What is in a name?

Names

The Social Security Administration website has a section where the popularity of baby names is ranked by year, going back to 1879. For 2012, the top two boy names were Jacob and Mason, while girl names were Sophia and Emma. Much to our sadness, Kenneth and Joyce have never ranked in the top 20 in the last 50 years. There are lots of considerations when you’re deciding on a name, such as appeasing relatives, avoiding embarrassing initials or nicknames, and steering clear of what appears to be cute at the time but will wear thin over time. Choosing a child’s name is a big decision — after all, it follows them for the rest of their life. The way it works for everyone is that when a child is born, the name reflects more on the parents than the child. Parents make the decision on a name because the child can’t do it for themselves. But as a child gets older, the name will also reflect on them, especially when behavior, good or bad, is associated with that name. Social behavior specialist, Dale Carnegie, said “Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” A response is sure to be had when speaking an individual’s name, either using that name with a question, an answer, a compliment, an insult, a request, or a rebuke.

In John 10:1-3, Jesus tells us:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.”

In the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah reveals:

“But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine” (Isa 43:1).

Double names

Scriptural references concerning names, knowing names, and speaking names are quite plentiful. However, we were quite surprised to find during one of our studies that importantly, but rarely, is placed in both the Old and New Testaments, an emphatic repetition of names, or a double salutation, that occurs specifically to get that person’s attention. We hope then, by way of exhortation, to see that when a name is called twice, on each occasion not only was the attention called to of that individual, but also the truths associated with the occasion have significance for us as well.

Turn with me then to Genesis 22. It is a well-known story, the sacrifice of the first born son of promise. Abraham is seen as deliberate in all his actions, rising early, setting out to the place appointed, preparing the altar, and in binding Isaac and taking the knife with which to kill the son that was 25 years in promise, all to show his absolute trust in the Heavenly Father and an abiding faith, both in resurrection and the surety that the promises would be kept.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb 11:17-19).

As he took the knife with which he would kill his son, an angel called out his name in what was in a double salutation, “Abraham! Abraham!” (see Genesis 22:11); instructing him not to harm Isaac, and that his faith was recognized and received in heaven. The truth associated then was supreme for Abraham, but what about for us? Critics argue about the utter cruelty of expecting a parent to sacrifice, to kill a child in this manner. However, Bro. Mansfield very poignantly points out, in the Genesis expositor, that many parents are willing to offer their children on the altars of self-ambition and in the pursuit of self-enhancement, that in the end do nothing for the eternal benefit of their children. To see the benefit of this double salutation in the life of someone else, consider David, when he numbered the people in 2 Samuel 24. Gad the seer came to him with three choices by which the Lord’s wrath could be turned away. He could choose seven years of famine, to flee before his enemies three months, or that for three days pestilence would be upon the land. David chose the pestilence, seeking to fall into the Lord’s hands, rather than into man’s, depending on the mercy of God. Seventy thousand died in the pestilence.

And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite” (2Sam 24:14-16).

This is the imagery, was a stretched out blade with which to slay, as Abraham had held a similar one over Isaac. David’s faith faltered in numbering Israel, and the way to overcome a lapse in faith is to seek to exhibit the absolute trust which Abraham showed upon mount Moriah. The double call of the name should garner our attention.

Later in Genesis, in his old age, Jacob having suffered the breakdown of his family, the death of Rachel, and the believed death of Joseph, receives news that Joseph was not only alive, but a royal prince in Egypt, and that Joseph had sent a caravan of wagons to take Jacob into Egypt. The land of promise was not Egypt, in fact, his father Isaac was warned by God not to go into Egypt. Jacob then was in a struggle, should he leave the land of promise to see Joseph?

“And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac. And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (Gen 46:1-4).

With the double salutation Jacob is assured that the journey did have a purpose. Perhaps he recognized that the reason given is an echo of the first promise Abraham received when he first left Haran: “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation” (Gen 12:1-2). Jacob’s journey and the subsequent time in Egypt would culminate in a great nation being delivered from Egypt. Life at times does present us with challenges we did not anticipate or even go looking for, but the salutation of Jacob should teach us that a working out of the divine purpose is going on with each of us, seeking to bring us to the day of promise and the reuniting of loved ones such as Jacob and Joseph enjoyed.

Moses at the bush

In the barren Sinai desert, Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law, and did so in daily solitude and in obscurity. To his surprise he saw a bush burning, when he perceived no fire had started it, either from earth or heaven, and even stranger, the bush was not consumed. We know it was an extraordinary manifestation of the divine presence and glory. He saw a flame of fire and his inquisitive mind sought to know more. How true is it that divine things should be diligently enquired about.

