« Prev Chapter I. Names. 1 Chron. i-ix. Next »

Chapter I. Names. 1 Chron. i-ix.

The first nine chapters of Chronicles form, with a few slight exceptions, a continuous list of names. It is the largest extant collection of Hebrew names. Hence these chapters may be used as a text for the exposition of any spiritual significance to be derived from Hebrew names either individually or collectively. Old Testament genealogies have often exercised the ingenuity of the preacher, and the student of homiletics will readily recollect the methods of extracting a moral from what at first sight seems a barren theme. For instance, those names of which little or nothing is recorded are held up as awful examples of wasted lives. We are asked to take warning from Mahalalel and Methuselah, who spent their long centuries so ineffectually that there was nothing to record except that they begat sons and daughters and died. Such teaching is not fairly derived from its text. The sacred writers implied no reflection upon the Patriarchs of whom they gave so short and conventional an account. Least of all could such teaching be based upon the lists in Chronicles, because the men who are there merely mentioned by name include Adam, Noah, Abraham, and other heroes 30 of sacred story. Moreover, such teaching is unnecessary and not altogether wholesome. Very few men who are at all capable of obtaining a permanent place in history need to be spurred on by sermons; and for most people the suggestion that a man's life is a failure unless he secures posthumous fame is false and mischievous. The Lamb's book of life is the only record of the vast majority of honourable and useful lives; and the tendency to self-advertisement is sufficiently wide-spread and spontaneous already: it needs no pulpit stimulus. We do not think any worse of a man because his tombstone simply states his name and age, or any better because it catalogues his virtues and mentions that he attained the dignity of alderman or author.

The significance of these lists of names is rather to be looked for in an opposite direction. It is not that a name and one or two commonplace incidents mean so little, but that they suggest so much. A mere parish register is not in itself attractive, but if we consider even such a list, the very names interest us and kindle our imagination. It is almost impossible to linger in a country churchyard, reading the half-effaced inscriptions upon the headstones, without forming some dim picture of the character and history and even the outward semblance of the men and women who once bore the names.

For though a name is neither ... hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man,

yet, to use a somewhat technical phrase, it connotes a man. A name implies the existence of a distinct personality, with a peculiar and unique history, and 31 yet, on the other hand, a being with whom we are linked in close sympathy by a thousand ties of common human nature and everyday experience. In its lists of what are now mere names, the Bible seems to recognise the dignity and sacredness of bare human life.

But the names in these nine chapters have also a collective significance: they stand for more than their individual owners. They are typical and representative, the names of kings, and priests, and captains; they sum up the tribes of Israel, both as a Church and a nation, down all the generations of its history. The inclusion of these names in the sacred record, as the express introduction to the annals of the Temple, and the sacred city, and the elect house of David, is the formal recognition of the sanctity of the nation and of national life. We are entirely in the spirit of the Bible when we see this same sanctity in all organised societies: in the parish, the municipality, and the state; when we attach a Divine significance to registers of electors and census returns, and claim all such lists as symbols of religious privilege and responsibility.

