There sure are a lot of names in the Bible. Many of them are almost unpronounceable to modern readers. There are some chapters that are made up of almost nothing but names. There is even one place in the Bible where multiple chapters in a row are filled up with mostly name after name after name (see I Chronicles 1-9). Why so many names? There is more than one reason, of course. But one of the big ones is because names carry meaning—and you might be surprised how much.
Jesus is probably the first big example that comes to mind, right? Joseph is told to name his son Jesus which means “Yahweh Saves.” The reason for this is because Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). His name means everything when it comes to understanding his overall purpose.
Moses is similar in this regard. Moses’ name means “to draw out,” and it is given him originally by Pharaoh’s daughter because, as she says, “I drew him out of the water” (Exodus 2:10). Though we never hear the meaning of Moses’ name brought up again, the very interesting thing is that it contains an unmistakable double-meaning. Although it will not become known for approximately eighty years, God’s primary role for Moses is to draw out his people from the bondage they suffer in Egypt (compare Ex. 3:10; a different Hebrew word but the thought certainly overlaps). Of course, it is also very easy to see how this leads us to Jesus since He is the one who will draw out all people from spiritual bondage.
The writer of Hebrews has a great command of Scripture and uses it exceptionally well in making a case for Jesus. He brings up Melchizedek as a clear Christ type in Hebrews 5 and then elaborates extensively in chapter 7. In his elaboration, he makes clear connection to Christ with both the name “Melchizedek” and the name of the place where he is both priest and king—“Salem.” Because Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness,” it connects easily to who Jesus is as the great King sent from God. Also, that Melchizedek is the king of “Salem” (Genesis 14:18) should not go unnoticed. Salem means “peace.” So “Melchizedek, king of Salem” literally means “King of Righteousness, King of Peace.” These clues are enough for the New Testament writer to follow a line of thought that allows him to see several connections coming out of Genesis 14 relating directly to Jesus.
A certain very well known story in the Old Testament contains such tremendous clues in the names of its primary character and his father that it seems ridiculous not to take them into account. 1 Samuel 17 is a story known to biblically trained and untrained, alike. It is the story of David and Goliath. Goliath is the strongest and most venomous of Israel’s great foes, blaspheming God and promising to crush any who take him on in battle. Even King Saul is afraid to do battle with him. The young shepherd, David, is sent by his father, Jesse, to the battle line with provisions for his brothers and when he arrives, he hears Goliath’s unceasing taunts and blasphemies. With incredulous soldiers on both sides looking on, little David goes bravely into battle, stunningly defeats Israel’s fiercest adversary with no armor and no sword of his own, and sends all the enemy forces fleeing with the army of God’s people on their heels. Remember how David was originally sent to check on his brothers by his father, Jesse? In Hebrew, David means “Beloved” and Jesse means “I exist” or, even better, “I am.” That’s right, “I am” sent his son, “Beloved,” to the battle lines to check on the welfare of his brothers. The whole chapter is a fairly plain retelling of the Jesus story, with the names being a direct pointer.
There is a similar trail to follow with the names of Joshua and his father. So often, when Joshua is mentioned, we see his father’s name right with his. Scripture refers to him on a very regular basis as “Joshua, son of Nun” (see Ex. 33:11; Num. 11:28; 14:6; 27:18; 32:28; Deut. 1:38; 31:23; Josh. 1:1, et. al.). Of course, Joshua is the easiest name to interpret, since Jesus is simply the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua. So it means, “Yahweh Saves,” as we have already heard. Then there is Nun, which means “Perpetuity” or “Eternity.” The first time we read these two names coupled together is in Exodus 33:11 where we see that although Moses could not sit with God all the time because he had other duties to perform, “Joshua son of Nun . . . would not depart from the tent.” Another way of saying it is that although Moses could not stay in God’s presence all the time, Jesus the son of Eternity would never leave God’s presence. The New Testament writers are alluding to Jesus’ constant intercession in God presence on our behalf in passages like Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25.
Mordecai means “bitter bruising” and is a key figure in the book of Esther. He is the man who is threatened with death on a tree because he will not bow down to the evil and powerful Haman (“Noise,” “Cacophony”). Eventually, he is made second in power over the known world and in the last word of the book, is known as the man who always “sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people” (Est. 10:3).
Isaiah means “Yahweh is Salvation” (so close in meaning to Joshua/Jesus) and this the prophet who gets commissioned in the presence of God by being completely purified and then sent to his people with a word of judgment that they will refuse to hear (Isai. 6;1-13). Jesus connects himself specifically to this chapter of Isaiah by quoting from it, saying that His message is goes unheeded by His generation in the same way (Matt. 13:14-15). Isaiah also has children who live among the people and are signs to the people of God’s message to them—something the Hebrew writer again equates with Jesus (Isai. 8:18; Heb. 2:13).
Job means “persecuted,” and he is the righteous sufferer who maintains his integrity throughout his unjust torment, finally being re-established in goodness and blessing and interceding on behalf of his ignorant and insensitive friends, that they might be forgiven (Job 42:8-10).
There are so many names and so many wonderful meanings, it is simply impossible to cover them all. We don’t even have time to get into the names associated with the Holy Spirit, like Jonah, which means “Dove,” and Ezra or Nehemiah which mean “Helper” and “Comforter,” respectively. Nor do we have time to get into the names of places, though we have already seen how the Hebrew writer in the New Testament takes this into consideration.
Oh, and about Eleazar . . . don’t even get me started . . .