Reflecting and Doing
We can use names to think about how we see ourselves and how God sees us.
You will need something you can mould into shapes to make letters with: pipe cleaners, play dough, rice or matchsticks for example. I’ll assume pipe cleaners for the rest of the activity.
- First make your name out of the pipe cleaners. Use the name you call yourself.
- Next, think about any nicknames you have been given. Change the pipe cleaners to make your nickname. How do you feel about that name?
- What nickname do you think would best suit you? Make that name now. Do you like it?
- If you could have any nickname, what would you like to have? Make that name now.
- When God looks at you, he sees beyond your self-image, good or bad. He sees beyond your fears and failings, beyond your glories and your goals. He sees you clothed in Christ’s righteousness and dearly loved. Form your final name – beloved.
When I was a student I was nicknamed ‘Tigger’ because of my bouncy personality and relentlessly-optimistic outlook. I still retain much of that, and I’m OK with the name. Other names are not quite so good. ‘Four-eyes’ and ‘bean pole’ were school-yard names, but it was the simple ‘butter-fingers’ that took the deepest root in my young psyche.
I’m not good at sports. I never have been. Part of that was lack of glasses when I was young, so I couldn’t see to catch the ball. But as soon as I got glasses that got better, yes? No. I’ve stayed just as bad at catching as I was when I was 6. Why did that stay? Why did I never practice enough to become at least alright at catching? The not-being-able-to-see didn’t affect everything. Before glasses I couldn’t see the blackboard either, but glasses fixed that and it never stopped me learning. Why did I stay rubbish at catching?
I think it was the reputation for being rubbish at catching that did it. The butter-fingers name. I let it worm its way into my heart and I still have the self-image, bolstered by experience, that I am rubbish at catching. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wonder, if they had called me ‘magnet-hands’ instead, whether I would have grown into that name as much as I did into ‘butter-fingers’?
Names mean something. In the Bible, names are hugely significant. They are not just labels to distinguish one person or place from another. Some are memories, bringing to mind a special event by the place it happened. It’s like naming a place Trafalgar Square or Ground Zero Memorial today. Back in chapter 16, Hagar named the well that God provided ‘Well of the Living One who sees me’. In chapter 22, Abraham called the place of his test ‘The Lord will provide’.
Other names look to the future – good or bad. Hosea named his children some pretty awful names. Jezreel, his first child, was named after a massacre. It would be like naming a child Auschwitz today. His other children were named Not-Loved and Not-My-People as an indication of how God felt about his own children, Israel.
Other names are more hopeful, aspirational, even. With impending exile, Isaiah named his son ‘Survivors-Will-Come-Back’, and even Hosea’s children could hope for a brighter future with God’s beautiful promise of restoration:
“I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one”.
I will say to those called “Not my people”, “You are my people”;
and they will say, “You are my God.”’ (Hos 2)
What about the names in our passage today? While Esau (hairy) is an apt description, Jacob is more uncertain. Was it a prediction or warning? Something he was destined to become or something to avoid?
The name literally means ‘he grasps the heel’, which was figurative way of saying ‘he deceives’ (like our pulling the leg, but not so jokey.) In modern speech we’d say Jacob means sneaky little ratbag, con-artist. Not exactly nice. And he lived up to it.
Was it the name that made Jacob the way he was? Or did God see his heart before he was born and match the name to the nature? Perhaps Jacob could have used his name as a spur to become better than the shyster it implied.
Jesus also used names. He gave Simon the name of Peter – The Rock. Peter must have cringed at this sometimes, because he was far from rock-like. He was a blabbermouth, he had faith like a weathercock and denied even knowing Jesus, but Jesus knew his heart and trusted him to grow into his name.
We all have names given to us. Some are long-standing and we may embrace them. I keep Tigger as a reminder to bounce back when stuff goes wrong. Other names are a person’s throw-away comment that we pick up and carry around, but it is up to us whether we let them ride in our hearts and grow to define us. At school I was told I was bad at writing – my spelling was awful, my handwriting almost illegible and I hated it. Probably what I hated was the criticism, not the writing itself, but it took forty years for me to shake off the idea that I could not write and to believe the people who told me I wrote well. I found it hard to stop living up to the name I had given myself.
God also has names for us. I should pay more attention to what he says I am called.
What name do you think you should have?
What would you like it to be?
Genesis 25:19-34 English Standard Version
These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.