Names, Isaiah, Eunuchs… yep.

What’s in a name?

A whole helluva lot. 

In the beginning, God created a human… and  always in Hebrew scripture, a new human being is named for either their personality or for situations surrounding their birth.  The parents never chose a name simply because it sounded nice.  God started this trend himself by creating a creature in his own image and calling it “human”.  The word “adam” (human) comes from the word “adamah”, which means “dirt/ground/earth”.  God created the person from the dust of the ground, and named them accordingly. 

When this human was split into two beings, the two people were given more descriptive titles, “Eesh” (male) and “Eesha” (female), based on their situation of needing (and helping) each other.  They were still collectively known as “human” (adam), but after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, their names change.  The man chooses “Adam” as his proper name, and the woman is called “Eve” (the mother of life).

A lot of people have name changes (identity changes) after major life events, both in the Bible and in modern day.  Women often change their name when they’re married, we add titles and abbreviations to our names when we receive specialized degrees; in the Karen culture, women aren’t called by their first names anymore after giving birth to their first child, they become known as “so-and-so’s mother”.  In fact, many of the chief people in the Bible had name changes: Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah, Jacob/Israel, Simon/Peter, Saul/Paul. 

There’s a lot of power in your name.

Isaiah 62:12 says, “They will be called Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.”

Isaiah 60:18 says, “No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.”

Isaiah 56:4-5 says, “For this is what the Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

That last one about the Eunuchs is one of my favorite parts of the entire Bible.  A eunuch was defined by what they had lost (or rather, what had been taken from them).  They don’t only lose a body part (as if that wasn’t bad enough), but also their name and their entire identity (from then on they are simply known as a “eunuch”, their real name is forgotten).  They can never walk away from that injury, the wound never heals, because it defines their very existence from that point on.  Imagine that your name was changed, and the only purpose of your new name was to summarize, publicize, and exploit the most painful and traumatic experience of your life.  It’s just horrifying, and I’m so glad that Isaiah brings that to light… because God says the most redemptive thing to them, “I will give you an everlasting name what will not be cut off“.

  Because in all honesty, physical wounds heal easily compared to emotional wounds… so in terms of the lifespan of a eunuch, the thing which was “cut off” was their name and identity (the physical injury was simply the cause of that).  God tells them that once he names them, no one has the power to cut it off, he will not let that happen to them again.

It all reminds me of what Jesus said over and over, “You have heard it said that…  but I tell you this…” 

You have heard it said about your identity that… (blahblahblah) …but I tell you this about your identity…

People have said that you are worthless, but I tell you this, you are valuable beyond worth, and if you were lost I would leave everything to seek you out (as a coin, or a sheep, or a son).  People have said that you are poor and unclean, but I tell you this, you are blessed and you will inherit the Kingdom of God.  Forget the names that you’ve been called in the past, that is not who you are, this is who you are

Isaiah 54:4-6, “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.  Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.  You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.  For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.  The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit – a wife who married young, only to be rejected”, says your God.

Isaiah 62:2-5, “The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.  You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate.  But you will be called Hephzibah (my delight is in her), and your land Beulah (married); for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.  As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons (builders) marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

One part of that “remember no more the reproach of your widowhood“, brings together a lot of things which I hadn’t connected before.  Widows and orphans were in the same predicament as the eunuchs.  I think that’s why the disciples were told to show mercy to those specific groups of people, because widows and orphans were totally defined and marginalized by their loss.  If it’s not bad enough to lose a parent or spouse, it also caused you to lose your income, your home, and your place in society.  So now you’re grieving, alone, penniless, homeless, and outcast from everyone.  It’s just ridiculous.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite stories about Jesus, when the woman pours out perfume on his feet.  The pharisee thought that Jesus didn’t know the woman’s true identity (a sinner), but it was Jesus who exposed what kind of person she was, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.”

A friend of mine recently pointed out to me the significance of Jesus casting out demons by naming them and exposing their true identity.  I also think Jesus saves us from demons of our own making by exposing our true identity.

The Book of Silence has a lot to say on that subject.

 

 

The Discipline of Confession is what comes to mind, with all of this name/identity business.  Calling things as you see them, proclaiming the truth, uncovering what is hidden, revealing our true names.  Like being stewards of the truth for one another, for when we forget our names… or when we let others name us, or when we re-name ourselves based on our situation (if we lose then we are “losers”, if we fail then we are “failures”, etc…)

I’ve found that it’s very difficult to be around a friend when that person has forgotten who they are, and is acting totally out of character.    It’s very easy to simply turn your back on a friend if they’re acting like a jerk or an idiot.  But this year especially, I’ve learned that this time period when a friend isn’t acting like themselves, is when they need us the most, to remind them of who they are.  I’ve realized that it’s the true test of friendship, to turn the other cheek when they slap you (or stab you in the back).  To remember that the person you care about is still in there, and for some reason they’ve given into some lies about their identity and what kind of person they are.

And I know that I’ve had plenty of friends stick by me when I’ve been a jerk and an idiot.  I also know that I’ve been deceived many times over about my identity, based on the names I’ve been called in my lifetime… but I have also received help many times in order to recover (or uncover) my true identity, which being created in the image of God, is everlasting and will not be cut off.

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