Wednesday, February 20, 2013

More about names - Shakespeare wrong?

Yellow Rose
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
William Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are two lovers from opposite warring families. They are doomed from the start. In these two lines Juliet tell Romeo that a name is meaningless and artificial. She loves the person who is labeled "Montague." His name and his family name is just a convention.
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In the previous blog we discovered that in the Bible, a name is often much more than a label. It often gives a great deal of information about a person or a place. A name could tell of the circumstances of a persons birth, their physical characteristics, or specialized names related to circumstances of the parents.

The change of a name can also be of great importance in the Bible.
  • Abram’s name was changed to Abraham in connection with his new calling to be “a father of many nations” Genesis 17:5
  • God gave Jacob the new name Israel "God strives" because he “struggled with God and with men, and prevailed” Genesis 32:28 Genesis 35:10
  • Sarai - "my princess" was changed to Sarah - "princess" indicating a promise of what God would do with Sarah in the future. Genesis 17:15
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I think one of the most amazing things one can often see in the naming of people in the Bible is the providence of our soveriegn God. Our omniscient God has complete foreknowledge. He knows and sees everything in advance. Everything is carried out according to His plans and purposes. He knew Abraham would be a father of many nations. God knew that Jacob would receive his father's birthright and become Israel.

We will take a look at the birth and the first few years of the life of Moses.  At the time of his birth the Egyptians were afraid that they would be overrun by the Hebrews. So the Pharaoh ordered the male Hebrew babies to be killed.  So begins the life of Moses...

     Now a man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son; when she saw that he was beautiful,  she hid him for three months.  But when she could no longer hide him, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with asphalt and pitch. She placed the child in it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.
     Then his sister  stood at a distance in order to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe at the Nile while her servant girls walked along the riverbank. Seeing the basket among the reeds, she sent her slave girl to get it.  When she opened it, she saw the child—a little boy, crying. She felt sorry for him and said, “This is one of the Hebrew boys.”
     Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Should I go and call a woman from the Hebrews to nurse the boy for you?”  “Go,” Pharaoh’s daughter told her. So the girl went and called the boy’s mother.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.”
     So the woman took the boy and nursed him.  When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” 
Exodus 2:1-10

The name “Moses,” mosheh, is Egyptian in origin. Though the name seems to derive from the Egyptian verb msy, translated “to give birth.” That word does not directly give the interpretation —
"I drew him out of the water."  The Egyptians believed the Nile river was the source of life. The daughter of Pharaoh may have thought of a child from the river as a gift of their gods. She  therefore named the child from an Egyptian word meaning something like “child” or “born.” But the sound of the Egyptian word she used sounded similar to the Hebrew the verb “to draw out.” Therefore the name of Moses given by the Egyptian princess is like a pun meaning something different to both the Hebrews and the Egyptians.

The conclusion drawn from name Moses for the Hebrew people is something like this: “You called him ‘born one’ in your language and after your custom, but in our language that name means ‘drawing out’ – which is what his future was to be. You drew him out of the water, but he would draw us out of Egypt. The name Moses, chosen for the child by the Pharaoh's daughter, is more appropriate than she could have known.

Wow - "What's in a name?"  Look at the name Moses.  His name described a part of his life. That single name, Moses, meant different things to the Hebrews and the Egyptians. God was behind the population growth of the Hebrews. God was behind the failure of the extermination programs of the Pharaoh. God was behind the saving of Moses. God was behind the finding, raising and teaching of Moses. It was God who sent the the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash at the exact spot where Moses rested in the tiny basket. God was behind the big things in the life of Moses. God was also behind the details in the life of Moses, even including the naming of Moses.  The life of Moses did not fully display the purpose of his name for eighty years, but God knew before he was born.

Everything was and is carried out according to God's plans and purposes. God provides for us in ways we may not at first recognize, but He is there in the big things and in the details too.


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