In the Bible, a person’s name isn’t just a way of identifying a person: it describes them or refers to an essential aspect of their character; such as with the saying: “X is my middle name” (where X is a word like “danger” or “reliable” or “gregarious”. Below are some of the ways “name” is used in the Bible in a way different to mere identification.

1. God’s name = God’s nature/ character = God

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5-7)

This is part of God’s reply to Moses’ request to show him, Moses, God’s glory. God’s name may be seen merely as Yahweh but it is understood to include the extended description in verses 6-7 because of the reference to “the Lord”, which is a repetition of “the Lord” in verse 5. The “name” of the Lord does not just identify God, it indicates His character, which God describes in these verses.

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

Here, “name” is a synecdoche (a part refers to the whole) for God; particularly, His nature and His refusal to allow anything or anyone to take His place or have our devotion alongside or over Him. This verse reflects the first commandment.

his name is the LORD–
and rejoice before him. (Psalm 68:4)

He provided redemption for his people;
he ordained his covenant forever-
holy and awesome is his name. (Psalm 111:9)

But you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name. (Isaiah 63:16)

You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, (Jeremiah 32:18)

No one is like you, O LORD;
you are great,
and your name is mighty in power.
You are among us, O LORD,
and we bear your name; (Jeremiah 10:6)

the LORD God Almighty,
the LORD is his name of renown! (Hosea 12:5)

He who forms the mountains,
creates the wind,
and reveals his thoughts to man,
he who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads the high places of the earth–
the LORD God Almighty is his name. (Amos 4:13)

Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty. (Amos 5:27)

The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (Zechariah 14:9)

What about Scriptures that say that God will give each Christian a new name (Revelation 2:17)? So clearly this does not mean what it literally says.

If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – the LORD your God – the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. (Deuteronomy 28:58)

Again, the use of “name” to refer to God is a synecdoche. The clause in em-dashes defines what (who) “this glorious and awesome name” is. More simply, “this glorious and awesome name” equals “the Lord your God”. The name is not just “the Lord” but the Lord who is “your God”.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8:1)

The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe. (Psalm 18:10)

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. (Psalm 20:1)

Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might. (Psalm 54:1)

See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar,
with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;
his lips are full of wrath,
and his tongue is a consuming fire. (Isaiah 30:27)

This verse reveals another aspects of God’s character: the righteous and ultimate Judge.

During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. (Daniel 2:19-20)

Verses 20-23 are a paean, an exclamation of praise. The second half of verse 19 introduces the whole poem as Daniel’s praise to God; verse 20 is a précis that identifies who Daniel is praising and why, and verses 21-23 elaborate on these reasons. The subject of Daniel’s thanksgiving is God; specifically, God’s character, which is what “the name of God” means. We infer this because Daniel specifically praises two characteristics of God: His wisdom and power.

In a similar vein, a name functions to describe a person or their character: Abraham as a father of nations; Jacob as a deceiver; and the rebellion at Babel shows that people weren’t content with being what God had called them to be:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)

“Name” here means fame, and the reason for that fame. People wanted to create their own history and control their own destiny.

2. What we do to God’s name we do to God.

Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.
(Genesis 4:25-26)

They didn’t just call the name of the Lord; they called on His name. To call on means to invoke someone, to seek their help.

I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22)

This verse is an instance of a common Hebrew poetic technique called parallelism, where the second line conveys the same idea as the first but uses different language. So, in the second line, “I will praise you” is equivalent to “I will declare your name”, as “to my brothers” is equivalent to “in the congregation”. The following verses are other examples of parallelism.

Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together. (Psalm 34:3)

All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name.” (Psalm 66:4)

How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
Will the foe revile your name forever? (Psalm 74:10)

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. (Psalm 91:14)

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God. (Isaiah 50:10)

We only trust someone when we believe that they are worthy of it. Through and before Israel’s history God showed that He was so worthy. God’s faithfulness is what Isaiah is calling godly Israelites to rely on, despite (here) the apostasy of national Israel. When God revealed His glory to Moses, God proclaimed His name: this isn’t just a combination of letters; God’s name involves His character. So God says that He is, among other characteristics, “abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods;
we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever. (Micah 4:5)

To ‘walk in the name of the Lord’ has a similar flavour to being called by the name of the Lord (Deut. 28:9-10) or having His name placed on us (Num. 6:27) but it is the result of being so named.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, `How have we shown contempt for your name?’
“You place defiled food on my altar. (Malachi 1:6-7)

Dishonouring God’s commands (not presenting unblemished sacrifices) is how showing contempt for God’s name, i.e for God Himself, not just combination of consonants; and as the next verse indicates, offerings brought to God’s (great) name are clearly offerings to God, not to a combination of letters.

