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Summary: Looking at the names of Jesus from Matthew 1:18-25

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What’s in a Name?

Matthew 1:18-25

December 11, 2016

When it comes to naming children, different people approach it differently. Being raised Jewish, I am named after my mom’s dad who had died. Jewish people don’t name their children after someone who is alive. And you use the first letter of their name to choose your child’s name. My grandfather’s name was Mayer. His name started with an M, so my name would start with an M. My Hebrew name was Mayer, for my grandfather.

When Debbie and I chose names for our children, we looked at baby names, but we chose names which had meaning for us.

Some parents read baby name books and choose a name based on meaning.

Others choose names because they sound good together.

Some choose a name because that person was famous.

Others choose names which make no logical sense, you've heard a few of them.

I heard a story (though I don't know if it's really true; it may be an urban legend) about a couple who's child was named "Phemalley" [note: the spelling here is insignificant, but the pronunciation is crucial; pronounce it with the emphasis on the MAL syllable.]

The couple was asked how they chose such an unusual name. The mother said, "We didn't name her. The nurses at the hospital did. When they brought her to me the first time, her name was on a little wrist band — Phemalley Jones. We decided we liked the name, and we kept it."

The person then asked, "So, how do you spell Phemalley?"

The mother said, "Just like it sounds: F- E- M- A- L- E."

When you read the Bible, there is a great deal of significance given to people's names. Many times, when someone's name is mentioned, the writer says what the name means, or uses the meaning of the name in a sentence that describes why that name was given. For example...

Eve gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel..." (Genesis 4:25) The word "Seth" means "granted." It was common for a child to be given a name that had a contextual significance.

When Rebekah gave birth to twins, one was hairy, and the other came out of the womb grasping his brother's heel. So she named them "Esau", which means "hairy", and "Jacob", which means "he grabs the heel."

Oftentimes children lived up to their names.

For example, the name Jacob — he grabs the heel — was a Hebrew idiom for "he deceives." Later, when Jacob stole his brother's birthright, Esau said...

Isn't he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times. He took my birthright and now he's taken my blessing! (Genesis 27:35)

Later in Jacob's life, after spending years running from God and wrestling with God, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. Israel means, "Struggles with God."

We see this in the New Testament as well, when Jesus told Simon, whose name means "He who hears" was changed to Peter, which means "rock."

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 16:18)

Names have significance, and people often live up to the meaning of their name.


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