The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Numbers 6:22-27 ESV
After spending ten days in this amazing country, I’m realizing more than ever how you can’t overstate the importance of God’s Name to the Jews. On every mezuzah you will at least see a shin, if not the whole shin-daleth-yodh; the Hebrew letters that make up El Shaddai (God Almighty).
When Hebrew is read aloud, the reader will substitute Adonai or Ha Shem (“The name”) whenever they come to the Divine Name YHVH in the text.
But as important as God’s name is to us, our names are even more important to God. Our daily Bible reading may seem to be in the absolute driest part right now. Just endless lists of names and numbers. But each of those names represents a family, a clan, a tribe whom God has chosen.
Most of the time, I think about the prohibitions and restrictions associated with The Name. How scribes would use one pen to write The Name rather than a pen that had been defiled by any other word. How someone could lose their life for uttering the Name. How many people did.
But what I noticed in the reading today is that The Name is associated with blessing more than cursing. Through Moses, God told the sons of Aaron to bless the people of Israel by putting God’s name upon them. Look how often the word “bless” is used in this passage:
- “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel…”
- “The Lord bless you and keep you…”
- “I will bless them.”
To bear the name of God is an unspeakable blessing (Literally!)! I suppose the closest we can come to understanding this is to think about the perks of being part of the royal family in England. The name Windsor definitely opens some doors. Closer to home, I guess it’s a little like being named Kardashian. Or, an example we can all relate to: when we land in the United States in a few hours, I will feel incredibly blessed to bear the name “United States of America” on my passport.
God’s Name matters to us. But here’s what amazes me about these lists of names in Numbers: our names matter to God!
By far the most gut-wrenching stop on a tour of Israel is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Yad Vashem is a phrase taken from Isaiah 56:3– “I will give them a memorial and a name.” The memorial honors the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The last room one enters is the Hall of Remembrance, a circular room lined with hundreds and hundreds of file boxes, each containing information about the individual victims.
Each one had a name.
Standing in that room gave me a new perspective on these first chapters of Numbers. It reminded me that the Bible is about God, but it is also a record of God’s people. it records their names.
God’s name is not to be taken lightly. But to bear God’s name should never be seen as a burden. We sing “Blessed be the Name,” in part, because we live in the blessing of the Name. We are called by His name. He calls us by our name.
And He never forgets our names.