Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's in a name? Gen 34-36

A name is so critical to a person's identity.  It encompasses a person's reputation, future and expectations.  This passage shows three examples of how a name impacts lives. 

There were two issues with the rape of Dinah.  The harm she experienced included the trauma of the assault, but in the long term it ruined her reputation--her name.  In that time, a woman with a ruined reputation had little chance of a sane marriage and the fact that her attacker loved her and wanted to provide a good marriage for her was no consolation.  If he was willing to rape her once, he would continue to do so throughout her life and possibly do the same to others, subjecting her to more shame and trauma.  Issac was very critical of Levi and Simeon for their vicious retribution, partly because it made things politically difficult for the family, but the truth is that she was genuinely harmed.  The fact that the rest of the community was willing to turn a blind eye to her attacker in the name of "love," shows a serious cultural character flaw. 

In the face of his political issues, Issac is sent back to Bethel, the place God met him in his despair at the beginning of his journey.  He prepares himself and his family to meet with God.  At Bethel, God appears to Jacob again and reminds him of his new name, Israel and tells him to use his new name.  He also tells Jacob one of His own names, El-Shaddai, God Almighty.  This is an interesting name.  It literally means "The breasted one."  It alludes to nearly absolute power a mother has over her nursing infant because of the child's needs and the mom's provision.  It speaks of the complete dependence Israel truly has in regard to God.  He might successfully wrestle with God and with man, but everything he has and will have comes from God.  His future is dependent on God.  His expectations are for a good and prosperous future, but only from God's hand. 

At the end of chapter 34, Rachael goes into hard labor.  Remember when Jacob told Laban that anyone who had his household gods would die?  Jacob unwittingly cursed Rachael and it isn't long before the curse comes to rest.  As she is dying, she names her son, Ben-oni, son of my sorrows.  This would be a hard name to live with for the rest of his life and would continually remind Jacob of the loss of his wife, but Jacob intervenes.  He is sad to have lost Rachael, but refuses to see his son as a picture of grief, but a celebration of her life.  He renames him, Ben-jamin, which means "son of my right hand."  It's amazing how a Father can have the power to correct the course of a life.  We women can speak in haste out of our overwhelming emotions, but it doesn't have to be the last word. 

One last note on Chapter 36:  these long lists of names often seem overwhelming and useless, but God saw them as important.  In scripture, He doesn't gloss over the bad stuff (you should have seen PJ's shock as he read chapter 34 to me this morning).  He also doesn't hide history.  You need to know where you've been to truly see where you are and figure out where you're going.  Keeping records of the names of the clans helps people figure out what might have impacted their past so they can deal with it appropriately, either in repentence or rejoicing. 

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