Naming of children (Genesis 16)

Genesis 16

Ancient Near Eastern peoples attached a deep significance to the naming of children. Unlike modern parents, who typically choose names often long before a chld’s birth on the basis of cultural popularity, family tradition, personal preference or sound, Israelite parents tended to select names based upon circumstances surrounding the birth or words spoken near the time of birth, in Genesis 35:18 we read that Rachel, dying in childbirth, named her son Ben-Oni (“my painful son”), although Jacob renamed the baby Benjamin (“son of the right hand”).

On rare occations God rewarded a name to a child’s parents before birth, signifying the divinely established role that child would play in history. For example, God spcified the name of Isaac, meaning “he laughs”. This name may reflect not only on Abraham’s and Sarah’s laughter of dibelief upon learning that they were indeed to have a son in their old age (17:17, 18:12, 21:6) but also the ultimate joy Isaac would bring as the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s longstanding promise to Abraham (17:4-8, 21:1-2). Another clear example of God naming a child is his own Son Jesus (the Greek vesion of Joshua, meaning “he saves”), whose divinely revealed purpose was “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). See also Hosea 1:4, 6 and 9 for some more sobering names God designated for the offspring of the prophet Hosea.

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