Read an Excerpt
What's in a Name?
The great poet William Shakespeare once posed this question: What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.
And most people today would agree. Our modern society places little significance on the meaning of a name. Parents usually name their children after beloved relatives or well-known persons. Sometimes they pick a child's name merely because it "sounds good" But seldom would they give any thought to the meaning of a name.
Yet names do mean something. Ideally, they correspond directly to the one designated by the name. For example, did you know that the name Kenneth comes from the Greek word meaning "to know"? So a person named Kenneth is supposed to be knowledgeable. Since the name Diana comes from the Greek word meaning "of a god," a girl with that name is supposed to be "simply divine" in her beauty or other qualities. Other people's names are derived from words of the ancient Greek, Latin, Norse, or other languages. And most of those names have some special meaning. The same is true of place names. You probably know, for example, that the name Philadelphia means "city of brotherly love" It comes from the Greek words phileo ("to love") and delphos ("city"). The name Jerusalem means "city of peace," being derived from the Hebrew word shalom ("peace"). There is probably some significance behind the name of your town or city.
My point is simply this: While it may have been all right for Shakespeare to shrug off the importance of a name, we should not take names so lightly. Often a name provides an important clue to the nature of a person or place.
This is certainly true of God. The Bible refers to God by many different names, and each one reveals some aspect of God's character or His relationship with us. The translators who gave us the King James Version and other English versions of the Bible simply translate His name as "God" or "LORD"; but significantly, several Greek or Hebrew names are used in the original manuscripts. If you want to become a serious student of the Word of God, you should be familiar with those Greek and Hebrew names because they contain a wealth of truth about the wonderful God we serve.
For centuries, people did not know the name of God. That may come as a surprise to you, but it's true. When God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it wasn't necessary for them to know His name because they knew Him intimately. They did not need to call upon Him or invoke Him in prayer for He was their daily companion. Then they disobeyed Him and were driven out of the garden, forced to make a living by the sweat of their brow and the labor of their hands. They and their descendants began offering sacrifices to Him and calling upon Him in prayer.' In fact, Genesis 4:26 says it was not until the birth of Adam's grandson Enos that men began "to call upon the name of the LORD." The Bible says Adam was one hundred and thirty years old when Seth was born (see Gen. 5-3), and Seth was one hundred and five years old when his son Enos was born (see Gen. 5:6). So for over two hundred years, despite the Fall, men and women did not find it necessary to call on God by name. They were still that aware of His presence. I often wish that we could regain that intimate state of communion with the Lord! In my own prayer life, I have felt very near to Him at times-so near that it was not necessary to offer Him any formal prayer. It was enough just to be in His presence. The Bible says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you... " (James 4:8), and that's the kind of experience He has given me in prayer. Yet none of us has regained the depth of intimacy with the Lord that would let us worship Him heart-to-heart, as Adam's family did. Paul knew that one day he would meet God. He affirmed, "...Then shall I know even as also I am known" (I Cor. 13:12). All of us look forward to such a day. But for now we are limited by our human imperfections and the distractions of this carnal world. We must shut the door of our prayer closet and focus our thoughts on God if we are to have any fellowship with Him. The human race has needed to pray this way ever since the days of Enos.
Humankind fell into deep corruption in the centuries that followed Adam. Finally, God had to destroy most of the human race with a worldwide flood, saving only a godly man named Noah and his family in one last effort to salvage humanity. The Bible says that when the flood waters receded and Noah's great wooden ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, he left the ark to build an altar and offer sacrifices to God (see Gen. 8:18-2 1). He wanted to make a fresh beginning for the human race, and he started by worshiping God. Centuries later, God spoke to a godly man named Abram and invited him to leave his native homeland (in what is now Iran) and travel to Canaan. As soon as Abram arrived in that land, he also built an altar and offered sacrifices to God (see Gen. 12:7). Notice how important the worship of God was to these men. Each of them celebrated the landmark events of his life by building an altar, burning a sacrifice on it, and uttering praise to God. Worship was a way of life for them. Yet God had to remind them again and again of who He was. He put a rainbow in the sky to remind Noah that He was a benevolent God and would never again destroy the earth with water (see Gen. 90:14-17). When Abram worshiped Him, He said, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15: 1). He also said, "I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it" (Gen. 15:7). Finally He said, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17:1). It was as if God had to present His credentials every time He talked with them because they kept forgetting who He was.
"The God My Folks Worshiped" When Abraham's grandson Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching to the throne of heaven, God said to him, "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac Jacob's immediate father]: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed" (Gen. 28:13)~ God had already promised the land to Abraham and his descendants; now He would fulfill that promise to Jacob and his immediate family.
But God had to keep reminding Jacob of who He was. When Jacob went to work for his Uncle Laban in the land of Haran, God spoke to him in another dream and said, "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred" (Gen. 31:13)3 Yet when Jacob talked about God, notice how he referred to Him: "the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac" (Gen. 31:42) and "the God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father" (Gen. 31:53). If Jacob ever knew God's name, he seems to have forgotten it! He referred to Him only as "the God my folks always worshiped " I'm afraid this is the only way many people identify God today. "Sure, I know God" they say. "My folks have worshiped Him for years. He and I are not personal friends, but He's a good friend of my parents" Yet there is a world of difference between knowing God and knowing about God. Someone who knows Him only as "the God my folks worshiped," simply knows about Him. We need to become so intimately acquainted with God that we fall on our knees and say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). (Continued)