[My apologies for the 2 week gap in the Advent-ures series of posts. Judging by the stack of concerned emails I must have lost somewhere because I didn’t see them, I suspect millions of you were almost curious about the delay. Due to my MTS classes running until midnight last night, I was busy writing, studying, reading, writing, reading, writing, and studying, and also, writing and studying. I think that covers most of what I’ve been doing the past two weeks…non-stop…day and night and night and day. So, on my 4 hours of sleep, I will haphazardly attempt to coherently push us into some fresh thoughts about Christmas…pass or fail.]
Those of you who have been in church most or all of your lives, like I have, are fairly well acquainted with “the Christmas story.” If you grew up in a church, you probably saw pageants that told or read or acted out the story in some form or another. I know I did. I don’t remember the earliest ones, but I probably was a shepherd (in a bathrobe), a wise man (also in a bathrobe, but slightly nicer; a.k.a. one of the “kings from Orient are” – I remember singing that more than once), and who knows, maybe I was even a baby Jesus…my first year at the latest.
I hesitate to mention that at around age 31 I was asked to sing in the Christmas program of the English-speaking church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. It was a men’s trio. Guess what we sang? Wow…you’re smart. Yes: “We Three Kings.” Guess what we wore on our heads? Burger King kids crowns. (don’t judge me, it wasn’t my idea) You had to figure the magi were wise because for one thing, in order to wear Burger King crowns while visiting the boy Jesus, they would have had to LEAVE Burger King. In my opinion, leaving a Burger King is always a wise decision.
(I’m convinced that the wardrobes of church Christmas programs include the curtains from hippie vans of the early 1970s. BTW, the BK Lounge crowns were the idea of my school principal under whom I was teaching 6th grade in that era (1997). He is the one to the left with his eyes all aglow.)
Just so you know, the above information is not merely post-final exams exhaustion-induced rambling. It’s important, rambling, background information, and somewhere in the background of the above thoughts, I was meaning to point out that in the traditional Christmas pageant story, the name “Immanuel – God with us” usually shows up somewhere in the script, and rightfully so. That is an important name with a very significant meaning. Names, especially biblical names, carry a lot of weight, e.g. Eglon; there might be a stab at a cutting joke in there; hint: “Eglon” may mean “heifer” and if you know anything about Eglon and the story…. Get it? Heifer? Eglon? Stab? Cutting joke? (OK, never mind. Hey, I’m working on coffee fumes here. Cut me some slack!)
But there are a lot of names in the Christmas story, and not just the made up names of the 3 mythical kings. Have you ever considered those other names, and what they may mean? You know those long lists of names in Matthew and Luke that we usually read as quickly as possible or skip over them completely? Are we supposed to know those names and what they mean too?
I have to admit, other than hearing sermons that might have examined the lives of some of the biblical characters in the genealogical lists of the Gospels, I don’t recall anyone ever presenting a study of all the names and what they mean. So, while we all know what Immanuel means, do we know any of the other names from the Christmas story? That’s the rest of the story….
So far, I’ve only had time to search for names for Matthew’s genealogy. I learned some things. I learned that coming up with a meaning for a name is no easy task.
Some names have universally accepted meanings, and other names have no known meaning or only a hint at the meaning. Some names have a defined meaning based on what the name “sounds like” in the original language which fits the biblical record for many names.
For example, Genesis 30:18 (HCSB) “Leah said, ‘God has rewarded me for giving my slave to my husband,’ and she named him Issachar.” In the footnote for this name it says, “In Hb, the name Issachar sounds like ‘reward.'”
Other names are apparently defined by some guesswork based on the context or some historical reference. Sometimes etymological links may reach back to what is thought to be a related name in a different language; Mary (“Maria” Greek) to Miriam (Hebrew) to cognates in Ugaritic, Arabic and Aramaic (which were languages relatively close to Hebrew). So the name Mary, could have a meaning that goes back a couple thousand years. Even so, it is hard to imagine that the name would have meant the same thing over the course of so much time. Is there certainty in the meaning of such names? Possibly not, but that may help to explain why many names have multiple meanings.
