Saturday, April 28, 2018

What's in a Name? On Ishmael and Isaac

Most believe that the alphabet as we know it is a human invention. I do not. I have come to the sincere belief that every single word (or jot) in the Bible is divinely placed and meaningful.
Additionally, I believe that the language in which the Old Testament was originally written is also divinely created and given by God (see God Speaks: The Origin of the Alphabet). I think some of the best evidence for this belief can be found in Biblical names. I have previously shown the vivid pictures painted in the names Noah and Moses by the ancient Hebrew pictographs. I believe equally vivid stories can be told for most, if not all, names in scripture.
Among the reasons I believe that the ancient Hebrew alphabet was created and given to man by God is the superhuman mix of simplicity and complexity. The simplicity of an alphabet based on child-like pictures (an ox head to mean a strong leader or God) is in stark contrast to the complexity of a name prophetically depicting verses in scripture written some 500 years later (see Elohim as Psalm 23). I can imagine an extremely gifted human developing a language with symbolic alphabetic characters, perhaps even where the symbols can be arranged to form words, possibly even tell stories. But, when someone does this in a manner that also prophecies something 500 years in advance, then I might reconsider my position.
I believe there are countless examples of words and names depicting scriptures, a divine double entendre, but without the ambiguity. In this post, I want to focus on just two of these examples: Ishmael and Isaac.
I believe this is actually possible with any name in the Bible, I have studied Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Moses and others, and never have I been disappointed. I might write on others later, but the account of Ishmael and Isaac has always fascinated me because of its reflection of God's grace vs our works.
You all know the story, Sarah becomes impatient with her inability to produce a child and persuades Abraham to impregnate Hagar. I'm sure we can all sympathize with Sarah's impatience. I know I've tried to help God along on more than one occasion. But, the promise is fulfilled not through our works, but through God's grace. So what of the works? They amount to nothing, usually cause problems, and are cut off like Ishmael.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Gen. 22:2.
By this time Abraham had both sons, Isaac and Ishmael. But, what does God say, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac..." This is a harsh, but true reality. As far as God was concerned, Abraham had only one son, the son of promise. Now, God made provision for Ishmael, and promised Abraham that he would become a great nation too, but there were consequences. Here is how the Angel of the Lord explained it:
The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Gen. 16:11-13.
First, more than a prophetic statement, this is now an historical fact. Second, this prophetic look into the future of Ishmael was decreed from the naming of Ishmael (You shall name him Ishmael). In Hebrew, Ishmael is spelled YOD, SHIN, MEM, AYIN, ALEPH and LAMED. In the ancient Hebrew pictographs, the YOD is pictured as a hand from the fist to the elbow meaning my, my hand, or my works. SHIN is pictured as two teeth meaning to destroy or consume. MEM is pictured as waves of water meaning waters, nations or peoples. AYIN is pictured as an eye meaning to see, or to see as God sees. ALEPH is an ox head meaning strong, leader or God. LAMED is pictured as a shepherd's staff meaning to lead.
Recall from earlier posts that the combination of ALEPH and LAMED form the Hebrew name El or God. The name Ishmael means God hears me or my God hears because the YOD or "ee" sound is the letter or sound for my/me and "shama" (produced by SHIN, MEM and AYIN) is the Hebrew word for hear. So, Ishmael (or ee shama el) is my God hears or God hears me. But, when you look at the Hebrew pictographs what you see is Genesis 16:11-13, "his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers..." and "You are the God who sees me..."
Here it is in the ancient Hebrew pictographs:
Ishmael in ancient Hebrew
Ishmael in ancient Hebrew
As much as Ishmael is a vivid picture of future strife, Isaac (meaning laughter) vividly depicts the replacement of Ishmael and the sacrifice God asks Abraham to make with Isaac. The Bible says Ishmael was a hunter or bowman, a man of the bow. Ishmael is a man of the bow because the bow is a symbol of covenant (see my discussion of the bow as covenant), and, while God's covenant with Abraham was to be through Isaac, we are reminded that God also promised to make Ishmael a great nation.
Nevertheless, the Abrahamic covenant was through Isaac, and Ishmael was completely cut off from it. We can see this is the name Isaac. In Hebrew, Isaac is spelled YOD, TSADE, CHET and QUPH. Again, the YOD is pictured as a hand, meaning my or my efforts. TSADE is pictured as a man lying on his side or a fish hook meaning to hunt or fish. CHET is pictured as a wall or fence meaning to cut off. QUPH is pictured as a horizon meaning some sort of time element. So Isaac is a depiction of the relationship between Abraham and Ishmael: MY HUNTER (Ishmael the hunter or bowman) will be CUT OFF for all TIME, or the product of MY EFFORTS, the HUNTER is CUT OFF for all TIME.
Isaac in ancient Hebrew
Isaac in ancient Hebrew
Moveover, in the ultimate test of one's faith, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It is quite an amazing test, one I'm not sure many would pass. But, Abraham does, and it is recorded in this way:
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Gen 22:9-12
You can almost picture Abraham taking his son by the hand and then in his arms and laying him down to cut him with the knife, but the angel intervenes in the nick of time. What is truly remarkable is that this picture was painted before Isaac's birth, when the Lord told Abraham, "your wife Sarah will bear you a son and You will call him Isaac..."Gen. 17:19. Actually, now that I think about it, all of these word pictures were painted before time began. They were only revealed later. Quite astounding!
Here is Isaac:
Isaac in ancient Hebrew
Isaac in ancient Hebrew
...lest anyone doubt the significance of a name!

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