But names do not merely suggest individuals and communities: the meanings of the names reveal the ideas of the people who used them. It has been well said that “the names of every nation are an important monument of national spirit and manners, and thus the Hebrew names bear important testimony to the peculiar vocation of this nation. No nation of antiquity has such a proportion of names of religious import.”3131   Oehler, Old Testament Theology, i. 283 (Eng. trans.). Amongst ourselves indeed the religious meaning of names has almost wholly faded away; 32 “Christian name” is a mere phrase, and children are named after relations, or according to prevailing fashion, or after the characters of popular novels. But the religious motive can still be traced in some modern names; in certain districts of Germany the name “Ursula” or “Apollonia” is a sure indication that a girl is a Roman Catholic and has been named after a popular saint.3232   Nestle, Die Israelitischen Eigennamen, p. 27. The present chapter is largely indebted to this standard monograph. The Bible constantly insists upon this religious significance, which would frequently be in the mind of the devout Israelite in giving names to his children. The Old Testament contains more than a hundred etymologies3333   Nestle. of personal names, most of which attach a religious meaning to the words explained. The etymologies of the patriarchal names—“Abraham,” father of a multitude of nations; “Isaac,” laughter; “Jacob,” supplanter; “Israel,” prince with God—are specially familiar. The Biblical interest in edifying etymologies was maintained and developed by early commentators. Their philology was far from accurate, and very often they were merely playing upon the forms of words. But the allegorising tendencies of Jewish and Christian expositors found special opportunities in proper names. On the narrow foundation of an etymology mostly doubtful and often impossible, Philo, and Origen, and Jerome loved to erect an elaborate structure theological or philosophical doctrine. Philo has only one quotation from our author: “Manasseh had sons, whom his Syrian concubine bare to him, Machir; and Machir begat Gilead.” 3434   1 Chron. vii. 14. He quotes this verse to show that recollection is associated in a subordinate capacity 33 with memory. The connection is not very clearly made out, but rests in some way on the meaning of Manasseh, the root of which means to forget. As forgetfulness with recollection restores our knowledge, so Manasseh with his Syrian concubine begets Machir. Recollection therefore is a concubine, an inferior and secondary quality.3535   Philo, De Cong. Quær. Erud. Grat., 8. This ingenious trifling has a certain charm in spite of its extravagance, but in less dexterous hands the method becomes clumsy as well as extravagant. It has, however, the advantage of readily adapting itself to all tastes and opinions, so that we are not surprised when an eighteenth-century author discovers in Old Testament etymology a compendium of Trinitarian theology.3636   Hiller's Onomasticon ap., Nestle 11. Ahiah3737   vii. 8. is derived from 'ehad, one, and yah, Jehovah, and is thus an assertion of the Divine unity; Reuel3838   i. 35. is resolved into a plural verb with a singular Divine name for its subject: this is an indication of trinity in unity; Ahilud3939   xviii. 15. is derived from 'ehad, one, and galud, begotten, and signifies that the Son is only-begotten.

Modern scholarship is more rational in its methods, but attaches no less importance to these ancient names, and finds in them weighty evidence on problems of criticism and theology; and before proceeding to more serious matters, we may note a few somewhat exceptional names. As pointed in the present Hebrew text, Hazarmaveth4040   i. 20. and Azmaveth4141   viii. 36. have a certain grim suggestiveness. Hazarmaveth, court of death, is given as the name of a descendant of Shem. It is, however, probably the name of a place transferred to an eponymous ancestor, 34 and has been identified with Hadramawt, a district in the south of Arabia. As, however, Hadramawt, is a fertile district of Arabia Felix, the name does not seem very appropriate. On the other hand Azmaveth, “strength of death,” would be very suitable for some strong, death-dealing soldier. Azubah,4242   ii. 18. “forsaken,” the name of Caleb's wife, is capable of a variety of romantic explanations. Hazelelponi4343   iii. 20. is remarkable in its mere form; and Ewald's interpretation, “Give shade, Thou who turnest to me Thy countenance,” seems rather a cumbrous signification for the name of a daughter of the house of Judah. Jushab-hesed,4444   iv. 3. “Mercy will be renewed,” as the name of a son of Zerubbabel, doubtless expresses the gratitude and hope of the Jews on their return from Babylon.4545   Bertheau, i. 1. Jashubi-lehem,4646   iv. 22. however, is curious and perplexing. The name has been interpreted “giving bread” or “turning back to Bethlehem,” but the text is certainly corrupt, and the passage is one of many into which either the carelessness of scribes or the obscurity of the chronicler's sources has introduced hopeless confusion. But the most remarkable set of names is found in 1 Chron. xxv. 4, where Giddalti and Romantiezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth, are simply a Hebrew sentence meaning, “I have magnified and exalted help; sitting in distress,4747   iv. 22. I have spoken4848   The translation of these words is not quite certain. visions in abundance.” We may at once set aside the cynical suggestion that the author lacked names to complete a genealogy and, to save the trouble of inventing them separately, took the first sentence that came to hand and cut it up into suitable lengths, nor is it likely that a father would 35 spread the same process over several years and adopt it for his family. This remarkable combination of names is probably due to some misunderstanding of his sources on the part of the chronicler. His parchment rolls must often have been torn and fragmentary, the writing blurred and half illegible; and his attempts to piece together obscure and ragged manuscripts naturally resulted at times in mistakes and confusion.

