What’s in a Name?

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wianthumbApparently, when it comes to God’s name, an awe-full lot.

I was helped this morning by Psalm 54:1. In this psalm, David laments the opposition from bloodthirsty enemies and he cries out, “Save me, O God, by Your name.” Proverbs 18:10 has often been a source of comfort as it promises, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” This is precisely what David was doing: He was running to the strong tower of God’s character, as represented by His name. David needed safety and knew where such security would be found. In God’s name, David found everything he could ever need.

The name of God, as mentioned, stands as a metaphor for God’s glorious character. Names in the ancient world often carried much more significance than in our day. Today, we often pick names because we simply like the way they sound; names are chosen because they appeal to us. There is nothing wrong with that, though it can be disconcerting. For instance, apparently my name—Douglas—has its roots in a Scottish word meaning “darkness.” That’s not nearly as encouraging as, say, “John,” which means “God’s gift.” I’m not sure what my parents were thinking, or prophesying, but I assume that they simply liked the name. Nevertheless, in the ancient world a name represented a person’s character. It often had everything to do with reputation. It is for this reason that Solomon wrote, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). Character trumps treasures every time.

So, when David cried out for God to “save” him by His “name,” he was asking God to demonstrate His glorious reputation as one who cares for His own; as the one who is just and righteous and good and faithful.

The study of the names of God is a rewarding pursuit. It is like building a mental, emotional and spiritual fortress, in which the believer can find daily safety in an otherwise dangerous world. For, you see, among other things, the names of God also serve as promises from God. Since God’s names are a means of His self-revelation, they inform the believer of what we can expect from God.

For instance, when Abraham experienced God’s provision of the ram as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, Abraham called on the name of the Lord, Yahweh Jireh, which means “the LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:14). Abraham was celebrating, among other theological truths, that God is providential. He sees beforehand and has ordered and provided accordingly. When you find yourself confused and/or in need, you can cry out, “Save me, O Yahweh Jireh,” and take comfort that God has everything under control.

Consider another example: As Christians, we long to be holy, and yet how far short we find ourselves in this pursuit. When you sin, when you feel trapped by a sinful habit, then you should run to the name Yahweh M’Kaddesh, which means, literally, “God who sanctifies” (see Leviticus 20:7–8). What a glorious promise and privilege to behold! God has promised to make us holy. He has done so positionally, He is doing so practically, and one day He will do so perfectly as we are gloriously conformed to the image of His dear Son (Romans 8:28–30). When you feel despair at the lack of spiritual progress, or when the accuser condemns your conscience because of your self-awareness of sin, run to Yahweh M’Kaddesh. God will save you!

Related to this truth is the name Yahweh Tsidkenu, “the LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5–6). On our best day, as well as on our worst day, the gospel of God informs us that we are accepted in Christ, and in Christ alone. He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and therefore, in spite of the “bad day” we may be having, we find safety in Yahweh Tsidkenu.

Do you feel that you are under assault? Perhaps the enemy uses others to attack your character, your motives and/or your reputation. Such experiences are often painful beyond description. And our initial response is often to be tempted to retaliate, to become defensive—or worse. It is at such times that we should put our sprinting shoes on and make a dash for Yahweh Nissi, “the LORD my banner” (Exodus 17:13–16). The context of this name is instructive.

The Amalekites (God’s sworn enemies) were opposing God’s people, His chosen children of Israel. God provided a marvellous victory to them. As Moses stood on the mountain, raising the rod of God—which symbolised His presence and power—the Amalekites were defeated. As a worshipful response, Moses acknowledged the Lord as his, and the nation’s, “banner of victory.”

A banner was a rallying point for an army where instructions and assurances for victory were given. When the believer is assaulted by the enemy, we are to run to the strong tower of Yahweh Nissi, who assures us that He will vindicate the truth—and us, if need be. Learning to let God be our defence is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to grasp in the Christian walk, yet the sooner that we learn to cry out, “Oh Yahweh Nissi,” the sooner we will experience the glorious reality of this name.

The final name, and the name that is quite literally “the name above all names,” is “Yahweh is salvation.” In the Old Testament we are familiar with this in the name Joshua. In the New Testament, this name is fulfilled in Jesus. Truly, this name calms all our fears, for it is the sum of all that God is to us. When Isaiah prophesied His birth, he described Jesus as “Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah further prophesied that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6–7). Reflecting on such a Name will soothe the most turbulent soul and will minister the greatest encouragement. We must never lose the wonder that His name is JESUS because it is He, and He alone, who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

When it comes to titles and to nomenclature, we might in some cases cynically ask, “What’s in a name?” But for the believer who seeks to live a faithful and fruitful life in the midst of a world that is hostile to grace, “What’s in the name?” finds the comforting answer: Everything we could ever want.

(For those interested in doing some reading on the names of God, you may want to consider the following authors whose books all carry the novel title The Names of God: Nathan Stone, Ken Hemphill, George W. Knight, and my favourite, Andrew Jukes. Also see A. W. Tozer’s, The Knowledge of the Holy, which is a wonderful book about the attributes of God. Such theology is bound to strengthen your faith and to improve your prayer life.)

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