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 1:11)

3a. Bearing God’s name – people

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. (Exodus 23:20-21)

The phrase “my Name is in him” means that the angel is God’s representative. This is perhaps similar to how God’s Spirit is in Christians.

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, `This is how you are to bless the Israelites… So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27)

To put God’s name on the Israelites seems to mean to bring them under God’s protection and provision, which results from being in a proper relationship with Him. (Note that the form of the Ten Commandments, the prologue and the verses after, is essentially an Ancient Near Eastern sovereignty treaty, which states the relationship of the king and the vassal, and the responsibilities of each.)

The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:9-10)

Being called by God’s name implies that God is your king, your provider and protector. The following verses carry the same kind of language.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

I will say to the north, `Give them up!’
and to the south, `Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth–
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)

You are among us, O LORD,
and we bear your name; (Jeremiah 10:6)

When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O LORD God Almighty. (Jeremiah 15:16)

so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name, “ (Amos 9:12)

Compare these verses to the following ones where there is a wish or promise or blessing that one person will be called by the name of another.

the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
– may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
upon the earth.” (Genesis 48:16)

This is from Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. It probably means to inherit the promise of (and) blessing that God gave to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. This is likely because of the last two lines that are part of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:2, 15:4, and 17:4-7.

One will say, `I belong to the LORD’;
another will call himself by the name of Jacob;
still another will write on his hand, `The LORD’s,’
and will take the name Israel. (Isaiah 44:5)

3b. Bearing God’s name – things

The ‘place’/ city/ temple

‘the house that bears my Name.’ (Jeremiah 7:14, 30; 32:34; 34:15)

See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.’ (Jeremiah 25:29)

They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. (Jeremiah 32:34)

O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Daniel 9:19)

These verses show that bearing God’s name does not mean that the object or person is called God, or Yhwh; it means that that entity belongs to God, like we might inscribe our name upon a bag or book or article of clothing that we own.

In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
‘The LORD Our Righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 33:16)

“The distance all around will be 18,000 cubits.
“And the name of the city from that time on will be:
The LORD is there.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

In these two verses the city that bears God’s name is called by other names, in which God’s covenant name – Yhwh – is featured. It doesn’t mean that the city is God; it means, as before, that the city belongs to God.

You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. (Deuteronomy 12:4-5)

When God places His name in/on/at a location, it means that that location is His dwelling, for want of a better word, His home. It’s like the saying that home is where the heart is. In the following verses it is clear that buildings or places do not house a collection of consonants; this is more so in view of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:27: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

” `The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:11-13)

“You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the LORD his God until the LORD put his enemies under his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David, when he said, `Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.’ (1 Kings 5:5)

At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty
from a people tall and smooth-skinned,
from a people feared far and wide,
an aggressive nation of strange speech,
whose land is divided by rivers-
the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty. (Isaiah 18:7)

The Ark of the Covenant

David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. (2 Samuel 6:1-2)

David and all the Israelites with him went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who is enthroned between the cherubim–the ark that is called by the Name. (1 Chronicles 13:6)

4a. God identified by “the name”

The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse…
Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death. (Leviticus 24:11, 16)

He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark.
(2 Samuel 6:2)

David and all the Israelites with him went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who is enthroned between the cherubim–the ark that is called by the Name.
(1 Chronicles 13:6)

Remember, “the Name” is a synecdoche indicating God Himself, and like the city and temple, being called by God’s name means that it belongs to God.

4b. Jesus identified by “the name”.

They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)

If there is one verse that states Jesus’ deity most explicitly, clearly and unequivocally, then Colossians 2:9 or John 1:1 have the strongest claim. For a verse that implies Jesus’ deity with a stark statement that would cause a Jewish heart to skip a beat, then John 8:58 would be ahead by a nose.

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)

Would Paul have died just for a combination of five letters (or six in Greek or Hebrew)? Again, “the name of” is a way of saying for Jesus and the news about him.

The use of the capital en in the Old and New Testaments doesn’t have any significance as there are no upper- and lower-case letters in Hebrew: there is only one case. In the manuscripts of the NT in Greek there are upper- and lower-case letters; however only one case is used in any manuscript. Early manuscripts used only upper case (uncials), and lower-case letters were introduced several centuries after the time of Jesus.

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