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What's in a Name?

Many Biblical characters have names that remind us of God, by having el tacked onto the end. Here are a few of them: Ezeki-el (God strengthens), Isra-el (Struggles with God), Gamali-el (Camel of God), Ishma-el (God that hears) and Emmanu-el (God is with us).

We can even look beyond the Bible to see these same principles hijacked by popular culture. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's SuperMoses! Did you know that the Superman character was created in the 1930s by two American Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as a response to the growth of anti-Semitism both in the USA and in Europe. They developed a very Jewish mythology around the character and gave him the name of Kal-el, and called his father Jor-el. It was Jor-el on the Planet Krypton who places his son in a tiny rocket ship in order to save him from the catastrophe to come.

That's enough of mere mortals (and super-mortals), now for some more names for God Himself.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am El-Shaddai (God Almighty) walk before me and be blameless." (Genesis 17:1)

Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, El-Emet (The God of truth). (Psalm 31:5)

In the above two verses you can see how YHWH has been translated as Adonai, meaning LORD.

Was it not I, The LORD? And there is no God apart from me, El-Tsaddik (a righteous God) and a Savior; there is none but me. (Isaiah 45:21)

In the above verse, the word Elohim has been translated as God. Let's see another verse now, first in English.

He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. (Psalm 24:5)

Now let's fill in a few gaps with Hebrew.

He will receive blessing from Adonai and vindication from Elohim his Yeshua. (Psalm 24:5)

You've spotted a new word and, if it's familiar to you, you are wondering what on Earth it is doing in the Old Testament! Picture the scene. It's two thousand years ago, in a small village called Nazareth, in the Galilee region of what is now the Land of Israel. You see a little boy playing in the backyard among the wood piles and shavings. His father, Yosef, is in the workshop next to the yard and his mother, Miriam, is busy cooking. His name is Yeshua ben Yosef. You know him better as Jesus, son of Joseph.

But what's Yeshua doing in the Old Testament, you ask. Surely his "Old Testament name" is Immanuel (or Emmanuel)?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel (or Emmanuel) or Jesus? Which is it to be? The answer is ... both! This is the beauty of Hebraic thought. Names are not just ... names. Names are to have meaning. The Bible is full of this concept. Virtually everyone in the Bible has a name that describes something relevant about that person or the situation in which he or she found themselves. From Adam (Hebrew for "man") to Zechariah ("God has remembered") we have a cast of thousands of colourful characters. Then, of course, Jesus, with over 350 names, each describing an aspect of his nature or mission. The name Yeshua means "salvation". As he chiefly came to save the world, then surely it is apt that his given name reflects that fact. Emmanuel, as we have already seen and from what the Gospel account tells us, means "God with us", a comfort to us all, but still not a name with the power of Jesus, Our Saviour. We could call him Emmanuel, Son of Man, Son of God, the Word or Messiah, but it's far more convenient to call him by the name his mum and dad were told by an angel to give him, Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew.

And so ends our introduction to the colourful world of Biblical Hebrew. I would hope that you are intrigued enough to find out more, because a knowledge of the language of the Old Testament will surely open up the Scriptures in remarkable ways.

We have completed our vignettes of Hebraic thought and hopefully it has acted as a taster for you, an appetiser to encourage you to partake in many feasts to come.

Steve Maltz
January 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)

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