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What's In a Name?

Have you ever asked yourself, "What's in a name?"  For most people, I'd venture to guess that the answer is "not really."  But for me, this phrase began resonating in my heart continually over the last while.  Surely God was calling me to consider, study and dig it out.  And so I did and can truly tell you that there is so much more than meets the eye in a name.

Not long after I was born again, I began gaining an understanding of the power of words, generally, and the power of a name, specifically.  The awesome power of a name is that it represents one's identity, character, nature--and purpose! And when God created the naming convention, He did it with that full purpose and intention and takes it very seriously.  He took the time to lovingly name everything in His creation--including you and me (more on that later)--thereby imparting the indelible characteristics that make even the stars of heaven individually unique (Gen. 1:16; Psalm 147:4).  

The Names of God

God, Himself, is revealed through His Names.  He is so great, so glorious, so magnificent, so all-powerful, that no one name--or two hundred for that matter--could ever fully describe the Awesome One in all His fullness.  But to reveal Himself to mankind, He chose to do it through a name.  Think about that.  He could've chosen anything to reveal Himself, but ultimately He did it through a name.  What significance lies in a name!

From the very beginning, God introduced and revealed Himself to His people by His Names.  And I still remember the time when I was first introduced to the many, glorious Names of God.  I had only been saved for a very short time, and my pastor was teaching a series on prayer, using the Lord's prayer as an outline (Matthew 6:9-13).  The prayer begins by hallowing, or making holy, the Name of God.  And so that teaching introduced to me some of the names of God that I hallow as I enter into the Lord's Presence in my times of prayer.  These are obviously not all the Names of God revealed in the Scripture, but they provided me with an introduction to the multi-faceted character of my loving Heavenly Father.  It transformed my prayers--and my life--as I latched on to these Names of God:

Jehovah Tsidkenu                                    The LORD Our Righteousness
Jehovah Makkedesh                                 The LORD Our Sanctifier
Jehovah Shalom                                       The LORD Is Peace
Jehovah Shammah                                    The LORD Is There
Jehovah Rapha                                         The LORD That Heals
Jehovah Jireh                                            The LORD Will Provide
Jehovah Rohi                                            The LORD My Shepherd
Jehovah Nissi                                            The LORD My Banner 

I would go on to learn many other Names of God revealed in Scripture, such as El Shaddai (The Almighty God), El Elyon (The Most High God), Adonai (Lord and Master), Elohim (God, Creator), I AM (Everything!), Alpha and Omega (The Beginning and The Ending), The Word of God, etc.  And the more names I learn, the more deeply acquainted with God I become.  Makes sense when you consider that it represents His nature, character, identity and purpose.  

We see God introducing and revealing Himself again and again in Scripture by His Name.  (And wouldn't you think it strange if someone you had never met tried to introduce themself to you without providing their name?)  One of my favorite accounts of this is found in Exodus 33 where God and Moses are having an exchange:

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”  The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”  Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”  And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (vv. 13-20).

Here, we see Moses' heart cry for God.  And we then see God's acknowledgement of who Moses is (v.17), followed by God's commitment to reveal Who He is fully--not by facial recognition--but by His Name! (vv.18-20).  God essentially said to Moses, "all My goodness--everything you want to see and know about Me--will be revealed to you through My Name."  Glory to God!  Do you see that?! Knowing the Names of God was never intended to be a head-knowledge thing, but heart knowledge of the true and living God. 

Serious Business For God

When God created man (Adam) and placed him in the garden of Eden, he was given the job of naming the animal kingdom and bird specimen (Genesis 2:19, 20).  "So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals" (v.20). Amazingly, Adam had the wisdom of God downloaded into his spirit and he was able to accurately and perfectly name every creature that God brought before him. Even more amazing is that each creature took on the nature of the name it was given! If God cared that much about the name of wild animals and birds--and their place and purpose in the plan of creation--then surely He cares even more for His people, their names and their purposes (Matthew 6:26).  

We see this truth borne out again and again as God engages men and women in His plan of redemption.  After the fall of man in the garden, God would need to begin again to establish His plan for His family in the earth--leading to ultimate redemption through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It was no small matter for Him to have Abram and Sarai become the father and mother of many nations--who would ultimately produce the Seed of Christ.  So when their faith was running low and circumstances were looming, He deliberately changed their names (and destinies) to Abraham and Sarah! (Genesis 17:5-16.)  We see this later with Jacob when his name--and destiny--were changed by God. He went from having the name and character of a deceiver to becoming Israel, the father of the twelve tribes and God's special possession. (Genesis 32:22-29.)  

