What’s in a Name? How Names in the Bible Reveal Meaning and Lead Us to Trust in the Name above All Names

namesFor to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government
shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
— Isaiah 9:6 —

What’s in a name? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, we find a helpful introduction to the way names are used in the Old Testament. Here’s what it says,

In the OT names not only looked to the circumstances of a birth (e.g., Jonathan means “Yahweh has given [a son] ”; Reuben means “Look! A son”) but could also wish a blessing (e.g., Isaiah means “Yahweh’s salvation”; Immanuel means “God be/is with us”). Royal names could change when a person attained the throne. Several Israelite kings had their names changed by their overlords, showing that they were under authority of an outside power (e.g., the name of Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim by the Egyptians, 2Ki 23:34). Others seem to have adopted their own throne name, as some have suggested for Azzariya/Azariah (meaning “Yahweh aided”) adopting the name Uzziah (meaning “Yahweh is my strength”). King David was identified at his death by four titles: son of Jesse, man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God, Israel’s favorite singer (2Sa 23:1).

Sentence names in the ancient Near East. Most names in the ancient world make statements, i.e., they are self-contained sentences. Many of the statements are about a deity. One can easily recognize the deity name in names such as Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, or Rameses. Anyone even casually familiar with the Bible has noticed how many Israelite names end in -iah or -el, or start with Jeho- or El-. All of these represent Israel’s God. This type of name is called a theophoric name, and affirms the nature of the deity, proclaims the attributes of the deity or requests the blessing of the deity. One way to interret the titulary of this verse [Isaiah 9:7] is to understand it as reflecting important theophoric affirmations: The Divine Warrior is a Supernatural Planner, The Sovereign of Time is a Prince of Peace. (Note: the word “is” is not used in such constructions, as all names demonstrate). Continue reading

Sinai and Zion: How Learning the Terrain of God’s Holy Hill Helps Us Read Isaiah

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[This blogpost is one of many on Isaiah, this month’s focus book in the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. For more resources on Isaiah, see here].

In the book of Isaiah, the word “Zion” and the concept of the Lord’s holy mountain is prominent. Yet, Zion is not something that only appears in Isaiah, it is a theme that runs through Scripture. In the days ahead, I hope to put a few notes down on this concept.

For starters, consider the observations of Stephen Dempster, author of Dominion and Dynasty: A Study in Old Testament Theology. Describing the connection between Zion and Sinai, he writes (on an old blog that had so much promise . . . but little fulfillment :-):

I have been just reading and thinking about the whole relation between Sinai and Zion. Hartmut Gese’s chapter on The Law in his book Essays in Biblical Theology is extremely stimulating. . . . Gese makes the point that the Torah given at Sinai was given to one nation and there was an exclusive emphasis on it—a wall of separation was erected between the Holy and the Unholy. When the covenant was made and the atonement was made, representatives of Israel were allowed to ascend the mountain and eat and drink with God. The text clearly says that they saw God and were not harmed (ch. 24). They had unbroken fellowship with their Creator. Continue reading

The Literary Structure of Isaiah: Five Tour Guides to Help You Stay the Course

pexels-photo-697662.jpegThe book of Isaiah is sixty-six books, just like the Bible. And it is divided into 39 chapters and 27 chapters, just like the two Testaments–old and new. Therefore, we should organize Isaiah around this bipartite division, right?

Well, maybe . . . not.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard this line of thinking. And for years, I operated with this basic understanding that there is one seismic break between Isaiah 39 and 40, making the one book two. Add to this a number of well-worn proof texts for systematic theology—e.g., verses about Christ’s virgin birth (7:14 and 9:6–7), his sacrifice (52:13–53:12), and the grossness of sin (64:6)—and I accumulated a lot of disconnected knowledge about this glorious book.

It was not until I began reading Isaiah as whole book, however, that the message of Isaiah began to come to life. I am still learning that message, but having a mental map of the whole book has been a game-changer. And thankfully, that map has been aided by a number of tour guides—books and teachers that have helped me find my way in Isaiah.

The Need for Teachers . . . According to the Bible

This is how it should be. God gives teachers to the church to instruct in God’s Word (Eph. 4:11–12). And we would be fools to ignore them.

With the wisdom of ages past and those who have devoted themselves to the study of the Bible in the present, we can and should gain a better understanding of Scripture. Indeed, whenever we enter a new book of the Bible, one we do not know well, our best course of action is not to hide ourselves away in our room until we determine its meaning. We should seek the assistance of those who have gone before us. Such dependence on faithful teachers does not put human wisdom above the Bible, it listens to the Bible, acknowledges the gifts of God, the goodness of reading the Bible in community, and seeks to know God’s word with the help of others.

With that in mind, here are five scholars, tour guides, who have provided an outline of Isaiah. While each organizes the book differently, their collective witness gives us insight into things we should be looking for when we read. At present, I am persuaded Barry Webb’s outline is the most persuasive, but I am still learning. Continue reading

Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah

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If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading

Fifty Sermons on Isaiah

readingplan04.jpegAs we approach the first Sunday in January and the first Sunday in Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, here are 50+ sermons on Isaiah, ordered in three ways.

  • The first section includes sermon overviews by Mark Dever (1 message) and Trent Hunter (5 messages). They will help you get the big picture of the book.
  • The second section is composed of selected sermons by various preachers. I will continue to add to this list. If you know of any exemplary sermons on particular passages in Isaiah, please add them in the comments.
  • The third section is dedicated to the series sermons preached by Ray Ortlund. I can’t wait to listen to many of these sermons and I encourage you to do the same.

