Naming Rights – When Meaning and Metaphor Meet Reality

[Today’s guest post is from Lewis Seaton.]

What’s in a name?

To hear Juliet tell it, a name has no significance. It doesn’t mean a thing. But then again, who is Juliet? Just a character in another play written by what’s-his-name, right? William something or other, wasn’t it? I suppose to be consistent Juliet would have to say that Shakespeare’s name doesn’t mean anything, but there are probably quite a few English teachers who would beg to differ.

Shakespeare was a brilliant author, but no human could do what the author of the Scriptures can do. Human creativity is limited. A human can write a novel in which events at the beginning foreshadow events that happen later in the book. But they never actually happen, except in the imagination of the writer. God, on the other hand, is sovereign. He has complete control over all history. He is able to bring about events in past history and to do it in such a way that they foreshadow events in the future, which He also controls. God’s creative nature is seen not only in the beginning, when He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, but all throughout history. It is as though God speaks, and it comes into existence; God writes, and it comes to pass.

There is, however, one caveat: there are things which He did not want fully revealed until their time. Like Nehemiah, there were things He kept under wraps until the time was right. These things which were not revealed until a later time were “mysteries.” Paul references these mysteries in Colossians 1:26: “…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” and in Ephesians 3:9: “…the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.” The reason? He explains immediately: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Again, like Nehemiah, God kept it secret until it was finished.

Nevertheless, he hinted about what he was going to do throughout the Old Testament.

The Words Behind the Names

In the writings of Samuel there is a seemingly innocuous phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba,” which becomes conspicuous by its repetition. It is found in Judges 2:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15; and 1 Kings 4:25. The straightforward significance of this phrase is found in the fact that Dan and Beersheba are two cities at opposite ends of Israel, Dan at the extreme north and Beersheba at the extreme south. Thus, to say, “from Dan to Beersheba” is to say, “in all Israel.” It is much like saying, “in all the United States, from Los Angeles to New York.”

But what if we were to go deeper and take a look at the names Dan and Beersheba and what they mean? Suppose we treated the names of people and places in Scripture algebraically, if you will. Now, I realize that some of you did not care for algebra in school. I also realize that’s probably even an understatement. Don’t worry. Just humor me here for a moment. Algebra essentially uses “variables” (usually letters) in the place of numbers to create formulas. It is when values are plugged into the formulas in place of some of the variables that we can figure out the value of the remaining variable.

Likewise, what I would like to do here is to plug in the meanings of the names for the names themselves. The Bible itself gives us the meaning of the name Dan, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), after whom the city was named, in the section of Scripture which runs down the circumstances at the time of birth and the corresponding names given to each of the sons (Genesis 29:31 – 30:24). Jacob had married two sisters, Leah and Rachel. He had originally just meant to marry Rachel, but he had been tricked into marrying Leah first by their father. Leah, the unloved sister, bore the first four children to Jacob. Rachel was so jealous that she gave her maid to Jacob just so that in bearing a child on Rachel’s knees it would be considered Rachel’s child. When the maid bore a son, feeling vindicated, Rachel declared that God had “judged” her and given her a son. Therefore, she named him Dan, which means “judged.”

It so happens that God has also given us the story behind the name Beersheba. You don’t suppose that He has reasons for telling us what all these names mean, do you? Anyway, Abraham had dug a well and later entered into a covenant with a king at that well. “Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. So they made a covenant at Beersheba [”Well of the Oath”]…” (Genesis 21:31-32).

Now, plugging in the values and solving for X … we get “from one extreme (“Judged”) to the opposite extreme (“Well of the Oath” or “Well of the Covenant”). At this point we still don’t have quite enough information to connect the dots, though. However, with the hindsight we are privileged to have in this era we know from Romans 5:16 that sin causes judgment to result in condemnation for us, but Rom 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That answers that, but what about the well and the covenant?

Faith, Belief, and Drinking from the Well

Perhaps the best place to look is the story of Jesus at a well — Jacob’s well. It was there He met the Samaritan woman who had not been privileged to have led a stellar life. Rather than condemning her though, He told her about the living water He could give her, “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14.) So much for the well, but what about the covenant?

The key to the covenant is faith. Shortly after Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well John records Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24). This is the covenant: believe God; believe in Jesus Christ, and you will have eternal life.

Wrapping it all up, therefore, whoever has put his faith in Jesus Christ has entered into a covenant that brings him from judgment to a well of living water that springs up to eternal life. He has traveled from one extreme to the other, as far as one can travel in Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, from “Judged” to the “Well of the Oath.”

Names mean things.


Lewis was born the first time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He went to the United States Naval Academy out of high school where he had an Ecclesiastes chapter 2 experience. He was born again at the University Of Miami and now resides in the Mother Lode country of California where he loves mining the Scriptures for lode gold. He retired from Folsom Prison after 25 years in 2010 and loves teaching Bible. He has been teaching a men’s group for the past 12+ years, and his singular purpose is to show people the glory of God.

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7 Responses to Naming Rights – When Meaning and Metaphor Meet Reality

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is so interesting! Thank you for the background information here, Lewis, and especially for reminding us of what it signifies — how far we have come from being the judged ones to being free through the blood of Jesus.

    • Seaton Lewis says:

      You are very welcome. And I thank Tim for having given me this opportunity to share what I’ve learned.

  2. firemedic24 says:

    Looking forward to more on what is in a name! This may be the tip of the iceberg.

  3. Seaton Lewis says:

    It is just the tip.

  4. R T Keith says:

    Very good Lewis. By the way, I am from the Tribe of Asher.

    • Lewis H. Seaton III says:

      Very interesting. I believe you, but how do you know? According to all the non-millennial paradigms you guys were all lost and gone forever like “my darlin’ Clementine” after 722 BC.

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