These examples of interesting etymologies might easily be multiplied; they serve, at any rate, to indicate a rich mine of suggestive teaching. It must, however, be remembered that a name is not necessarily a personal name because it occurs in a genealogy; cities, districts, and tribes mingle freely with persons in these lists. In the same connection we note that the female names are few and far between, and that of those which do occur the “sisters” probably stand for allied and related families, and not for individuals.

As regards Old Testament theology, we may first notice the light thrown by personal names on the relation of the religion of Israel to that of other Semitic peoples. Of the names in these chapters and elsewhere, a large proportion are compounded of one or other of the Divine names. El is the first element in Elishama, Eliphelet, Eliada, etc.; it is the second in Othniel, Jehaleleel, Asareel, etc. Similarly Jehovah is represented by the initial Jeho- in Jehoshaphat, Jehoiakim, Jehoram, etc., by the final -iah in Amaziah, Azariah, Hezekiah, etc. It has been calculated that there are a hundred and ninety names4949   Nestle, p. 68. beginning or ending with the equivalent of Jehovah, including most of the kings of Judah and many of the kings of Israel. Moreover, some names which have not these prefixes 36 and affixes in their extant form are contractions of older forms which began or ended with a Divine name. Ahaz, for instance, is mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions as Jahuhazi—i.e., Jehoahaz—and Nathan is probably a contracted form of Nethaniah.

There are also numerous compounds of other Divine names. Zur, rock, is found in Pedahzur,5050   Num. i. 10. Shaddai, A.V. Almighty, in Ammishaddai5151   Num. i. 12.; the two are combined in Zurishaddai.5252   Num. i. 6. Melech is a Divine name in Malchi-ram and Malchi-shua. Baal occurs as a Divine name in Eshbaal and Meribbaal. Abi, father, is a Divine name in Abiram, Abinadab, etc., and probably also Ahi in Ahiram and Ammi in Amminadab.5353   Cf. p. 40. Possibly, too, the apparently simple names Melech, Zur, Baal, are contractions of longer forms in which these Divine names were prefixes or affixes.

This use of Divine names is capable of very varied illustration. Modern languages have Christian and Christopher, Emmanuel, Theodosius, Theodora, etc.; names like Hermogenes and Heliogabalus are found in the classical languages. But the practice is specially characteristic of Semitic languages. Mohammedan princes are still called Abdurrahman, servant of the Merciful, and Abdallah, servant of God; ancient Phœnician kings were named Ethbaal and Abdalonim, where alonim is a plural Divine name, and the bal in Hannibal and Hasdrubal = baal. The Assyrian and Chaldæan kings were named after the gods Sin, Nebo, Assur, Merodach, e.g., Sin-akki-irib (Sennacherib); Nebuchadnezzar; Assur-bani-pal; Merodach-baladan.

Of these Divine names El and Baal are common to Israel and other Semitic peoples, and it has been held 37 that the Hebrew personal names preserve traces of polytheism. In any case, however, the Baal-names are comparatively few, and do not necessarily indicate that Israelites worshipped a Baal distinct from Jehovah; they may be relics of a time when Baal (Lord) was a title or equivalent of Jehovah, like the later Adonai. Other possible traces of polytheism are few and doubtful. In Baanah and Resheph we may perhaps find the obscure5454   xi. 30; vii. 25 (Nestle). Phœnician deities Anath and Reshaph. On the whole, Hebrew names as compared, for instance, with Assyrian afford little or no evidence of the prevalence of polytheism.