Below is Matthew 1:1-16 in the ESV. I’ve added in bold brackets one or more meanings that I came across for each name. Since Matthew was emphasizing the paternal ascendants of Jesus’ line, the women’s names, while very important too, might not be the focal point of the list, but I’ve included the meanings of their names in brackets without the bold type just to be sure they’re not left out completely. Where I have written “God” it was probably listed as “YAHWEH.”
Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive or definitive search/study; some meanings may be incorrect, unknowable, or the range of meanings is incomplete; your own research may reveal many more potential or more precise meanings.
Do you see anything interesting in these names from the Christmas story?
Matthew 1 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus [savior, deliverer; God/YAHWEH is salvation] Christ [anointed], the son of David [beloved], the son of Abraham [father of many].
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac [laughter], and Isaac the father of Jacob [that supplants], and Jacob the father of Judah [the praise of the Lord] and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez [burst forth] and Zerah [east; brightness; shining] by Tamar [palm tree], and Perez the father of Hezron [the division of the song; the dart of joy], and Hezron the father of Ram [elevated; sublime; exalted],[a] 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab [my people are generous], and Amminadab the father of Nahshon [that foretells], and Nahshon the father of Salmon [peaceable; perfect; he that rewards], 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz [swiftness] by Rahab [proud; quarrelsome; spacious], and Boaz the father of Obed [servant; workman; worshipper] by Ruth [friend; satisfied], and Obed the father of Jesse [gift; oblation; one who is], 6 and Jesse the father of David [beloved] the king.
And David was the father of Solomon [peaceable; perfect; one who recompenses; peace] by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam [he enlarges the people; he sets the people at liberty], and Rehoboam the father of Abijah [the Lord is my father; my father is God/YAHWEH], and Abijah the father of Asaph [collector; who gathers together],[b] 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat [the Lord is judge; God has judged], and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram [to cast; elevated; exalted by God/YAHWEH], and Joram the father of Uzziah [my power is God/YAHWEH; strength; goat], 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham [the perfection of the Lord; YAHWEH is upright], and Jotham the father of Ahaz [one that takes possession; YAHWEH has held], and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah [YAHWEH strengthens; strength of the Lord] , 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh [he that is forgotten; causing to forget], and Manasseh the father of Amos [carried; loading; weighty],[c] and Amos the father of Josiah [the Lord burns; the fire of the Lord; YAHWEH supports], 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah [preparation(?)] and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel [I have asked of God; asked or lent of God],[d]and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel [a stranger at Babylon; dispersion of confusion], 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud [father of praise], and Abiud the father of Eliakim [resurrection of God; God rises], and Eliakim the father of Azor [a helper; a court], 14 and Azor the father of Zadok [just; justified; righteous], and Zadok the father of Achim [he will establish; preparing; confirming; revenging], and Achim the father of Eliud [God is my praise],15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar [help; my God has helped], and Eleazar the father of Matthan [gift], and Matthan the father of Jacob [that supplants], 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph [he will add; increase; addition] the husband of Mary [rebellion; beloved; loved], of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
DISCLAIMER: It would not be proper exegesis to read too much into these meanings as they pertain to Christ, and I’m not suggesting there is a “hidden message” here. My main idea is that biblical names typically have meanings that relate to the person and to the context of the narrative, and perhaps these names have meanings that support the narrative as well. Using our imagination a little isn’t a bad thing. If you’re interested in reading a perspective that may go a bit too far with it, I discovered someone already had this idea and ran with it, but from the vantage point of Luke. You can find it here.
“Immanuel, God with us” is a powerful example of significance of a biblical name. Is it also not interesting that God the Father says in the Gospels on more than one occasion, “This is my beloved Son,” and Jesus is called “the son of David,” and David’s name probably means, “beloved,” and David’s name appears three times in this genealogy?
I hope this Advent-ure has been worth your time. As always, God’s word is filled with multi-faceted truths. Sometimes we read right over them, and never realize there is something there. As you continue your contemplation and adoration of Immanuel and his coming, perhaps you’ll find some added encouragement through reflecting on the names that led up to the Name that is above all others and at which every knee will bow.