What’s in a Name?

by Lester Young

Ever heard that expression before?  In today’s world, it’s a phrase that really sort of implies a state of ‘limited importance,’ if any importance at all.  In other words, “It’s just a ‘name,’ no big deal – it’s just what we call it.”  But, a long time ago, ‘what you call it’ was a big deal – a very big deal.  In fact, it was crucial.

In the Old Testament, for example, the names that people were given very often had specific meanings.  Take Abram, whose name literally translates to ‘high father.’  (No, people, not that kind of ‘high’ – high as in lofty or exalted, okay?)  But then God changed his name to Abraham, which means ‘father of a multitude’ (or, ‘of many nations’), which was a perfect description of what the LORD had appointed him to become.  And, when his twin grandsons were born, the older one was called Esau (which means ‘rough’ [to the touch]) because he came out hairy all over and reddish in color; the younger was named Jacob (meaning ‘heel-catcher’ or supplanter) because, well, at the time of the births he had hold of Esau’s heel.  Such descriptive names are known as appellations, which give insight into an individual’s personality, character, position or authority.  So, you could say that those folks tended to be just what their names implied.

Now, recall Moses for a moment.  While he was standing there wigging out in front of that burning bush (Exodus 3:3-6), He decided to ask the Name of the Person Who was talking to him and sending him on a quest to Egypt – which, as far as I can tell, was a pretty reasonable question given the circumstances.  He received a very curious answer: the LORD told him, “I AM WHAT [or THAT] I AM.”  Given the weight that appellations carried back then, a response like that can only lead us to try to find out God’s Name, and exactly what it means.

Fortunately, the Scriptures (as always) have the information we’re looking for.  The Hebrew word that we in the West translate as ‘JEHOVAH’ means [the] Self-Existent or Eternal [One].  It’s also translated as ‘LORD,’ when being used as a proper name (as if, for example, you were to address your father by calling him ‘Dad’).  And, although this Name certainly tells us about our God – that He exists of Himself and not from anyone or anything else; and that He has no beginning or end, but will simply always ‘be’ – there’s much more we can learn about His character from additional scriptural Titles.  As a matter of fact, a victorious walk here on earth requires that we “know His Name” (Psalm 91:14).

The Bible gives us five descriptive Names of the LORD God:

  • JEHOVAH-JIREH (Genesis 22:14), which literally means ‘Jehovah will see [to it];’ the more commonly heard translation being ‘the LORD my Provider.’
  • JEHOVAH-NISSI (Exodus 17:15), ‘Jehovah is my Banner’ (a token, sign, standard or flag).  His banner (or standard) over us, by which we are known, and which we should always display to the world, is Love (Song of Solomon 2:4; Psalm 60:4).
  • JEHOVAH-SHALOM (Judges 6:24), ‘Jehovah is my Peace’ (and, just for the record, ‘peace’ means safety, welfare, good health and prosperity in addition to a peaceful relationship both with God and people).
  • JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16), ‘Jehovah is my Right’ (or, rightness, the condition of being right; that is, righteousness, in right-standing with God).  This Name is also a symbolic epithet referring both to Jerusalem and to the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH (Ezekiel 48:35), ‘Jehovah is there’ (pointing to Jerusalem).  This Title, too, is a symbolic nickname for Jerusalem.

These Names not only give us a very complete overall picture of just who God is, but also what He is for us.  Putting them all together, we come up with ‘the Self-Existent Eternal God: He provides for all my needs, He is my Standard to live by, which is Love; He’s my peace, safety, health, prosperity and overall good welfare; I am right in Him; and He can be found in the holy city of Jerusalem (which, allegorically, is the New Testament – Galatians 4:24-26; Revelation 21:2).  ‘WHAT HE IS,’ then (referring to His Name “I AM”), is all of these things, and that’s an exceedingly valuable package indeed!

So, what’s in a name?  As it turns out, looks like everything is.

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