Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's in a name?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Isaiah 7:17-8:4

TO CHEW ON: "Then I went to the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, 'Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.'" Isaiah 8:3

In yesterday's reading the new mother was to give her son the name Immanuel. In today's God tells Isaiah and his wife to name their newborn Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning "speed the spoil, hasten the booty"—a prophecy that Assyria would soon plunder Syria and Israel, Judah's enemies).

Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible says about naming:
"Names were very important in the world of the Old Testament. Each Hebrew name has a meaning and it became an important part of the infant's life. Jewish people believed that they must first know a person's name before they could know the person himself. We only have to look at the name Jacob, which means "heel grabber" to see the importance of a name. To know Jacob's name was to know his basic character! Therefore the act of choosing a name for an infant was a serious responsibility." p. 445

Bible-time parents didn't choose names only to designate character traits. Ichabod's mother picked his name in memory of the events around his birth (1 Samuel 4:21).

Parents sometimes chose names of animals for their babies (Rachel = sheep; Deborah = bee), or gave them popular names (there are twelve Obadiah's in the Old Testament) and then had to distinguish their child from others by adding the child's father or hometown to the name (e.g. David's father was called Jesse the Bethlehemite).

Many Bible names are theophoric, i.e. have a divine name joined to a verb or noun thus making a descriptive phrase (Jonathan = the Lord has given; Elijah: my God is the Lord).

I don't recall women of my generation attaching a great deal of significance to name meanings. We picked names for our children that we liked the sound of and then checked their meanings more as a matter of curiosity than anything. Or we named our kids after significant people in our families or society. We certainly didn't make the naming of our children a huge prayer concern or pick their names by divine decree.

But Isaiah did. Giving his son the ungainly name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was part of his obedience as a prophet. His willingness to listen to God in even the things that would normally be his own choice shows to what extent he had given himself to God.

I ask myself, have I committed my life to God with the same completeness? Is He Lord of even the tiniest details, the areas I would ordinarily assume are up to me?

PRAYER: Dear God, please show me areas in my life which I assume are my business. Help me acknowledge Your lordship over every aspect of life. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. The liturgy begins with this Collect:
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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