Listening to good expositional sermons is an excellent way to learn the book of Isaiah and to love the God who gave us this book. Take time to listen to some of these sermons and be sure to respond in prayer to them, even if you hear them on the go. Again, if there are other good sermons to add to this list, please let me know (viaemmaus@obc.org).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

Twelve Passages in Isaiah for Scripture Memory and Meditation

img_3712.jpgIf you are following the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, here are twelve passages to meditate on in Isaiah that will help you understand the book and stir your affections for its heavenly promises.

Practically, you might consider reading these passages each week during the month, or memorizing one of them for the month or one of them per week. For help on memorizing, here are three resources,

  • Andy Davis’s memory plan is essential reading. You can find a free PDF here.
  • Here is a PDF of all these Scriptures to print out too. Or you can copy and paste verses from esv.org to make your own Scripture memory.
  • You can also make use of the Fighter Verse App to work on Scripture memory. Whatever verses you choose to memorize, you can plug into this App to help you memorize on the go.

The Seven Songs of Zion 

If we follow a seven-cycle reading of Isaiah (see below), each section closes in Zion. Meditating on these passages will help you learn your bearings in Isaiah. They will also instruct your heart to see what the whole Bible is about—namely, the union and communion of God and man on his holy mountain—Mount Zion.

Isaiah 2:2–4

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Continue reading

Seven Ways to Read Isaiah

IMG_3712Tomorrow begins the first day of the Via Emmaus Bible Reading plan. However, because one facet of this plan is the absence of daily requirements, you could start today. You could also start on January 5 and not have to “catch up.”

At the same time, because there is not a prescribed daily regiment, I am writing this blogpost to offer a variety of ways to read Isaiah—a formidable first book with sixty-six chapters—so that you can have a sense of progress and planning in your reading this month. (First time Bible readers might find that the New Testament (Track 3 in this plan) is the best place to begin. This year, however, this blog will resource Track 2, which is comprised of the Prophets and Writings).

Not to be daunted by Isaiah’s sixty-six chapters, there are many ways to read Isaiah once or more than once this month, especially when we define ‘reading” as reading and listening to God’s Word. To help you plan read Isaiah within in the month of January, here are seven approaches. Continue reading

Come and Worship the King (Isaiah 60)

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Come and Worship the King (Isaiah 60)

At Christmas we celebrate God’s light come into the world. And on Christmas Eve this year we looked at how Isaiah 60 both predicts and expands our understanding of God’s glorious light. In the fullness of time, we see how the Magi in Matthew 2 fulfill Isaiah’s promise of the nations coming to worship the Lord. This teaches us that coming to Zion is not simply a future reality; it is something we also experience through Jesus Christ.

As Hebrews 12:22 tells us, when we worship the Lord we have come to Mount Zion and join in the worship that is ever present in glory. Truly, this way of thinking stretches our imagination, but it is the way Scripture leads us to think—which a firm grasp of finding our position in Christ in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:5).

At Christmas, we ponder both the coming of God from heaven to earth. But we should also consider what that means, and how Christ’s Incarnation leads us to heaven—just as Isaiah 60 envisions.

With that in mind, you may find the following discussion questions and additional resources helpful. You can also listen to the sermon online. I pray these resources are an encouragement to you as you celebrate the birth of our Lord. Continue reading

Two Rivers Run Through It: Tracing Zion and Zera’ (Seed) through the Book of Isaiah

matt-lamers-328906Isaiah is massive book that displays an even larger vision of God’s glory. And because of the scale and grandeur of its message, it often seems difficult to grasp its meaning. Sure, there are those familiar verses we often return to, but how do we grasp at the whole message of Isaiah?

In what follows, I am going to trace out two key themes that may help us see the forest and not just a few trees. The first stream relates to Zion, the key place in the book. The second relates to the messiah, or the seed (zera’), the key person in the book. By holding these two streams together, I think it helps us see the arrangement of the forest so that we can climb the heights in this glorious book. Continue reading

The Divine Warrior Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes

samuel-zeller-364234And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob
who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
— Isaiah 59:20 —

Wars and rumors of war.

Throughout the world right now, armies are planning and preparing for various military operations. Closer to home, domestic abuse, interpersonal strife, and political injustice continue unabated. Just this week, I learned that a man was shot and nearly killed less than a block from my house.

All that to say, we live in a violent world. And it is right, to pray for, work for, and want for something better. But it is wrong, to think that this sort of violence is new or that God is unaware.

As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun (1:9). Injustice, immorality, and bloodshed are as old as sin itself. But just as old is the promise that God redeem his people and deliver them from the curse of sin.

This was the promise in Genesis 3:15, when God said to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” And this ancient promise is just as good today as it was 4000 years before Christ.

Indeed, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know how strange and circuitous God’s story of salvation story is. God did not bring peace to his people in Genesis 4. Rather, he let the world go to seed—literally.

In Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel in cold blood. Theologically speaking, the seed of the serpent killed the seed of the woman. And from this first act of aggression, bloodshed has followed. Yet, in the face of this violence, God chose one people from whom he would bring a peace-maker. Often Israel, like Abel, would find themselves subjected to the serpent’s seed. But at other times, they would themselves become a brood of vipers, earning the divine wrath of God.

This is how Isaiah 59 depicts Jerusalem, when God compares their sin to that of snakes and spiders. And it is this graphic image that Paul applies to the whole world, when he quotes Isaiah 59:6–7 in Romans 3:15–18:

Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.

For us who live in the same dark world described in the Bible, we need to remember that this is the backdrop to the birth of Christ. Continue reading