GOD SELECTS A NAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-6-90 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled God Selects a Name—which has far more meaning than we realize, we who grow up in this Western world.
Turning to the Book of Exodus, chapter 3, and reading verses 13 and 14, Exodus 3:13-14:
Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them?
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and God said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
It would be impossible for me to emphasize too much the importance of a name to the Hebrews. A poignant example of that is the name for God: we pronounce it Yahweh, the best that we can, but the pronunciation of the name has been lost, and has been lost for thousands of years. To the Hebrew people, the name of God was too sacred to escape human lips; so the name was unpronounceable, and became lost in pronunciation. And what we have done, we have taken the vowel pointing of the word for “Lord,” adonai, and have taken the vowel pointing, and placed it with those consonants of Yahweh, and came up with the name Jehovah. But Jehovah is by no means that sacred name. Nobody knows what that name was, how it was pronounced. We’ll just be taught it when we get to heaven.
I use that as an illustration of the incomprehensible emphasis and meaning that the Hebrews place in a name; which to us in the Western world is so far beyond what we think for. To us a name is just a designation: it’s Jim, or it’s Bill, or it’s Jane, or it’s Laurie; that’s all we use a name for, just to designate you and you and you and you. But oh! it was in a different world in the Hebrew meaning of the name.
For example, the child consecrated to God could be built in a name with the word elohim, and they’d take the word, the syllable el: Ishmael, “heard of God”; Israel, “the prince of God”; Samuel, “the name of God”; Joel, “Jehovah is God”; Nathanael, “the gift of God.” Then they could take that elohim and the first syllable el and place it at the front of a name, like Elimelech, “God is king”; Elkana, “God has formed”; Eliab, “God is father.” All of those names, without exception, had profound meaning to the Israelite.
Now they would take that word Jehovah, jah, and they would place it at the end: Adonijah, “the Lord is Jehovah”; or Jonathan, “jah hath given”; or Abijah, “jah is father.” And of course, the glorious word “hallelujah,” “praise jah, praise Jehovah, praise God,” “hallelujah.”
Sometimes, and I’ve just taken a Greek form of this, sometimes they would transpose the names, and it’d be this in one instance and this in another instance. You have a brilliant example of that in the Greek: Theodore, theos is “God,” dora is “gift,” so Theodore is “the gift of God.” Now turn it around for a girl: Dorothea, Dorothea, just turn it around Dorothea, for a girl, “the gift of God”; Theodore for a boy, “the gift of God.” I’ve often thought it would just be wonderful if a couple had twins, and one was a boy and one was a girl, and they’d call the boy Theodore and call the girl Dorothea. Wouldn’t that be sweet? Both of them “the gift of God.”
Now, some names have been given by prophecy, like Abraham, “the father of multitudes, the father of nations” [Genesis 17:5]; or Solomon, “peacable”; or Jesus, Iesous, Jesus, Joshua, “for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]; Jesus means “Savior” [Matthew 1:21]. Then some names were given by the circumstances under which they were born into the world. In 1 Samuel 4:21, they named the little lad Ichabod, “the glory has departed”; because of the defeat and disintegration and destruction of the nation, Ichabod. Or in Isaiah 8:1-5: the wife of Isaiah has given birth to a boy, and because of the prophetic destruction of Israel and Samaria by the Assyrians, they named that boy Mahershalalhashbaz. Now can you imagine calling Mahershalalhashbaz to supper or to breakfast or to put him to bed? It means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens,” and as I have said was a prophecy, the name of the lad was a prophecy of the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.
Well, a long time ago our forefathers did that same thing. I didn’t know this—but our English forefathers gave names according to the circumstances of life. Until the Norman conquest of England in 1066, there was no discussion as to what to name the baby: for names as such were unheard of. Eventually he’d have a nickname foisted upon him by none-too-courteous friends. If he grew tall and skinny, for example, he’d be called “Rattlebones,” now “Rathbone.” But William the Conqueror caused to be published a census: the famous “Doomsday Book,” which listed beside the seven hundred baronies hundreds of staunch Englishman as “Bad Neighbor,” “Black in the Mouth,” “Go To Bed,” “Bliss Wench”—I wondered does that concern a delightful, delectable young woman with whom you were engaged, a wench that was blissful?—“Cock’s Brain,” “Half-Naked,” and “Loose Wit.” Succeeding monarchs enforced the census, and by Henry VIII’s time in 1509, people in all but the remotest parts of the kingdom had chosen names by that time. These names were often grotesque. In early passenger lists of vessels coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts, for example, one finds such names as “Lumphead,” “Pale Green,” “Stiff Chin,” “Dole Beer,” “Slant Back,” “Inch Bald,” “Bunny Duck,” and one poor little maid of eighteen had the name “The Peace of God Steinagle.”
A hundred years later, there was little change. In fact, the Puritan trend was in the other direction. There was “Kill Sin Pimple,” “Fight the Good Fight of Faith White,” “Weep Not Goldy Cock,” “Safety on High Smart,” “Search the Scriptures Mab,” and the world’s champion name: “If Christ Had Not Died for You You Had Been Damned Bare Bones.” He was called “Damn” for short. All of these things are actualities.
The really outlandish names began to fade out after the Civil War. Each generation seems to have deleted a letter. “Hickombottomy” might become “Hickey” for instance; or a name with an embarrassing significance such as “Foulfoot” might be dropped completely for Smith or Brown; which is why people with odd names can often trace them further back than the Smiths or the Browns can trace theirs.
