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More than a Name

Updated: Apr 4, 2022

Words by Emily Tyler | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston

Have you ever been tempted to gloss over a genealogy in the Bible? Or maybe even skip it altogether? We're confident the richness of Genesis 5 will change that!

When enrolled in Deaf Studies at university, I was assigned a sign name by the Deaf community. It isn’t simply ‘Emily’ spelt out but is actually the sign for ‘crossed legs.’ I was given this name because it reflected the fact that during my lectures, being short in stature, I would sit with both legs up on the chair and crossed underneath me. My sign name called out the truth about who I was as a person.

In the Deaf community, you don’t get to choose your own name. Rather, you are observed over time, and eventually, an ‘elder’ of the community will assign one to you. This might be something about your physical appearance or about your character. A name from the Deaf community is so much more than a sign: It is an identifier of who you are at the core, and it’s something owned by the community more than the individual.

Similarly, names in the Bible often prophetically call out significant details about the individual or community into which the child is born; they have a message and a meaning. We see this idea in Isaiah 62 (no longer will you be called A, but instead you’ll be called B), Hosea 1, the naming of John the Baptist (Luke 1:59-66), and a whole host of other places.

Because a name is never just a name for God. Rich with symbolism and Hebrew literary practices, Old Testament genealogies have multiple layers of information simultaneously working to communicate God’s big story, and Genesis 5 is no different. Together, these names paint a clear picture that, despite the events of chapter 4, the fall of humanity in chapter 3, and the apparent failure of His perfect world, God has not forgotten His people and has a beautiful plan for redemption.

Looking at the Hebrew meanings (in italics) of the names listed in this chapter, we can see the whole story of the Bible foreshadowed from Adam to Noah:

Humanity [Adam] needed an appointed substitute [Seth] to account for their mortality and sin [Enosh], which resulted in lament at the consequences of finite life on this earth (dwelling) [Kenan]. But praise be to our strong God [Mahalalel], who descended and came down [Jared] to teach and train up [Enoch] the people. He would be a branch, a shoot, forsaken and pierced [Methuselah], humbled and lowered to death [Lamech] that He might bring rest and comfort [Noah] for all.

From the beginning, God is remembering His people, planning for their redemption, and making a way for salvation and freedom to reign. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be less inclined to skip past genealogies after discovering the depth and meaning hidden within Genesis 5!

While in the Deaf community your name signifies one truth about you, when God names and calls you, nothing is left out. Under the banner of Christ’s name, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), a child of God (Galatians 3:26), free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), one body (Romans 12:5), justified (Galatians 2:16), alive (1 Corinthians 1:30), triumphant (2 Corinthians 2:14), and blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)! There’s redemption, grace, and intimacy: Before you were even born God knew you (Jeremiah 1:5), and He knows and calls you by name (Isaiah 43:1, Psalm 91:14, Exodus 33:17). Because of the shoot of Jesse who came down and died to bring you ultimate comfort, you can know, even today, the freedom of what it truly means to be called and named in Christ.

Your individual name says a lot about you, but God calls you to an even greater identity as part of the community of believers. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how you contribute to the unfolding of God's grand story and what you can do to further His Kingdom on earth today.

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