Years ago, a friend recommended a book to me which sounded both absurd and boring — one that chronicled the development and history of The Oxford English Dictionary in vivid detail. It turned out to be one of the most interesting books I’d read that year — but it also prompted an interest in understanding where things come from, even piquing a curiosity that pierced my own theological framework. In my own studies, I was brought back, time and again, to the Person of Jesus. And after a while, His name.
The Bible, vast in its magnitude, unveils a lot of detail that is important to many of the stories we cherish, weaving together the Old and New Testaments and exhibiting the salvific plan that God has for His people. So, to grasp the significance of Jesus’ name, a good place to begin is in the Old Testament — the book of Numbers, to be exact.
At this point in the story, Moses had been raised up to lead God’s people, the Israelites, out of Egypt with his brother and sister by his side (Micah 6:4). Having been delivered from slavery, they are taken to the Promised Land — but not before conflict runs through the people. Eventually, they reach the precipice of the Promised Land, where spies from their camp are being gathered to investigate this new land, Canaan. Counted among them are Moses’ right hand man, the one who would take over as a leader after he passed — Joshua.
But his name was not Joshua — at least not yet. Numbers 13:16 reveals his name is originally Hoshea. It’s important to remember, when it comes to names in the Bible, many of them reveal important characteristics, often about God, and this case is no different. The Hebrew name Hoshea connotes something like, He will save — and though it implies the person who will save is God, the term is not as specific as the name Joshua. Derived from the same root, Joshua’s name contains the abbreviation for God’s revealed name in the Old Testament, changing it from He will save to God will save. (It’s worth noting that the abbreviated form comes from the personal name of God and there are a few other meanings the name may carry.) The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has also revealed Himself to Moses is also the God who saves His people.
It’s important to remember, when it comes to names in the Bible, many of them reveal important characteristics, often about God, and this case is no different
That name would be common for a time, and while the exact etymology of Jesus’ name is disputed, it is hard not to see a connection with the name Joshua, or more accurately, the intimation God will save found in Jesus’s name. No truer thing could be said. In His Person, we have an immediate connection to God’s work in the Old Testament, as well as a reminder of the future work too. God has saved and is saving now. Only, now, this is found in the Person and work of Jesus.
There are many things this can tell us about God’s interaction in the world, but there are two aspects of why it matters to the Christian life I want to discuss. First, God is actively working. Though it seems a rather quaint or simple statement, He has, time and again, been doing so for His people, whom He loves and cares for. This is found in His character and Scripture illustrates how He is participating in the world. Forgiving, bringing healing and peace — it is easy to feel isolated or as if there is no rhyme or reason to what happens, but even when we cannot see or understand it, it is not the case. He is for us.
Therefore, this second point is also immensely important. We may not have the full picture of what God is doing in the world and that’s okay. Scripture drips with mystery. And though we can read many stories in one sitting, those who lived them and were asked to trust did not have the benefit of knowing how their stories would end. It does not mean things will be easy — indeed, they will most certainly not be so. But confessing God is for us allows us to embrace the unknown, however hard it may be.
There are times it will seem impossible; there are times when it will be. Yet, knowing the story has not come to an end helps us to press on, even in the hardest of times. It is good to acknowledge that we are not alone, and while we do not have the full picture yet, we can believe our God is on our side. History is a long endeavour and so we trust. Being aware of this allows us to live these unbearable moments together and to walk through the uncertainty with hope.
The Person of Christ is the One to whom we belong. We may not understand it, but we can remember His name bears witness to the salvific work of God in the world. That which was begun in the Old Testament carries forth into the New and the world today, not leaving us alone. And so, we remember, knowing our God is for us, and we trust, knowing He will carry us home from our days in this weary world.
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