Another question concerns the origin and use of the name Jehovah. Our lists conclusively prove its free use during the monarchy and its existence under the judges. On the other hand, its apparent presence in Jochebed, the name of the mother of Moses, seems to carry it back beyond Moses. Possibly it was a Divine name peculiar to his family or clan. Its occurrence in Yahubidi, a king of Hamath, in the time of Sargon may be due to direct Israelite influence. Hamath had frequent relations with Israel and Judah.

Turning to matters of practical religion, how far do these names help us to understand the spiritual life of ancient Israel? The Israelites made constant use of El and Jehovah in their names, and we have no parallel practice. Were they then so much more religious than we are? Probably in a sense they were. It is true that the etymology and even the original significance of a name in common use are for all practical purposes quickly and entirely forgotten. A man may go through a life-time bearing the name of Christopher and never know its etymological meaning. At Cambridge and 38 Oxford sacred names like “Jesus” and “Trinity” are used constantly and familiarly without suggesting anything beyond the colleges so called. The edifying phrase, “God encompasseth us,” is altogether lost in the grotesque tavern sign “The Goat and Compasses.” Nor can we suppose that the Israelite or the Assyrian often dwelt on the religious significance of the Jeho- or -iah, the Nebo, Sin, or Merodach, of current proper names. As we have seen, the sense of -iah, -el, or Jeho- was often so little present to men's minds that contractions were formed by omitting them. Possibly because these prefixes and affixes were so common, they came to be taken for granted; it was scarcely necessary to write them, because in any case they would be understood. Probably in historic times Abi-, Ahi-, and Ammi- were no longer recognised as Divine names or titles; and yet the names which could still be recognised as compounded of El and Jehovah must have had their influence on popular feeling. They were part of the religiousness, so to speak, of the ancient East; they symbolised the constant intertwining of religious acts, and words, and thoughts with all the concerns of life. The quality of this ancient religion was very inferior to that of a devout and intelligent modern Christian; it was perhaps inferior to that of Russian peasants belonging to the Greek Church; but ancient religion pervaded life and society more consciously than modern Christianity does; it touched all classes and occasions more directly, if also more mechanically. And, again, these names were not the fossil relics of obsolete habits of thought and feeling, like the names of our churches and colleges; they were the memorials of comparatively recent acts of faith. The name “Elijah” commemorated the 39 solemn occasion on which a father professed his own faith and consecrated a new-born child to the true God by naming his boy “Jehovah is my God.” This name-giving was also a prayer: the child was placed under the protection of the deity whose name it bore. The practice might be tainted with superstition; the name would often be regarded as a kind of amulet; and yet we may believe that it could also serve to express a parent's earnest and simple-minded faith. Modern Englishmen have developed a habit of almost complete reticence and reserve on religious matters, and this habit is illustrated by our choice of proper names. Mary, and Thomas, and James are so familiar that their Scriptural origin is forgotten, and therefore they are tolerated; but the use of distinctively Scriptural Christian names is virtually regarded as bad taste. This reticence is not merely due to increased delicacy of spiritual feeling: it is partly the result of the growth of science and of literary and historical criticism. We have become absorbed in the wonderful revelations of methods and processes; we are fascinated by the ingenious mechanism of nature and society. We have no leisure to detach our thoughts from the machinery and carry them further on to its Maker and Director. Indeed, because there is so much mechanism and because it is so wonderful, we are sometimes asked to believe that the machine made itself. But this is a mere phase in the religious growth of mankind: humanity will tire of some of its new toys, and will become familiar with the rest; deeper needs and instincts will reassert themselves; and men will find themselves nearer in sentiment than they supposed to the ancient people who named their children after their God. In this and other matters the East to-day 40 is the same as of old; the permanence of its custom is no inapt symbol of the permanence of Divine truth, which revolution and conquest are powerless to change.

The East bowed low before the blast In patient, deep disdain; She let the legions thunder past, And plunged in thought again.

But the Christian Church is mistress of a more compelling magic than even Eastern patience and tenacity: out of the storms that threaten her, she draws new energies for service, and learns a more expressive language in which to declare the glory of God.