So this thing of a name is one of the most interesting studies you could ever make in your life. Which leads us back again to the names of God. The promise of God can be found in His name. I took my concordance, and I went through the names of our Lord. God said, “You tell Israel that I AM THAT I AM hath sent thee” [Exodus 3:14]. And these are the “I Ams” that I learned of our blessed Lord Jesus:
“I am the bread of life” [John 6:35].
“I am the light of the world” [John 8:12].
“I am the door to the sheep” [John 10:7].
“I am the good shepherd” [John 10:11].
“I am the true vine” [John 15:1].
In John 10:36, “I am the Son of God.”
In John 18:37, “I am a king.”
“I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
“I am the way, the truth, and the life” [John 14:6].
“I am the Alpha and the Omega. I am the First and the Last” [Revelation 1: 11].
“I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” [Revelation 1:18].
And the closing avowal: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star” [Revelation 22:16]. Those are just incomparably precious! And they describe our wonderful Savior.
In those names is the pledge of God to be with us. Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God.” In youth the Lord has promised to be with us. There’s no such thing in Holy Scripture as “sowing wild oats” and a certain amount of dereliction and dissolution that is to be experienced in childhood or youth. That may be a psychological approach to the offensiveness of some transgressions of young people; but it’s not in the Word of God. In youth we are asked of the Lord to be close to Him. He is with us in youth. “I am with you in childhood, in youth” [Jeremiah 1:7-8]. And to see a child that loves God and loves the Savior, there’s just not anything more precious.
This afternoon, as I do practically every day, I met with a darling girl. She’s just a child; but just as smart as she could be. And so knowledgeable in the ways of the Lord, in Holy Scripture, and to see the child who will be coming forward Sunday morning at 10:50 to make her entrance into the house and family of God, to be baptized—and the day before that, a lad, who is coming at 8:15 to give his heart to the Lord.
I was talking to a man today, and he was asking me about my life as a minister and as a preacher. And I said to him, “As far back as I can remember, I have been preparing to be a pastor. As far back as I can remember.” When I was a little child, four and five years old, and when I entered school in those first elementary grades, I was studying to be a preacher. I have never had any dream in my life but to serve God as an undershepherd.
I have been asked in these later years to be president of three universities. It would never occur to me, never occur to me to turn aside from my pulpit, this sacred place, with this Book in my hand, never occur to me to turn aside to do anything in the earth. If I could be bold and brazen, one of the great universities of our Southland called me and said, “We have been appointed by the convention of the state, seven of us, to secure a president for our university. And we are unanimous in wanting you to be president of our university.” And he said, “At this exact time, two weeks from now, at this exact hour, I’m going to call you. And we want you to pray about it, and to give us an answer to whether you’ll come to be president of our university.” So he hung up the phone. And two weeks later, the telephone rang, and I answered it. And the man on the other end said, “Have you prayed it through? Have you an answer for us?” I had no idea what he was talking about, no idea. “Have you prayed it through? And are you prepared to give us an answer?” Dear me! long distance on the other side of the Mississippi River, and I had enough foresight to keep him talking, and as he kept on talking to me and talking to me, it came to me, “O Lord, he asked me two weeks ago to pray and to consider being president of the university, and two weeks later at that exact time and hour he was going to call me for an answer,” it all came back to me. When he hung up that telephone, after his first call and invitation, I never thought about it, much less pray about it. Why should I bother God, who has got a whole lot of things to do, why should I bother God about resigning my pastorate here in order to go to be president of somebody’s university? This is God’s place for me. This is my calling. And it was that way as a child.
And when you think in terms of children or young people being derelict, that is folly wide the mark in the service and love of Jesus; a child ought to, just ought to be so familiar with the Lord, second nature to pray, to come to church, to study the Bible, to be taught the Word of the Lord.
Well, the same wonderful promise of God: “I am with you in manhood and in womanhood” [Micah 6:8]. Ten thousand responsibilities come as you grow older, and you cannot escape them. And who would want to? As you grow older and into maturity, to accept the assignments God has for you in life is a wonderful privilege. “Thank You, Lord, that You trust me with these assignments,” and down to old age, and to death.
I had a funeral service today, burying one of the dearest, sweetest men that you could ever know. His father was, oh! so dedicated a deacon in our church, and so encouraged me when I came here almost forty-six years ago. And I told the people at the memorial service today that I’ve been here so long that I now am beginning to bury the children whose fathers and mothers I have buried. I am burying the children of parents that I have buried.
Well, when we look forward to that climactic day, is it with dread and foreboding? No. It’s our greatest triumph. It’s our last and final victory. It’s the consummation of the race. “I will be with you,” God says, “down to old age and to death” [Matthew 28:20].
What a preciousness is the promise of God! And it is all found in His name. Bless you, dear people.
Now Eddie, I want us to sing a song of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody here tonight who’d love to give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], you come and stand by me. A family, a couple, someone to come into the fellowship of our dear church, you are so welcome. Bless you as you come, while we stand and sing.
GOD SELECTS A NAME
I. Importance of a name to the Hebrews
1. Connections to God
2. Names given by prophecy
3. Names suggesting circumstances
II. Promises of God in His name
1. I AM
2. Pledge of God to be with us