The Irony and Significance of Names

A name can speak volumes about a person. A name can reflect one’s individuality and identity. A name can also reflect one’s familial, cultural, or religious heritage. In ancient biblical times, one’s name was often indicative of that person’s character and reputation. What is interesting is how many people in the Bible lived up or down to their names. The twelve spies sent out by Moses serve as a perfect example of the importance of a name.

The Israelites were on the doorstep of the Promised Land when God told Moses to send out people to inspect it. Moses picked one leader from each tribe and told them to gather information about the land’s people, defenses, natural resources, and agriculture. Moses also told the spies to bring back fruit of the land.

If you have ever heard this story taught in church or Sunday school, you can probably name only two of the spies: Joshua and Caleb. What about the other ten men? Here is the full list of the twelve spies and the meaning of their names:

*Shammua- “One who was heard.”

*Shaphat- “He has established justice.”

*Caleb- “Wholehearted.”

*Igal- “He redeems.”

*Joshua- “The Lord is salvation/the Lord saves.”

*Palti- “My deliverance.”

*Gaddiel- “God is my good fortune.”

*Gaddi- “My good fortune.”

*Ammiel- “People of God.”

*Sethur- “Hidden.”

*Nahbi- “Hidden/timid.”

*Geuel- “Pride of God.”

What is of particular interest is that ten of the twelve names reflect some aspect of God’s character and personality, while two names mean timidity and hiding. This is a bit of foreshadowing for what comes next.

The spies came back after forty days and brought back a cluster of grapes so large is had to be carried with staffs. The spies also brought back pomegranates and figs. The Bible does not say specifically, who gave the report, but what started out as confirmation of God’s word turned into complaining and discouragement.

“They [the spies] gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’” (Numbers 13:27-29, NIV).

People in the crowd began to murmur amongst themselves when Caleb spoke up:

“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30b, NIV).

God said of Caleb in Numbers 14:24 that he had a “different spirit and follows Me whole-heartily,” however, the people did not listen to Caleb as the other ten spies went on:

“’We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And the spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” (Numbers13:31b-33, NIV, emphasis mine).

People will often respond more to negativity than they will a positive message. Sometimes all it takes is one person with a rotten attitude to change the course of everyone’s day. The Israelites talked of rebelling and replacing Moses and going back to Egypt. Keep in mind this is the same generation that saw the Red Sea parted, the defeat of the most formidable army on the earth, water come out of rocks, and God supernaturally feeding them, yet they had a “grasshopper” mentality and could not see the giant God they served.

Moses and Caleb stood up before the crowd and encouraged them: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7b-9, NIV).

However, the people still refused to listen and rebelled further. It was only Moses’ intercession that saved the Israelites from being destroyed on the spot. God decided that the Israelites would not enter the Promised Land until the rebellious generation died, save for Joshua and Caleb. Because of their rebellion, the Israelites had to wander the desert for forty years. Joshua succeeded Moses in leading the people to the land and Caleb sought to take a mountain from giants in his well advanced age.

As we go through this life, we will face our share of giants and obstacles. Many of these giants and obstacles will seem unassailable. We must remember that God is with us. No matter what our name is or means, believers in Christ have a new name: Christians. Our God is known by many names: Jesus, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, Deliverer, Savior, Healer, Redeemer, Rock, Strong Tower, Shepherd, and many more. With the Lord on your side, you shall overcome. God bless you all.

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