Let us glance for a moment at the meanings of the group of Divine names given above. We have said that, in addition to Melech in Malchi-, Abi, Ahi, and Ammi are to be regarded as Divine names. One reason for this is that their use as prefixes is strictly analogous to that of El and Jeho-. We have Abijah and Ahijah as well as Elijah, Abiel and Ammiel as well as Eliel, Abiram and Ahiram as well as Jehoram; Ammishaddai compares with Zurishaddai, and Ammizabad with Jehozabad, nor would it be difficult to add many other examples. If this view be correct, Ammi will have nothing to do with the Hebrew word for “people,” but will rather be connected with the corresponding Arabic word for “uncle.”5555   Nestle. As the use of such terms as “brother” and “uncle” for Divine names is not consonant with Hebrew theology in its historic period, the names which contain these prefixes must have come down from earlier ages, and were used in later times without any consciousness of their original sense. Probably they were explained by new etymologies 41 more in harmony with the spirit of the times; compare the etymology “father of a multitude of nations” given to Abraham. Even Abi-, father, in the early times to which its use as a prefix must be referred, cannot have had the full spiritual meaning which now attaches to it as a Divine title. It probably only signified the ultimate source of life. The disappearance of these religious terms from the common vocabulary and their use in names long after their significance had been forgotten are ordinary phenomena in the development of language and religion. How many of the millions who use our English names for the days of the week ever give a thought to Thor or Freya? Such phenomena have more than an antiquarian interest. They remind us that religious terms, and phrases, and formulæ derive their influence and value from their adaptation to the age which accepts them; and therefore many of them will become unintelligible or even misleading to later generations. Language varies continuously, circumstances change, experience widens, and every age has a right to demand that Divine truth shall be presented in the words and metaphors that give it the clearest and most forcible expression. Many of the simple truths that are most essential to salvation admit of being stated once for all; but dogmatic theology fossilises fast, and the bread of one generation may become a stone to the next.

The history of these names illustrates yet another phenomenon. In some narrow and imperfect sense the early Semitic peoples seem to have called God “Father” and “Brother.” Because the terms were limited to a narrow sense, the Israelites grew to a level of religious truth at which they could no longer use them; but as they made yet further progress they came to know more 42 of what was meant by fatherhood and brotherhood, and gained also a deeper knowledge of God. At length the Church resumed these ancient Semitic terms; and Christians call God “Abba, Father,” and speak of the Eternal Son as their elder Brother. And thus sometimes, but not always, an antique phrase may for a time seem unsuitable and misleading, and then again may prove to be the best expression for the newest and fullest truth. Our criticism of a religious formula may simply reveal our failure to grasp the wealth of meaning which its words and symbols can contain.

Turning from these obsolete names to those in common use—El; Jehovah; Shaddai; Zur; Melech—probably the prevailing idea popularly associated with them all was that of strength: El, strength in the abstract; Jehovah, strength shown in permanence and independence; Shaddai, the strength that causes terror, the Almighty from whom cometh destruction5656   Joel i. 15; Isa. xiii. 6. It is not necessary here to discuss either the etymological or the theological history of these words in their earliest usage, nor need we do more than recall the fact that Jehovah was the term in common use as the personal name of the God of Israel, while El was rare and sometimes generic.; Zur, rock, the material symbol of strength, Melech, king, the possessor of authority. In early times the first and most essential attribute of Deity is power, but with this idea of strength a certain attribute of beneficence is soon associated. The strong God is the Ally of His people; His permanence is the guarantee of their national existence; He destroys their enemies. The rock is a place of refuge; and, again, Jehovah's people may rejoice in the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The King leads them to battle, and gives them their enemies for a spoil.


We must not, however, suppose that pious Israelites would consciously and systematically discriminate between these names, any more than ordinary Christians do between God, Lord, Father, Christ, Saviour, Jesus. Their usage would be governed by changing currents of sentiment very difficult to understand and explain after the lapse of thousands of years. In the year a.d. 3000, for instance, it will be difficult for the historian of dogmatics to explain accurately why some nineteenth-century Christians preferred to speak of “dear Jesus” and others of “the Christ.”