A more riveting account, however, occurs in the New Testament as the time for the Messiah's birth draws near.  Before he was ever born, God had ordained for John the Baptist to be the forerunner to Jesus, preparing the way of the Lord (Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 3:1-3).  But critical to His plan was the cooperation of John's parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  

After years and years of desiring a baby, and now very old in age, the day finally arrived for their dream of parenthood to be fulfilled.  (What a faithful God we serve!) The angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and gave him a clear word:

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John" (Luke 1:13).

So here we see God taking the serious measure to instruct Zechariah on what to name his baby boy.  Zechariah was a priest before God (Luke 1:5), so they knew the significance of names in the Jewish culture and tradition. In fact, Jewish families usually wait until the eighth day following a baby's birth to name the child, allowing time for observation of the child's nature and temperament in order to name it accordingly.  

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah that day announcing John's soon-to-come birth, He made sure that Zechariah would have no opportunity to interfere with the plan of God and so Zechariah became temporarily mute during Elizabeth's pregnancy, so that he could speak nothing contrary to what God had spoken to him.  When the eighth day following the baby's birth rolled around, family members were prepared to name John the Baptist after his father, but Elizabeth spoke up and said his name was to be called John.  They obviously questioned her decision and then looked to Zechariah for his take on the matter.  Still being mute, he wrote on a tablet, "His name is John."  He thus sealed the purpose of God for John's life, and he was immediately able to speak again (Luke 1:57-66).  

Do you really think that God would have gone to such measures to ensure that the child was named John if it didn't have any significance for his life and purpose and the plan of God?  Assuredly not.  God does everything with a purpose, and this was no exception.

His Name Shall Be Called Jesus

Like His dealing with Zechariah and Elizabeth, God also gave very clear instruction to Jesus' parents, instructing them that this precious, holy Child was to be called Jesus (Matthew 1:20, 23).  There was no arguing about this, in fact God had spoken it centuries before through the prophets (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6), and "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived" (Luke 2:21, NIV).  Glory to God!  God's purpose and will for Jesus to be the Savior of mankind was wrapped up and revealed in His Name!  

Where We Fit In

God's M.O. hasn't changed since the days of the bible; He's the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Names always have been and always will be significant to Him and His plan.  

I learned this personally years ago as I was seeking God about His plan and purpose for my ministry. (He called me into the ministry as a teenage girl, but it would be a few years still before I gave my life to Him fully and embraced my calling fully.)  At the time, I had been seeking God for quite a while about more specifics around my ministry's focus, and one night, as I was in this same posture of prayer, the answer came. (Side Note: don't become discouraged if you ask God to reveal His will for your life--or even a specific circumstance--and you don't get an answer all at once.  Be faithful to continue trusting and serving Him, and He will show you.  He wants you to know!)  

God began by speaking to me about my name--and how He had named me and called me in line with His plan and purposes for my life.  No one had ever taught me along these lines; God, Himself, was teaching this to me!  He showed me that within the meaning of my name was my purpose.  My first name, Dawn, holds the meanings of enlightenment, light, understanding, daybreak, and sunrise.  All synonymous with the light, understanding and wisdom of the Word of God (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 4:7). Further, my middle name, Monique, means adviser.  God then took me to the Scripture in 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 and unfolded more fully His plan and purpose for my life and ministry:

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

After reading this the Lord clearly showed me how my name matched my purpose!  He then went on to charge me as follows, based on the Scriptural foundation of my ministry: "You are to shine the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ into the dark places of the world and into the dark places of men's lives."  How precious that word was--and always will be--to me!  I have a purpose; I have a destiny, and it's wrapped up in my name!

So you may be saying, "Well, I see that for you, Dawn, but I don't know the meaning of my name or how it fits into my purpose."  And to that I say, it doesn't matter.  Even if you don't know the meaning of your name, God does.  Like Jeremiah, John, Jesus and countless others, He knew you before you were formed in your mother's womb--and called you! (Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49:1).  And remember when He said to Moses, "I know you by name."  Besides, you have the most important name of all, once you are born again into the family of God: CHRIST-IAN (or one like Christ)!  That's the identity and character and purpose that matters most, no matter what name you were given at birth.

If you want more proof still, here's the clench pin that brings it all together.  My heart rejoiced greatly the day I discovered this verse in Isaiah 8: 

"I and the children the LORD has given me have names that reveal the plans the LORD Almighty has for his people" (v.18).

In the moments, days, weeks, months and years ahead, as you look to discover more of God and more of His plan for your life, be sure not to discount His glorious Names, nor your own, as based in being a Christian.  Seek out the Name of the Lord, extol it, hallow it, bless it and watch Him manifest His very nature and essence to you in that exact way. He longs to do it, so now all that's left is for you to dig in and really find out...what's in a name.

Additional Scriptures for Further Study and Meditation:

Psalm 20:1, 5, 7
Proverbs 18:10
Psalm 91:14
Romans 10:13
Psalm 8:1


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