What is in a name? Let’s take Moses for example. Moses is probably one of the most important figures from biblical times, and he is an example of someone who lived his life in such a way as to define what it means to be a Moses for eternity. Moses in Egyptian means son. This is an interesting meaning, because Moses is one of the few people who have been so close to God as to have actual conversations. God would speak to Moses face to face as one would speak to a friend, or perhaps a son. They knew each other. Intimately. God would calm Moses down when he got angry, and Moses would calm God down when God got angry. It seems like Moses more than lived out what it means to be a son of God.
Being a son of God is only one half of Moses’ identity however. In Hebrew his name means “to draw out” or “deliverer.” Moses was a man who gave his life for God’s people. He was a man of great passion, and very compassionate. We see the compassionate (etymology = to suffer with) side of his character early in his life story. While still a prince in the Pharaoh’s family, Moses was out walking among the slaves. He saw a slave master beating a slave mercilessly. Moses was furious, he saw there was no one to stop the beating. It seemed to him that justice and righteousness stood at a distance. Seeing that there was no other hope for justice, Moses raised up his arm and struck down the guard; killing him. It is interesting that this is the very same description that Isaiah uses for God:
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm brought him victory. (Isaiah 59:14-16)
What’s in a name? In the name Moses we find the two crucial elements for a disciple of God. The first is deep compassion, a willingness to suffer with the oppressed. The second is an intimate relationship with God. As Moses’ journey is coming to an end, God tells him “Someday, I will raise up another prophet; someone like you. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he will speak everything I command” (Deut 18:18). Until Jesus came, there was no one with a name like Moses.
The Gospel, the good news that Jesus brings us is that we can all be a Moses or a Paul. Paul is a great example of what Jesus is calling us to do with our lives. He was born with the name Saul which means “the one who was asked for” or “the one who was prayed for.” Which comes from the fact that the first king of the Jews was Saul who had been asked for or prayed for by the Israelites. Saul thought he saw God perfectly. He thought he was king-like, and was the answer to Jewish prayers. And he thought it was his duty to destroy anyone who did not believe what he believed. He thought God needed to be defended. Then he met Jesus, and Jesus taught him how to truly see God. Jesus humbled him. And through the humbling experience of having what he had always believed shattered, Saul learned how to live for God by living completely and compassionately for the ones who had always been considered outside of God’s love. Saul redefined his name. He became Paul which means small or humble.
Now Paul is here with us. Moses is here with us, and Jesus is here with us. Together they are asking, what does your name mean? What do people in your community think when they hear your name? Do they identify you with complete faith and trust in God? Do they identify you with loving compassion for all people, especially those who look very different? The good news of the Gospel is that no matter what our name means today, Jesus is willing to give us a new name. If we are willing to do our part, the world will come to know us as beloved Abiel, a child of God.