaning salvation, which speaks of the Lord Jesus. Moses elected to call ‘Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua’ (Numbers 13.16). Hoshea denotes salvation though the name Joshua, has greater purpose and identity, Yahweh is salvation. Isaiah contains the highest number of Messianic prophesies and, in particular, Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant who was silent before his accusers, wounded for our transgressions, died with the wicked and was buried with the rich at his death. Hosea depicts God’s faithfulness to Israel and his call for them to repent from their idolatrous practises. God commanded Hosea to marry a harlot, demonstrating Israel’s spiritual adultery.
Before Joshua commanded Israel to take Jericho, he encountered the Commander of the army of the Lord in a similar way to that in which the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, instructing him to remove his sandals since the ground was holy (Joshua 5.15; Exodus 3.5). Like Samuel, Joshua did not immediately recognise the true identity of his visitor.
Notice that, in addition to Joshua being a clear type of the Lord Jesus, taking the children of Israel into the Promised Land, God met Joshua the leader and commander as his Leader and Commander. God promised Joshua that he would never leave him nor forsake him (Deuteronomy 31.6-8; Joshua. 1.6). It can seem overwhelming when Jericho approaches. Though whether in heaven or on earth, the Lord is ever present and will never leave nor forsake us also (Hebrews 13.5). If Joshua had been capable of providing rest, he would not have spoken of another day (Hebrews 4.8), hence the promise to enter into God’s eternal rest in Christ.
Jesus name above all names
Isaiah foretold a day when ‘Immanuel’ God would be with us and that he would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 7.14; 9.6) Noticeably, Joseph called Mary’s firstborn son Jesus, meaning Saviour.
Indeed, there is no greater name and Jesus’s claims caused great offence. When the Jews asked Jesus whether he was greater than their father Abraham, Jesus replied: ‘Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8.58). Not surprisingly they took up stones to throw at him since he was identifying himself as Yahweh who sent Moses to Pharaoh explaining himself as ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3.14). When Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd’, the Jews tried to stone him again because Psalm 23.1 states: ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. They sought to kill him also in John 5.18 deducing that saying that God was his father made him equal with God.
Jesus truly is the name above all names and ‘there is no name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4.12). ‘Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2.9-11).
Jon Taylor is a member of the FIEC Pastors Association and a researcher for the Reachout Trust.
This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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