What’s in a Name?

Names are important, as is illustrated by expectant parents pouring over lists of potential names for their child, often accepting or rejecting one after another as they look up an inherent origin and meanng.

Names are even more important than many of us realize, as is illustrated throughout the Bible. Time and again, God either instructs what a name is to be or changes one to conform to the sybolic meaning He desires. Consider these examples:

  • Abram (many) became Abraham (father of a multitude), and his wife Sarai (contentious) was re-named Sarah (princess)
  • Jacob (holder of the heel) became Israel (he who struggles with God, or prince of God)
  • Simon (God has heard) became Peter (a little rock or stone)

The Hebrew etymologies may be open to interpretation, but suffice it to say that with these famous name changes, God was making a point about the individual concerned; He was memorializing their spiritual accomplishments or potential, and His blessings upon them.

In other instances, God told people what to name their children. Hosea is a good case in point, for his kids’ names illustrated prophetic messages to Israel shortly before the nation fell to the Assyrians. The scriptures speak for themselves:

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
Hosea 1:4-9 ESV

“And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ”
Hosea 2:21-23 ESV

For a long time, I had a love-hate relationship with my name, Barbara. It was popular around the time of my birth, and my parents gave it to me because they liked it; but much to my dismay in an eleventh-grade Latin class, I learned that I was the not-so-proud owner of a name that meant barbarian. Translated into English, that means strange, foreign or barbarous, and carries the concept of being an alien; in Greek, it’s foreign, strange or ignorant. My classmates got a big laugh out of that, and I became the class joke. To me it didn’t seem so far off base because I’d never been part of the in-crowd, and was always the last to be picked for any sports team or group activity. I deinitely felt like a foreigner trapped in a hostile territory called high school.

Fast forward to May, 2006. I awoke one night around 2 AM with such a restlessness that it was impossible to stay in bed, let alone sleep; so I took my Bible and a notebook into the living room to try and hear from the Lord. Initially, it seemed like the words He had for me were, “Feed my sheep.” Then there was something about Leviticus, but no specific verse; so I scanned through the book, observing anew how the Old Testatment sacricifes foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The only further words I heard were, “I have called you.” I continued to pray and listen for more from the Lord while sitting in my chair, feet on the floor, trying to focus on Him. The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes feeling completely refreshed, and it was 5 AM! I journaled my thoughts: “Maybe I went somewhere? What happened last night? I know I was praying, ‘Here am I, send me.’ Did He send me somewhere? Or, did I spend those hours with my spirit soaking in the presence of the Lord? The song lyrics in my mind at the moment are, ‘He has shown you, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you; but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.’ ” I knew that the lyrics echo the words of Micah 6:8, but there seemed to be no clear answers to my questions.

A few weeks later, I had a dream in which I was identified as one of God’s elect with the ability to encounter the realm of the Spirit, and to find rest there. Going to 1 Peter 1:1, I noticed that God’s elect were identified as strangers in the world. Wow! That described me – I am a stranger or foreigner who is much loved by God, as my name actually attests! Other scriptures resonated:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.
Psalm 39:12 ESV

I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!
Psalm 119:19 ESV

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
Isaiah 56:1-8 ESV

In God’s kingdom, to be a foreigner is to be protected in a special way by Him; it is to be a citizen of Heaven, it is to dwell in one place physically while longing for another; it is a perfect description of me.

It became aparent that the role of a forerunner requires faith, a gift that God has blessed me with. It also requires suffering in greater degrees than others, and it seems as if I’ve been given a good-sized plate of suffering. So my prayer became, “Lord, continue to reveal your truth about this to me.”

Then, two months after my night in the chair, I finally came to understand that foreshadowing equates to forerunning; and I am to be a forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord by walking humbly and justly in communion with, and obedience to, my God. John the Baptist was a forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord; and he was considered to be an unusual man who was very different from others, to say the least:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”
Matthew 3:1-2 ESV

Perhaps being a foreigner or stranger in the land was a piece of my puzzle in regard to being a forerunner. The patriarchs of Hebrews 11, identified as strangers and exiles, were certainly forerunners who lived by faith:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared for them a city.
Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV

Regardless of the meaning of my name, I am not alone, for all of us who have accepted Jesus and follow Him faithfully in this life will receive a new name in eternity as well:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone,
with a new name written on the stone that no one knows
except the one who receives it.
Revelation 2:17 ESV

You see, Christians are not simply citizens of the world that is seen, but of the one that is yet to come; and it is there that our true names, our everlasting names, are written:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power
that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:20-21 ESV

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage,
and I will be his God and he will be my son.
Revelation 21:5-7 ESV

Regardless of any earthly name or its meaning, a child of the King has a name that is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:27 ESV