Meditations for Troubled Times
“And those who know your name put their trust in you…” (Psalm 9:10)
Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” In our culture, names are chosen because we like the way a name sounds or because it has family ties, but less often due to their meanings. That’s not how it was with the Hebrews. In their culture, names took on great significance. In fact, names often served as a reflection of some personal trait or a revelation of one’s character.
One thinks immediately of Nabal, which means "fool" (1 Samuel 25). As Abigail says of him, “…as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him.” (1 Samuel 25:25) Or we could consider Jacob, which means “one who supplants,” i.e., a man known to be deceptive. And that’s precisely what Jacob was until he was converted. There was that moment in Genesis 32 when Jacob came to the end of his craftiness, and, in his weakness, looked to the LORD.
Jacob wrestled with the angel of the LORD at the Jabbok, saying to him, “I will not let you go until you bless me,” and the LORD changed his name. Why? It was because his character had changed. Now he would be called Israel, one who struggles with God. Obviously, a name, as a revelation of a person’s character, was very important to the Hebrews, and that’s certainly the case with the names of God.
Therefore, to know the LORD’s (or Yahweh’s) name doesn’t merely mean that one just knows the word “Yahweh.” Rather, it means you understand what Yahweh is like. You grasp his character; that is, his revelation of himself. You know that he’s the sovereign, eternal, never-changing God, who is with his people. You understand that he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and truth. You know he keeps his covenant unto a thousand generations with those that love him and keep his commandments.
You know he forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin, and yet he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished. You know he sits on a throne of justice and righteousness, but, as David has just extolled, he is a stronghold for the oppressed. You know what he’s like because you have heard his name declared through in the Scriptures.
It’s not that you have come up with your own ideas about God, erected your own idols, and looked to them for deliverance. This is man’s native way, according to Romans 1. But the way of the faithful is to cling to God’s unfolding of his glory in his word and in the Word, Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) In dark days, when the news cycle with its dire reports of sickness and death changes daily, may the people of God be found trusting in the immutable name of the LORD!