What is in a Name?

Leah & Rachel • Devotion #5: What is in a Name?
Richie Henson | Production Director

I was given the name Richard after my grandfather on my mother’s side. My name means “strong leader or ruler,”and I can tell you, this fact has had zero bearing on my life. I think the same could be said for many people in America. All of us have names that in all likelihood have a “meaning,” but that meaning does not impact our daily life. Due to this, I find the stark contrast of names in the Old Testament to be intriguing. It seems that no one in the Old Testament was named arbitrarily. Instead, each name has a very specific meaning that in some way relates to the narrative of said person’s life.

With respect to names and meaning, I think we are hard pressed to find a more interesting story than Jacob. Jacob begins his life, for lack of a better term, a hustler. He schemes and connives to get his way. In fact, at one point, Jacob even wrestles who appears to be Jesus. As Jacob wrestles with Jesus, he refuses to relent until he receives a blessing. Part of the blessing given was a name change. However, this name change appears not to stick until much later in the story. 

At the outset of Genesis chapter 35, Jacob has once again been forced to flee due to an unresolvable conflict with his neighbors. God instructs Jacob to flee to Bethel and to set up an altar there. As Jacob follows God’s instructions, Jacob’s enemies become afflicted, and Jacob is saved. It is at this point that God reminds Jacob of the name change given earlier in his life.

Genesis 35:10 says, “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he called his name Israel.”

 The name Israel means, “God fights.” In essence, God is telling Jacob that no matter what comes, Jacob will receive the promise because God fights for him.

 Our names do not always mean much to us, but what is undoubtedly meaningful is what God calls us. God names us so specifically. He calls us loved, saved, set apart, and friend. This world and the devil continually work to tear us down. I personally struggle with being reminded that I could never be good enough. No matter how hard I work, it is true that Richard Craig Henson will never be the person he needs to be. However, I know that with God, I am no longer Richard Craig Henson, I am Dikaioumenoi (“justified” Romans 3:24), Kleronomos (“heir” Romans 8:17), and Kainh Ktisiv (“new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17). My given name has little day-to-day meaning for me, but what God calls me, means everything. 

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