When I was in the second grade, my teacher decided to play one of those games with her students that always end up being a complete waste of time. She called it the name game. The object was to come up with a self-proclaimed title and the person behind you was supposed to recite your title and make up his or her own. The line continues and the list of pseudonyms to remember gets longer and longer until the last person in the class hopelessly drudges through everyone’s self-title before the big finale where he gives himself the name above all names. I suppose the object of the game was for me to know everyone in my class by name, but all I really remembered was that I named myself Midget Matt because I was the shortest kid in class. It seemed fitting enough at the time.
On the most basic of levels, though, names mean a lot. They give people a sense of identity, of individuality. Names are what make people feel like they matter. Names are one of the most fundamental forms of identification. Whether it is that we are reciting it for a game at school or we are praying in the name of an almighty God, names seem to have meaning. And in fact they do.
My name, for instance, means “Gift of God.” When I was a kid, maybe a few years after I proclaimed myself a midget, I found out what my name actually meant. I remember thinking that I would one day introduce myself to a huge congregation and my first words to them would be, “Greetings beloved, my name is Pastor Matt, and I am your Gift from God.” It turns out that my parents named me Matthew because I was one of those “unplanned children.” The kind of children that come along when parents have a little too much free time on their hands and actually decide to spend it together.
In the Old Testament, though, names meant a lot more than what one could express on a coffee cup or a card at the Christian bookstore. A person’s life actually unfolded in such a way that the significant moments in his or her journey boiled down to the meaning attached to names. Moses means “saved from the water”; David means “beloved” and after all he did that would get him excommunicated from most churches today, he’s lucky that is what it means; and Gideon means “mighty warrior.” Over and over again we can see that the names of biblical characters matter. But what about the name of God? What is so important about that name?
I was reading through Psalms not long ago and I came across one particular chapter that had plenty to say on this subject. Three times in Psalm 20 the poet mentions the name of God.
You see, David had this “name of the Lord” thing down. He understood it from the time he was a young boy. When he faced the behemoth known as Goliath, David looked at the beast and spoke these words with such confidence: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45, TNIV). From the very beginning David knew the power in the name of Yahweh.
When David came against Goliath or any other enemy in the “name of the Lord,” it was implied that God was fighting for Israel. The almighty, all-powerful God of the universe was fighting on behalf of Israel and the proof is in His track record. The countless military campaigns that were executed by Israel to near perfection speak of just how powerful God can be when His people call on His name.
Our identity is something that we want to maintain. We write books on the topics of searching for significance and finding our life’s purpose, but perhaps we have missed it. Maybe God doesn’t want us to search this world for meaning and purpose. Could it be that God wants us to find those things in Him? His name is the meaning.
If our goal as Christians is to be like Christ and a name defines the nature of a person, then the name of Jesus is what life boils down to. That name above all names is what this life revolves around. That name that led the Israelites to victory in countless battles, the one that saved Moses and defeated Goliath–that name works in our lives today.
God has quite literally stolen our identity. To steal means to take something with no intention of returning it. That is exactly what we asked Him to do when we accepted Him and chose to follow Jesus. The sin that was bored into our soul was replaced by the law of God, written onto each of our hearts. That same name was a refuge to an army of Israel, it defeated a giant, rescued God’s people from Egypt and the name was nailed to a cross for my sin and yours.
That name is etched into our hearts. God has stolen our identity. We are no longer simply a name in the phone book or on a do-not-call list. We are representatives of the most powerful name in the universe. That is the name I call upon when I am weak. That is the name that has redeemed my soul and cleansed me. That name is everything, and it is about time that we realized, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10).
It really is quite beautiful.