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Saturday, June 22, 2013

What's in a Name? : Methuselah Does Not Just Mean "Old Guy"

I don’t usually have blog entries two days back-to-back, but in this case, I found out something really cool and I’m having a hard time just keeping it to myself. And to the family. And Carolyn and Miles who stopped by last night. When you learn something cool, you just want to share it, you know?

It came about because Emma has to read Genesis, Exodus, the Samuels, Ecclesiastes, and The Odyssey this summer before she goes back to school in August. She was lamenting having to read Genesis again, because we did it as a homeschool family, quite thoroughly, and she’s done it in Sunday school two or three times due to a repeating curriculum, and she’s read it on her own. “It’s just all those long names. They bore me,” she said. “I mean, who would name their child METHUSELAH anyway? What kind of dad was that?”

Well, that’s what I pounced on. “Let’s find out! Let’s find out what kind of dad would name his child Methuselah, and why!” I always love that kind of challenge when it comes to biblical things. She meant it as a dismissive question, but it’s actually a really good one, and it turns out, it was EVEN BETTER than I had imagined.

I didn’t know what we were going to find out about Methuselah, but I did know a couple of things already going in: 1) Names in the Old Testament meant something. So to ask, “Why that name?” was guaranteed something of interest; 2) Methuselah lived to be the oldest man ever. I knew it was more than 900 years. I didn’t remember the exact number. But again, we were going to go find out what made him significant, name and all.

Here’s what we found. I knew some of it but definitely not all, and had never put this together before.

Methuselah was the son of Enoch. Enoch was the guy who was said to “walk with God.” He also didn’t die, because God took him. There’s something special and unique going on here, that’s for sure. Walking with God implies a deep closeness. God walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Enoch walked with God after the Fall, when everything was spiraling farther and farther into disobedience and havoc. People were running amok but Enoch was walking with God. We had to stop and think about that for a little while. What was that like?

It was only when we looked up the meaning of the name of Enoch's son Methuselah that our imaginations about Enoch walking with God went kind of wild.

According to Jones’ Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, Methuselah means, “When He Is Dead It Shall Be Sent.”

I am fascinated by the meanings of names. I wanted to know each name’s meaning before I bestowed it upon my daughter. I’ve wondered about my own name, and how it came about that somewhere back in history, a man looked at his baby girl and said, “I shall call her ‘bound with a noose,’” and so it was. (A modern translation of Rebecca tries to take the trauma out of that noose-binding imagery by putting a romantic spin on it and revising it to “captivating.”)

But now Emma’s question was even more valid. What kind of dad names his kid “When He Is Dead It Shall Be Sent”?

The answer: The dad who was walking closely in fellowship, and maybe even in the special, revelatory confidence, of God during the time when evil was springing up more and more in each generation.

So Methuselah lived 969 years on the earth, bearing that name, that prophetic warning, all that time. In God’s mercy, Methuselah, bearer of the name of warning, lived longer than anyone else ever had before or since. He was from his birth a prophet with a message, even when his mouth was shut. Something’s coming. It will be sent. At the end of my days, it will come. Everywhere he went, for as long as he went, he was the embodiment of warning. And every day, every one of those long and many days, was a day of mercy, of God withholding his heavy hand of judgment, allowing time for people to listen and turn and repent.

But God keeps his word. And eventually, Methuselah did die. Do you know when? I did not.

Laying the lengths of lives down in chart form shows that Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah, died in the very year that the Great Flood was sent. The very year. When he had died, it was sent.

Some say it took Noah more than 100 years to build the ark. I can’t say I’ve found that exactly spelled out. It may be an interpretation of God’s spoken statement that “The days of man will be 120 years,” and that started the point at which Noah began to build. Perhaps that is true. If it is, then in addition to Methuselah presumably still walking around all that time, he was also overlapping with his youthful, 500-year-old grandson who was preparing for rain. For a century or more.

A man walked with God and then disappeared from the earth. If that didn’t make one sit up and take notice, he named his son with a prophetic and ominous name, and that guy outlived every one of his peers and many of their own offspring, bearing that name as warning all the while, the name given him by the dad who “translated” but didn’t die. Then the old, ominously named guy’s grandson, called Noah (which means “rest,” by the way—and maybe means that he was the one through whom rest from all the terror of evil of man against man was going to come), heeds some sort of divine revelation and builds a massive ship like nothing anyone has seen before.

I mean, really. Something unusual is up with this family, don’t you think? Unnatural. Supernatural. Tradition says that people thought Noah was crazy. But look at what actually happened before him. And no one, not one, outside his own immediate family, listened, considered, wondered if maybe paying a little attention was a worthwhile investment? Not one?

Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees that though they could interpret the signs in the sky, whether it would be fair or stormy the next day, they could not interpret the signs of the times. It seems it has always been that way. A common saying is that “If heaven opened and God appeared there, we wouldn’t believe it. We’d find a way to explain it away.”

Funny thing is, that’s just the terminology that keeps showing up. God took Enoch. Heaven opened to receive him. When the flood came, Genesis 7:11 says “the windows of heaven opened,” and the rain came. Ezekiel the prophet looked into the open door of heaven. Heaven opened for the Spirit to come down upon Christ at his baptism, and others saw it. Stephen, at his martyrdom, saw heaven opened and told those around him, even the ones casting the stones that took his life. The witnesses said Stephen’s own face was like that of an angel. I wonder what that was like.

We’ve been hearing lately at church to pay attention to the signs of the work of the Holy Spirit with us individually. Comfort that seems to come unexpectedly. Provision. Communication at just the right point. The Spirit is here, present, in an experiential way that is closer and new for these last days. But history certainly shows that all along, God has been invested in communicating to his creatures.  

Why don’t we hear?


Tammi T. said...

Thanks for sharing this. I can't wait to share this post with others.

--Rebecca said...

Thanks, Tammi!
Good to hear from you. It's been a long time. Hope you and the family are well.

M.K. said...

Great stuff! Thanks!

--Rebecca said...

Thank you, MK!