In contemporary Western culture a name rarely possesses significance beyond that of a highly sentimental, perhaps aesthetically conditioned response on the part of proud, doting parents to the intoxicating joy of a new arrival. Not so in the Bible. There a human name typically reflects character and mission anticipated in life, which may turn out for either good or ill. It may embody the spiritual vision of parents for their child's future. In other instances, it is prophetic of future outcomes or events. On the negative side, it may typify a life come to ruin.
The name "Samuel, " for example, may be translated "asked of God" ( 1 Sam 1:20 or possibly, "Name of El" ). When accompanied by the like-sounding Hebrew term sha'al [l;a'v], "to ask/dedicate, " a play on words occurs that highlights both the fervent intercession that characterized Hannah's intense travail over her barren condition and her subsequent consecration of her child back to God ( 1 Sam 1:27-28 ).
Isaiah's son's name, Shear-Yashub [bWv"y r'a.v], translates "a remnant will return." It was to be a prophetic indicator to beleaguered Hezekiah that God would turn the seemingly impossible plight of Judah into deliverance ( Isa 7:3-4 ; 10:21-22 ). This was also the local setting for the well-known prophecy that "A virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanu El [leaWn'Mi" ("God with us, " Isa 7:14 ). The name of Isaiah's second son, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz [z;B v'j l'l'v reh;m], was a prophecy of coming doom the fall of the northern kingdom at the hands of the Assyrian armies, as the name graphically portrays ("quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil" Isa 8:1-3 ). Whether the Immanuel prophecy had any local fulfillment in relation to this second son is a debated subject (cf. Isa 8:8-10 ). That it has ultimate messianic significance in connection with Jesus of Nazareth is clear from Matthew 1:22-23.
On the negative side, Ichabod [d/b'kAyia], "Where is the glory?" ( 1 Sam 4:21 ), recalls a gripping personal tragedy for the high priestly family at a time of national trauma for the entire people of God. The name Nabal [l'b"n] embodies a poignant description of a man whose life of "folly" had degenerated to the sordid leel of a "fool" ( 1 Sam 25:25 ).
Finally, the name Adam ['d'a] carries the collective meaning of "humankind." Thus God's call "Where are you?" to the first Adam ( Gen 3:9 ), becomes universalized in Jesus, the second Adam, through whom his redemptive pursuit of the entire race is consummated ( Heb 1:1-2 ; cf. Rom 5:12-19 ; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 1 Corinthians 15:45-50 ). That salvific mission is also revealed in the name Yeshua [[WvEy]/Joshua/Jesus"Jehovah is salvation" ( Matt 1:21 ).
Leonard S. Wallmark
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Name'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".