But the simple Divine names reveal comparatively little; much more may be learnt from the numerous compounds they help to form. Some of the more curious have already been noticed, but the real significance of this nomenclature is to be looked for in the more ordinary and natural names. Here, as before, we can only select from the long and varied list. Let us take some of the favourite names and some of the roots most often used, almost always, be it remembered, in combination with Divine names. The different varieties of these sacred names rendered it possible to construct various personal names embodying the same idea. Also the same Divine name might be used either as prefix or affix. For instance, the idea that “God knows” is equally well expressed in the names Eliada (El-yada'), Jediael (Yada'-el), Jehoiada (Jeho-yada'), and Jedaiah (Yada'-yah). “God remembers” is expressed alike by Zachariah and Jozachar; “God hears” by Elishama (El-shama'), Samuel (if for Shama'-el), Ishmael (also from Shama'-el), Shemaiah, and Ishmaiah (both from Shama' and Yah); “God gives” by Elnathan, Nethaneel, Jonathan, and Nethaniah; “God helps” by Eliezer, Azareel, Joezer, and Azariah; 44 “God is gracious” by Elhanan, Hananeel, Johanan, Hananiah, Baal-hanan, and, for a Carthaginian, Hannibal, giving us a curious connection between the Apostle of love, John (Johanan), and the deadly enemy of Rome.

The way in which the changes are rung upon these ideas shows how the ancient Israelites loved to dwell upon them. Nestle reckons that in the Old Testament sixty-one persons have names formed from the root nathan, to give; fifty-seven from shama, to hear; fifty-six from 'azar, to help; forty-five from hanan, to be gracious; forty-four from zakhar, to remember. Many persons, too, bear names from the root yada', to know. The favourite name is Zechariah, which is borne by twenty-five different persons.

Hence, according to the testimony of names, the Israelites' favourite ideas about God were that He heard, and knew, and remembered; that He was gracious, and helped men, and gave them gifts: but they loved best to think of Him as God the Giver. Their nomenclature recognises many other attributes, but these take the first place. The value of this testimony is enhanced by its utter unconsciousness and naturalness; it brings us nearer to the average man in his religious moments than any psalm or prophetic utterance. Men's chief interest in God was as the Giver. The idea has proved very permanent; St. James amplifies it: God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. It lies latent in names: Theodosius, Theodore, Theodora, and Dorothea. The other favourite ideas are all related to this. God hears men's prayers, and knows their needs, and remembers them; He is gracious, and helps them by His gifts. Could anything be more pathetic than this artless self-revelation? Men's minds have 45 little leisure for sin and salvation; they are kept down by the constant necessity of preserving and providing for a bare existence. Their cry to God is like the prayer of Jacob, “If Thou wilt give me bread to eat and raiment to put on!” The very confidence and gratitude that the names express imply periods of doubt and fear, when they said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” times when it seemed to them impossible that God could have heard their prayer or that He knew their misery, else why was there no deliverance? Had God forgotten to be gracious? Did He indeed remember? The names come to us as answers of faith to these suggestions of despair.

Possibly these old-world saints were not more preoccupied with their material needs than most modern Christians. Perhaps it is necessary to believe in a God who rules on earth before we can understand the Father who is in heaven. Does a man really trust in God for eternal life if he cannot trust Him for daily bread? But in any case these names provide us with very comprehensive formulæ, which we are at liberty to apply as freely as we please: the God who knows, and hears, and remembers, who is gracious, and helps men, and gives them gifts. To begin with, note how in a great array of Old Testament names God is the Subject, Actor, and Worker; the supreme facts of life are God and God's doings, not man and man's doings, what God is to man, not what man is to God. This is a foreshadowing of the Christian doctrines of grace and of the Divine sovereignty. And again we are left to fill in the objects of the sentences for ourselves: God hears, and remembers, and gives—what? All that we have to say to Him and all that we are capable of receiving from Him.


« Prev Chapter I. Names. 1 Chron. i-ix. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |