Monday, January 20, 2014

Looking Forward or Looking Back?

By any other name, would it smell as sweet?
In modern cultures, usually not much goes into a name. Names aren’t often chosen for their profundity. For example, Bernie means “bold as a bear”. Does that reflect my character? If you ask those who know me best as an adult, it probably doesn’t.

But very often in the Bible however, there is additional depth to a name. Matthew 16 is a common enough example that has drawn the interest of theologians for generations; what did Peter’s naming really signify? But there are many other famous examples that are less controversial; Saul became Paul, Abram became Abraham and so on. In each case there was a reason that someone’s name was changed and that reason is worth exploring.

One of the most interesting and obscure incidents is recorded in the book of 2 Samuel 12:24. Here’s the backstory you probably already know:

The Backstory

King David commits a great sin. He lusts after Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. David succumbs to that lust and impregnates Bathsheba while Uriah is away. Upon Uriah’s return, David schemes to have Uriah killed in battle and then on Uriah’s death, takes Bathsheba as his wife. Whoever first said the cover up is worse than the original crime could have been thinking of David’s example.

Nathan arrives and tells David that the child who will be born of this multiplied sin will die. As promised, to David’s great dismay and despite his repentance, the child does die exactly as Nathan promised he would. Shortly thereafter Bathsheba conceives once again. This time the child lives. That’s where things get interesting.

What’s In A Name?

David names his son “Solomon”. That name is most often understood to mean “peace” although it also can be understood as “completion” or “paid back”. If we can gather anything from this, we can gather that David was caught up in recalling that very recently a son had died — and now this son, Solomon, lived. Surely that meant to David that peace was restored for him with God. This new son was literally living proof that David — who had once lived beneath God’s judgment — did so no more. David’s naming of his son reflected a backward, regretful look — and there was an audible and sad reminder each time he called Solomon by name that there had once been the tremendous loss of a son; a son who died as a result of David’s sin in a terrible time of judgment.

Nathan arrives on the scene in verse 25. I’m not sure he would have been a welcome visitor on the happy occasion of Solomon’s birth, but this time he comes to deliver a happier message from God. The message is this (if I can be forgiven the paraphrase): No, David, the idea of payback or recompense isn’t the right name for this child at all. God isn’t looking backward and God doesn’t want a constant reminder of judgment to accompany this child into the future — not in your mind or his. So this child shouldn’t be called Solomon at all. God knows him as “Jedidiah”.

Loved By God

“Jedidiah” means “loved by God”. In that name there isn’t a hint of judgment or dismay or backward glance. The focus of heaven appears to be entirely forward and entirely about the future. Sin has been dealt with in David’s life and — once dealt with — it is not and can never be of interest to God any more. God isn’t fixated on the child who died or on judgment that was, God’s interest is in the bright future of the son who lives and promises bright things for tomorrow.

It’s telling then that the balance of times the Bible refers to David’s son who lived, the name recorded is “Solomon”. David didn’t take the name God wanted. It appears David never could get over his own regret, his own disappointments and his own checkered history. God didn’t want David’s focus there, but God allowed it to remain there if David insisted.

Not Looking Back

Are there lessons for you and I as believers in 2015 from the dusty pages of Biblical history? I think so.

Firstly, human nature hasn’t changed and even as forgiven Christians, we are far too prone to remember our “old names” and think regretfully on past foolishness. If there has been confession and repentance, God is finished with past sin as a subject forever. Judgment against our sin has been rendered in full forever and even if we choose to dwell on the past, God doesn’t. He’s interested in the future and in the blessing that lies over the horizon.

Secondly, God knows all about a Son who died beneath judgment and a Son who lives to prove that there is now peace. God the Father is utterly focused on all that is to come through the true “Jedidiah”, the Son he loves.

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