November 1, 2022
“They had set out for Beth-el. When they were still some distance for Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and her labor was difficult. The midwife said to her...”
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“They had set out for Beth-el. When they were still some distance for Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and her labor was difficult. The midwife said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid, for this is another son for you.’ With her last breath – for she was dying – she named him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow), but his father called him Benjamin (Son of the Right Hand).” Genesis 35:16-18
What’s in a name? Obviously, Shakespeare didn’t know what God knows! Names mean something. At least in the Bible, they do. Studying the Bible from a Hebraic perspective, we learn that everyone’s name has a meaning aligned with their character.
For instance, “Jacob” meant “Heel catcher.” And that’s what he was: a deceiver, a tripper. But once he wrestled with the Lord, his name was changed to Israel: Contends with God. This is because he “wrestled with God and man and has overcome.” Divine intervention changed Jacob’s character; hence a name change was in order.
Perhaps, it was the wrestling experience that compelled Jacob to quickly change Ben-oni’s name to Benjamin. I believe there may be another idea to consider. When a father decides to be present and affirming in a son’s life, the boy’s confidence and self-worth are established. Imagine Tiger Woods without the presence of his father telling him, “You could be the greatest ever!” I believe Jacob’s interaction with Benjamin changed more than his name. Benjamin truly grew beyond “son of my sorrow” and into “son of the right hand.” Later in Scripture, we learn the tribe of Benjamin became the fiercest in all of Israel. The power of an affirming father is simply amazing.
Of course, the theme of “name change” is found throughout Scripture: Simon-to-Peter, Saul-to-Paul. Hosea’s children’s names were changed from “Not Pitied” to “She-was-pitied” and “Not My people” to “My people.” Abram became Abraham, and Sarai became Sarah…the list goes on.
But what of us? Just as Joshua gave Israel the choice of being called by God’s Name (choose you this day Whom you will serve), we believers in Messiah are given the choice of a new name through Jesus. By God’s Grace, we are enabled to transcend the curse of being born children of men to be adopted by God.
“But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba!’ (Father) So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:4-7
Our names have been changed because of God’s intervention in our lives. We are adopted by the Lord by accepting the atonement provided by Jesus’ shed blood. We no longer carry our old names: Sinful. We now bear the Lord’s name: Perfect. Made so by Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. Now that’s paternal interaction & affirmation if I’ve ever seen it!