Article of the Month

June 2009

Names

The study of names in the Bible could easily fill a sizeable book. For this article, however, we will just tease ourselves with a little taste of the subject.

Names in the Bible are not causal. They were given because they represented events concerning the person’s birth, or concerning hopes for his place in history, etc. Sometimes names were assigned because God dictated it. The indication is that God so arranged matters that the very meaning of prophecy often relies on our ability to understand a person’s name.

 — THE MEANING OF “NAME” —

Because the word “name” in itself is a symbol in the Bible, we must realize the import it can have. “Name” represents (when used symbolically) a person’s totality — his character, his place, and our expectations concerning him. Thus, when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we are not merely saying “Please do this because I know Jesus.” Rather, we are asking that something be granted because we not only know what Jesus’ plans, purposes, and intents are, but also that we are in complete harmony with those factors of his character, and we wish that anything we might ask to the contrary be denied.

— GOD’S NAME —

When (in Exodus 3) Moses wanted to know God’s Name, Moses probably had little idea of all he was asking. After all, other “gods” had names by which they were identified. There was in Egypt a Sun god, a Moon god, a god of the Nile, etc., etc. Moses knew that when he returned to Egypt, the Israelites would want to know which god sent Moses to them. Moses needed to know a name!

But Moses’ God (our God) is too big for a name!  How can you contain our God in one word? God recognized the problem, but He was willing (for the benefit of us all) to oblige Moses’ request. God did the only possible thing. He named Himself after the verb “TO BE.” It is a wonderful word. It is the most common verb in any language, but it has incredible qualities.  God, by naming Himself with this verb, accomplished several things:

(1)     While everything and everyone else is created, God JUST IS! And, this, of course, is what the verb TO BE means! This sets Him aside from everyone and everything.

 

(2)     It is interesting that in Old Testament Hebrew there are only two tenses for verbs:

 

                   (a)  action completed, and

                   (b)  action in progress.

 

There is no future tense.  (When future is intended, it must be inferred from the context.)

 

The present (or action-in-progress) tense is best expressed in English by words ending in  -ING. This makes verbs OPEN-ENDED — they have NO COMPLETION.  How appropriate this was for God! He was telling Moses that God’s “name” was “I AM BEING WHAT I AM BEING” — or even “I AM BECOMING WHAT I AM BECOMING.”

 

In essence, He was saying (as Jesus expressed it), that it will take an eternity to know God because He is always BECOMING — there is NO END to His glory and to what He will accomplish through the ages to come.  (John 17:3)

Thus (as the King James Bible translates it in Exodus 3), God told Moses to call Him “I AM.” Moses, of course, put it into the third person, so the Hebrew name for God is “HE IS,” or “HE IS BEING,” or “HE IS BECOMING.”

—  A CAUTION  — 

As mentioned, the verb TO BE is the most common verb in all languages. Thus, one must not find God’s Name in every text that uses that verb! For instance, when Jesus wanted to explain that he had a pre-human existence, he told the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (He didn’t say “I was” because he was stressing his continuity.) Many, unfortunately, use Jesus’ statement to say that Jesus was saying that he was THE GOD — simply because he used this common verb, “I am.” This is unwarranted, incorrect, unscriptural, and contrary to every doctrine regarding the relationship of the Father and His Son.

—  OTHER NAMES  —

Let’s look at only six other names to help us to understand how important or instructive it is to translate them.

JOHN

JOHN means “the grace of Jehovah.” (Yahweh, or its shorter version, JAH or YAH or IAH, is God’s “He Is” name in Hebrew.) We know that the Apostle John is the writer of Revelation. Throughout that great prophetic book, John represents THE TRUE CHURCH — Jesus’ faithful disciples in the flesh.  What an appropriate name John has! The Church is the embodiment of God’s Grace. Without that grace it could never be successful. And because of that grace, it mirrors God’s character for the rest of the world to see. Thus, the Church’s collective name is “John.” 

NICOLAITANS

This is a name for a group. It is found in Revelation 2:6 and 2:15. It is not, as some have supposed, named for a man named Nicolai. Many have looked with futility to find such a person and such a group in history.  Instead, this name is a prophetic name. “Nicolai” means “one who lords it over others.” In the prophecy of Revelation, Jesus commends the early Church (Ephesus) and berates the later Church (Pergamos) for their rejection and acceptance of these apostate Christian power-grabbers.

This brings up another lesson. The names of the seven Churches (Revelation 1:11) are (even though such places existed) symbols of the CONDITIONS of Jesus’ Church throughout the Christian Age. The names DO NOT relate to the actual places. In Biblical symbology, places represent conditions.

PAUL 

Saul of Tarsus became known as Paul when he was converted and became the Apostle. Paul means “little.” We all know how GREAT is this Apostle who wrote the greater part of the New Testament.  But it pleased our Lord to call him “little” because his towering strength was his HUMILITY. He was “little” in his own sight — a confession reflected in his own words in I Corinthians 15:9 and in Ephesians 3:8.

JEZEBEL

The Lord’s humor is reflected in many Scriptures.  In Revelation 2:20 we find the harlot queen, Jezebel.  She represents the apostate church.  Her name means “virgin” or “chaste.”  What a name for a harlot! But the lesson is prophetically important. With this humor, God is prophesying that she would claim to be and would be seen as God’s PURE church. The world would be deceived by her, actually believing her to be and acknowledging her as the worldwide church representing God! What’s in a name?

JERUSALEM

This is a place name. The word means City of Peace. Actually, since it is a PLURAL word in Hebrew, it means CITIES of peace. This is an acknowledgement that eventually God’s Kingdom would be BOTH in heaven and on earth (as the Lord’s prayer calls for.) The literal city of Jerusalem will be the center on earth for the administration of the Kingdom. The unseen spiritual Jerusalem, (the “new Jerusalem” — Revelation 21:2), will be the in-heaven rulership of the kingdom. It is a name given to Jesus’ Church in their glorified condition. What better name for a new government, “City of Peace”! Could anyone ask for anything better?

ARMAGEDDON 

This name appears only in Revelation 16:16. It is a PLACE name; but no such place exists. There is a valley in Israel named Megiddo, but Armageddon means mountain of Megiddo — or, completely translated, “Mount of Destruction.”

Since, in Biblical symbology, PLACES symbolize CONDITIONS, “Armageddon” is a name designed to show in prophecy the conditions which will lead to the DESTRUCTION of Satan’s MOUNTAIN. It is very much a prophecy which expands on Jesus’ remarks when he said that if we had sufficient faith we could say “to this mountain, be thou cast into the midst of the sea,” and it would be done. (Matthew 17:20)Mountains symbolize kingdoms. The prayer of the saints, “Thy Kingdom Come,” because it is done in collective faith, WILL BE ANSWERED IN ARMAGEDDON. Satan’s “Mountain” will be destroyed. (See also Revelation 18:21.)

Revelation 16:16 has an additional subtle help for understanding in it. It says the PLACE is “called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon.” The underlined phrase is a waste of words unless it brings significance to something. It appears to be telling us that “Armageddon” (the CONDITION that destroys Satan’s old order) will be somehow associated with Israel. Probably the events of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 will be the Armageddon catalyst. That apostate Christianity’s fall is associated with events in Israel is also suggested by Revelation 14:20.

There it is stated that “the winepress was trodden without (outside of) the city.” The only city mentioned in Revelation 14 is “Babylon”—a symbol of apostate Christianity. Thus these two prophecies suggest Christianity’s fall happens in a non-Christian venue, Israel.

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We will stop here. It should be evident that TRANSLATING names in the Bible reaps wonderful results.