Friday, March 23, 2018

The Lord is Merciful

"On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John” (Luke 1:59–60).

Everyone was so excited that the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth had finally had a child that they fully expected to honor this son by calling him after his father. Gabriel, however, had told Zechariah that his name was to be John, and Elizabeth knew it as well. Zechariah still could not speak, and so Elizabeth spoke for him.

Relatives and friends objected that the name John was not in their lineage, and they went to Zechariah to find out what he thought they ought to call the baby. We read that “he asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John’ ” (Luke 1:63). Just as an act of doubt had caused Zechariah to be struck dumb nine months earlier, so now this act of obedience to the word of the angel resulted in his being able to speak once more.

Names are important in the Bible. To name someone is to have dominion over him. Adam and Eve named the animals in the Garden of Eden, for instance; they were not named by them. Just so, when Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, he did not name the Angel but the Angel gave him a new name: Israel.

Ordinarily, it is parents who name children. In a few instances, however, we see God Himself intervening to name the child. When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, or Jacob’s to Israel, or Saul’s to Paul, He was not only exercising dominion over these men as His servants, He was also showing His Fatherhood to them in a special way. The fact that God named John shows this same kind of special Father-son relationship.

The name John means “The Lord Is Merciful” from the Hebrew name Johanan. As Zechariah himself said in his song of praise, the Lord was now coming to redeem His people, “to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant” (Luke 1:72). God had been gracious to Zechariah and Elizabeth; now He was going to be gracious to all mankind.

Given the opportunity, what would be your choice for a new spiritually significant name? What characteristic would this name accentuate?