by Eugene Higgins
“Thou shalt be
called by a new name,
which the mouth of the LORD
shall name” (Isa 62:2).
What’s in a Name? Called by a New Name!
Note: Think of today’s email as a change of pace. If, on the other hand, you feel it is impermissible to write something distractingly light-hearted in these dark and discouraging days, I understand that completely. You may wish to skip this email (or at least skip the opening paragraphs).
Ours is a triggered age in which all sorts of terms and descriptions send sensitive folks scurrying to the shelter of a “safe place.” For instance, after 102 years of describing the 1918 epidemic as the Spanish Flu, the present generation deems that description “racist.” No doubt this is because of the fear that those of us alive today, hearing the words, “Spanish Flu,” might explode into such a rage that we will launch an armada against Spain in revenge for the fever our grandfather ran a century ago. Whichever side of the sensitivity scale you fall on, I think we can agree, however, that no one wishes his or her name to be attached to unpleasantness.
Which brings us to the very much-to-be-sympathized-with Oxford don, William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930). Before you read further, please understand that, although he was somewhat absent-minded, W. A. Spooner was an intelligent person. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy, and divinity. I doubt many of us could have “subbed” for him on a sick day. However, he is famed, not for his erudition, but for his tendency to mix up words and sounds. This he did often – if not always – to humorous effect. In his defense, it has been suggested that his mind was so quick that his tongue had trouble keeping pace. To Spooner, we owe the linguistic flip-flop that turned “a well-oiled bicycle” into “a well-boiled icicle.” Once, in a burst of patriotic fervor, he is reputed to have called out, (in honor of Queen Victoria), “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” This trans-positioning of sounds and letters happened so frequently that it has led to his being called “the eponymous master of the verbal somersault.” The author and student of language, Richard Lederer, who has tried to keep track of the genuine “Spoonerisms,” says that Spooner “gave us tinglish errors and English terrors at the same time.” Lederer offers these other authentic spoonerisms: At a naval review, Spooner marveled at “this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers.” To a school official’s secretary, he posed the question: “Is the bean dizzy?” Visiting a friend’s country cottage, he remarked, “You have a nosey little cook here.” He lionized Britain’s farmers as “noble tons of soil.” Apparently, these mistakes increased when he was angry or excited. He sternly reprimanded one student with, “[You] hissed my mystery lecture,” and added in disgust, “You have tasted two worms.” One of my favorite Spoonerisms, because it is somewhat unique, (as well as totally inexplicable), is when, after having preached for about 30 minutes at a Sunday service, and having stepped down from the platform, he turned back to the pulpit and informed his student audience: “In the sermon I have just preached, whenever I said ‘Aristotle,’ I meant ‘St. Paul.’” (This concludes the humorous part of this email for you “royal leaders”).
Names have historically been associated with qualities and characteristics – some noble and others less so. You’re very happy about this if you are called Richard the Lionheart, Catherine the Great, or Frederick the Wise; not so much if you’re labeled Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, or Bloody Mary.
Re-naming often occurs in the scriptures, doesn’t it? The Lord Jesus looked at James and John and titled them “Boanerges” (Sons of Thunder). He looked at Peter and said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.” Added to the name of another Simon was the title “the Zealot.” In the Book of Acts, the believers gave Joses the name “Barnabas” (“Son of encouragement”). In the Old Testament, Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Joseph and others were given added, distinctive names based on their actions, character, or future.
If God were to encapsulate your life, what word or description would He use? If the essence of your life were distilled to one expressive term or phrase, what would it be? “The faithful”? The loving”? “The devoted”? “The gracious”? Here is an enviable epithet: David is described by God as “a man after Mine own heart,” (1 Samuel 13; Acts 13). Since David’s life was far from perfect, what was there about his life that caused God to describe him in such enviable words?
Perhaps the simplest way for that to be considered is by means of a contrast with King Saul. Saul was characterized by self-will, self-seeking, and a bloated sense of self-importance. His self-will is evidenced by his impatience with Samuel in chapter 13, and the actions to which that led, actions that displayed his unfitness to lead God’s people. That is further seen when his insistence that the army not eat till he was avenged of his enemies led to the people’s consuming blood in their ravenous hunger. This breaking of the command of the Lord was treated by Saul with little more than a verbal slap on the wrist. But when it was discovered that someone had broken Saul’s command, the king insisted that the penalty be death – even if it meant the execution of Jonathan, his own son. His self-seeking policy – “my interests at all costs” – is seen in his repeated efforts to murder the man he viewed as his rival and successor (David). He not only attempted to kill God’s anointed king, but he killed the anointed priests and, to round out the picture of the savage disregard that was in his heart, he would have killed Samuel the prophet had he known what was happening that day in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:2). In his self-absorption. everything seemed to revolve around Saul; so much so that the song of the people, ascribing more victories to David, was enough to drive him to do whatever was necessary to remove the threat to his perceived importance.
By way of contrast, think of David’s loyalty, fervency, and humility. His loyalty to God (and to God’s people) was first seen publicly when he faced Goliath because the honor of the Lord’s name was at stake and His people were endangered. Later, his “wise” behavior commended itself to all the Lord’s people, as he served them and the kingdom. His fervency is apparent in his personal diary (the Psalms) – a diary set to music. And there are, of course, those two wonderful occasions when it is recorded that David did something with ‘”all his might.” He so exulted in the ark’s relocation to the capital city of Jerusalem, that he “danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Sam 6:14). His heart-yearning that the Lord be honored in the midst of His people led him to “prepare with all his might” for the building of the temple (1 Chron 29:2). And what humility marked him when, knowing he could never build that temple, he still poured all his energy and resources into a work that another would accomplish! Again, this is so evident when he sat before the Lord, overwhelmed that God would reach into such a nondescript life as his and elevate him to the throne, linking him with the coming Messiah.
Throughout his life, John Newton kept a text of scripture hanging above the mantelpiece in his study. It was: “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt and the Lord thy God redeemed thee” (Deut. 15:15). He never wanted to forget what God had done in his life. And David never forgot that he owed everything to God and to His grace.
It was, of course, David’s likeness, however faint, to that coming Messiah that made him “the man after God’s own heart.” How wonderful it would be if God, surveying our life, could say that we lived as men and women after, according to, in pursuit of, His own heart!
Give me a faithful heart, likeness to Thee;
That each departing day henceforth may see
Some work of love begun,
Some deed of kindness done,
Some wanderer sought and won,
Something for Thee.