Friday, March 15, 2013

What's in a Name?

Today's passage:  Genesis 10-11
     One would think with as many weeks it has been since I have posted something that I would be a lot farther in Genesis than just five more chapters in a month, but it has been a little slow going.  Numerous reasons for this, the first one being Youngest started getting up almost immediately after older brothers were off to school.  The first couple weeks of our new schedule he was sleeping until 7:30 or so which gave me significant time to get my devotions done.  But his sleep schedule adjusted so that he was waking up an hour or more earlier.  As hard as I would try, I could only get a few verses read.  I have also been subbing at my sons' school quite a bit the last few weeks, and most of those times, I didn't know I would be subbing, so some days my devotions were cut short by trying to get Youngest and I ready to rush out the door.  The last reason for my delayed progress is that I have run into the chapters that have a lot of names and places listed.  For some this might be tedious but I find them fascinating.  I've said before that I put great stock in names.  So even though it takes a lot of time, I look every name up to see what it means.  And though, I have not learned a lot by way of application from these chapters, I certainly have learned a few things.
     What I find very interesting is that people in the Old Testament generally gave their children a name that had meaning.  It wasn't a random process like it usually is today.  They were purposeful.  Knowing that, I look at some of those names and think, well of course he turned out like that, look at what you named him.  Nimrod is a good example.  Take a guess at what his name means.  Rebellion.  He is the one who led the building of the Tower of Babel.  Seems like he was named appropriately.  Another name meaning something similar and also very appropriate is Gomorrah.  It means rebellious people.  Well, we can see a little self-fulfilling prophecy right there.
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     Other names I found interesting was Hazarmaveth.  It means dwelling of death.  I wonder what was happening in that family's life at the time.  And the most depressing name meaning I came across was Jobab.   I encourage anyone reading this not to consider this name for any future children.  It means "sorrowful; hated". Equally as bad is Obal.  It means "inconvenience of old age".   When you research the names it really gives you a window into many of these people in the Bible of whom we know little.  For many of them, not much is said, very little meaning or significance attached, just a passing list that we read so we can claim that we have read our Bible through in a year.  Poor Obal was obviously an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy,  his parents too tired to deal with a whimpering infant.  It makes me wonder what kind of adult he became.  It should also be noted that Hazarmaveth, Obal and Jobab were all from the same family, sons of Joktan whose own name means "small dispute; contention; disgust".   Sounds like a functional family and also seems as if Joktan himself was not necessarily the happiest person on the planet.
      Does that mean that every person in the Bible lived according to his/her name?  Probably not.  But when I think that these names were chosen on purpose, it certainly could lend to a successful or defeatist outlook in life.  Don't you think?  Wouldn't it be harder to overcome a name like Obal, than say a name like Isaac which means "laughter" or Samuel meaning "asked of God"?  Wouldn't it be obvious to the latter two tykes that they were wanted and loved?  Poor Jobab couldn't have had a very high self esteem, and though I believe in our times that self esteem is too over-emphasized, I think that these parents probably started their kids on a wrong track at birth.  God doesn't really tell us about how they turned out, but maybe that is because there was really nothing to tell.  They lived.  They merely existed.  We have their genealogy but little else.  Perhaps that is because they did not do anything note-worthy.  The next major character we read about is Abram (high father), who thankfully has a much more positive name, even before God changes it to Abraham.
      In our day and age, most people name their children without giving a lot of thought to the meaning but that is because names today have been derived from so many different languages, that in most cases, saying a person's name is not saying that word.  But in Bible times, that was not so.  The name was that word or idea.  So every time someone said Isaac, they were using the word the name means.  " There will be lots of Isaac/Laughter at the festival today."   Conversely, anything that brought disgust was "Joktan" to them.  That animal carcass lying at the side of the road?  Joktan.  Obviously I am not a Hebrew scholar and have no idea if I am using those words correctly as nouns, verbs, etc.  but you get the basic idea.  These were words used in everyday conversation so it would not be unusual to hear your name uttered numerous times a day.   When you are constantly reminded of the positives or negatives of your name, I would think it would undoubtedly affect how you live.  But maybe I am totally wrong, and these children lived healthy, well-adjusted lives.  Judging from what Joktan named some of his children, I think the evidence is against it.
     So as I plow through Genesis, I may get bogged down in the details of a person's name, but maybe it will give me a little insight into that person's life.  Maybe even a person's name is a lesson in itself.

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