God gave him a gracious call with the double stating of his name, Moses, Moses, to which he returned a ready answer, here am I.

“And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exod 4:4-6).

It was when Moses took notice of the burning bush, and turned aside to see it, AND left the business of his father-in-law, then God called to him. It is for those who seek to know divine things, that their approach should be with a committed mind. In those circumstances, those that diligently seek God shall find Him. “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8).

“Wherever Lord thy people meet, There they behold the mercy seat; Where’er they seek thee, thou art found, And every place is hallowed ground” (Hymn 244).

Attitude in the presence of God is marked by the encounter at the bush. Moses was cautioned about casual or an irreverent approach in the divine presence. We should be keenly aware of the distance that exists between our God and ourselves. The privilege is that we have been invited to draw near, and care must be taken that familiarity does not lead to a lack of respect. Removal of shoes was an expression of our proper respect and submission to the God we worship.

Samuel

When God called Samuel’s name twice (1Sam 3:1-10): it happened after He had called out to him two other times, but Samuel had mistaken God’s voice for that of Eli.

“And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1Sam 3:8-10).

Young Samuel was quite diligent in his service to the tabernacle and in his devotion to Eli. The record portrays him in stark contrast to the wickedness of Eli’s sons. The sons of Eli brought dishonor to the office of the high priest, but Samuel ministered to him; they showed no regard for their father’s instruction but Samuel obeyed them. Samuel never showed that he was in any way influenced by their bad example. This early life was preparing him for much more later on, and stands as a lesson that it is never too early to learn respect for the things of God.

In Eli’s day, the prophetic word was scarce, and those who sought divine counsel had very little recourse. The evil attributed to the tabernacle in those days lead to a corruption on a national scale. We are told that there was no open vision, and it is assumed that the immorality that was practiced in the tabernacle infected the whole nation. This caused the Spirit of prophecy to dry up, until a more suitable and faithful priest and prophet was revealed in time.

Somewhat amusing is the story of Samuel running to Eli and twice being told to go lay down, with Eli’s perception finally coming to the realization that something special is happening with Samuel. The old man could have harbored a grudge that the young boy was receiving a manifestation of word and power that he was not, and Samuel could have overreacted in fear. Neither is evident, the old man assured the young boy, and he did as Eli told him, to listen while God speaks, and receive the instruction when it is given. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land” (Psa 85:8).

Summary

In each of these instances, especially the last one, it is true the heavenly voice uses the double salutation because of a need to get that person’s attention. The double calling of Abraham validated what the seed of Abraham must live to be like. The father of the faithful was a leader by deeds not words. Jacob was given back the son he thought he lost by allowing the circumstances of life to be in God’s control, something he could not do earlier in life, when through his own strength and cunning he sought control for himself with Esau and Laban.

Moses at the bush became the nation of Israel’s deliverer and the giver of the Law; and at the bush an expansion of the revelation of the divine purpose was given in the Memorial Name. This was for the intention that a vast company of redeemed should rule the earth in righteousness, with holiness and obedience to the Law. Samuel would become the first in a line of prophets, who would faithfully bring God’s World to His people. For sure, all four of these Old Testament individuals were key people in Israel’s history, and this truth no doubt is why God’s redoubling of their names happened at the key turning points in their lives.

In the New Testament, we find Jesus using the double salutation as well. When Martha was upset with Mary for not helping her prepare a meal for Jesus who was visiting with them, the Lord called out to her:

“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

How instructive is that episode for all of us in our service. When the work that we do, we value too highly, and the perceived lack of effort by others infects us — we would all do well to consider the double salutation here.

Space does not permit us to consider the other examples of repetition:

After the institution of the Memorial Feast the Lord predicted Peter’s denial. He called out to him, “Simon, Simon”: how crushing that reality was for Peter.

When Christ was on the Cross and it was the ninth hour, just moments before the Lord said “it is finished,” he cried out to God, “Eloi, Eloi.”

On the Damascus road, where Jesus called out “Saul, Saul.”

When the Lord expressed his intense emotions for Jerusalem, which had become a wicked city, even though God intended for it to be His holy city. So Jesus called out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.”

The double salutation is used in a time and in a situation when it was urgent and something critically important was being taught, so let us stop and listen whenever we see it.

We should be comforted then, with the assurance that Moses had when he was told by God, “I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight” (Exod 33:12).

Ken Comito (Detroit Royal Oak, MI