When God Calls You By Name

I remember feeling completely lost when I first read Isaiah. It didn’t make much sense, which made it a puzzle, which meant I kept going back to it over and over. I’m glad I did because, years later, Isaiah is now one of my favorite books. There are so many passionate expressions of God’s love for His people here, and so much insight into how He relates to us when we slip up and make mistakes. I’m particularly fond of this passage:

But now Yahweh who created you, Jacob,
and he who formed you, Israel, says:
“Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name.
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned,
and flame will not scorch you.
For I am Yahweh your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior.
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Since you have been precious and honored in my sight,
and I have loved you,
therefore I will give people in your place,
and nations instead of your life.”

Isaiah 43:1-4, WEB

For me, reading this verse is the spiritual equivalent of wrapping up in a fluffy blanket and snuggling in with a cup of hot cocoa. It makes me feel safe and loved and warm. It doesn’t stand by itself in Isaiah’s book, though, and the context adds more layers of meaning and assurance to the words of my favorite verses. There’s a particularly intriguing emphasis on names, which is what I’d like to dig into deeper today.

Called By Name

Names matter deeply in the Bible and ancient Hebrew culture. The Hebrew word for name, shem, “often included existence, character, and reputation” (TWOT entry 2405). When speaking of God, there are some passages where “shem Yahweh is so intricately bound up with the being of God, that it functions almost like an appearance of Yahweh.” Shem also “signifies the whole self-disclosure of God in his holiness and truth.” Names stand-in for who a person is as a whole. They often have profound meaning, and in some cases God renames people He’s working with to signify who they’re becoming in him (for example, “Abram” [exalted father] becoming “Abraham” [father of many nations]).

You can see, then, now much it meant to have someone call you by name or to give you permission to call yourself by their name. When God says, “I have called you by your name. You are mine” it means He fully knows who we are and He claims us as His own (Is. 43:1, WEB). Most translations of this verse say “called you by name” or “called you by your name,” but there are some that choose to emphasize God’s role in naming His people. For example, “have named thee” (JUB), “I have chosen you, named you as My own” (VOICE), and “I have called thee by my name” (Clarke’s commentary). Either way you choose to translate it, this is a declaration of knowing and caring on a deep, personal level.

In Old Covenant times, God commissioned the priests to bless Israel and put His name on them. He promised to redeem, “my people, who are called by my name” if they sought Him with humility and prayer. Then in the New Covenant, He fulfilled prophecies that say Gentiles will be called by His name as well (Num. 6:27; 2 Chr. 7:14; Acts 15:17). Those who belong to God have His name associated with them (which is one reason it’s so important that we obey the command “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God” [Ex. 20:7, WEB]).

Isaiah 40-45

The verses we opened this post with are part of a longer message from God that Isaiah records in chapters 40:1-45:13. It’s mostly focused on God’s plans to deliver His people. One of the famous Servant Song prophecies pointing to Jesus as the Messiah is found in this section. There are also promises of God’s comfort, reliability, and protection. He reminds His people that He’s all-powerful and any idols we could come up with are completely insignificant and impotent. God also speaks of His anger with those who’ve abandoned Him for useless pagan gods, while declaring His refusal to permanently abandon them in return. Rather, He revealed He’s planning something new, including providing deliverance using the non-Israelite King Cyrus (who’s mentioned several times throughout this section of scripture).

Power in the Name

Within this passage about anger, deliverance, and God’s plans for redeeming His sinful people, He declares truths about Himself and His name. He also demonstrates His power by showing that He knows even the stars by name.

Look up at the sky!
Who created all these heavenly lights?
He is the one who leads out their ranks;
he calls them all by name.
Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26, NET

“I am the Lord! That is my name!
I will not share my glory with anyone else,
or the praise due me with idols.

Isaiah 42:8, NET

God’s power contrasted with the uselessness of idols is a recurring theme in this section of Isaiah’s book. It’s one of the reasons that’s God is so angry with His people. There’s no sense in abandoning the all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe to bow down and pray to a carved hunk of wood. He will not share His glory. And if we know His name, then we shouldn’t expect Him to be okay with half-loyalty or intermittent faith. We ought to reverence His “absolute power and awesome strength,” giving glory to His name.

Image of a man praying with a Bible, with text from Romans 9-10, 12, WEB version: “if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and 
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes resulting in 
righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made 
resulting in salvation. ... there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. For, ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock
Calling Cyrus

One thing about this passage in Isaiah 40-45 that seems a bit odd to me is how much time God spends talking about Cyrus. Why would God keep brining up a Persian conqueror when discussing how He knows and redeems His people? I didn’t remember much about this part of history, so I did a bit more research and GotQuestions.org provides a good overview of Cyrus’s appearances in the Bible. He’s the Persian king who let the Jewish people go back to Israel after 70 years in captivity.

I have stirred up one out of the north and he advances,
one from the eastern horizon who prays in my name.
He steps on rulers as if they were clay,
like a potter treading the clay.

Isaiah 41:25, NET

This is what the Lord says to his chosen one,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold…
“I will go before you
and level mountains.
Bronze doors I will shatter
and iron bars I will hack through.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stashed away in secret places,
so you may recognize that I am the Lord,
the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.”

Isaiah 45:1, 3-4, NET

Here in Isaiah, God is predicting that will happen and revealing His role in stirring up Cyrus to help God’s people. He’s also showing Isaiah (and readers like us) that He can call someone by name even if they don’t submit to Him. God is sovereign, and He gets to choose who He works with in mighty and powerful ways. He might even use someone unexpected to do great things.

Names and Us

Now we get to the chapters where God calls His people by name. Right before the Isaiah 43 passage, God speaks of sending a Messiah (who we now know as Jesus) to redeem His people, looking ahead past the physical relief Cyrus would bring to Israel to a more lasting and complete spiritual relief that Jesus brings to all God’s people. Here, Isaiah also talks about the reasons people need a Messiah–“they would not walk in his ways, and they disobeyed his law. Therefore he poured the fierceness of his anger on him” (Is. 42:24-25). Sins separate us from God, but He has a plan to deal with that.

Now, this is what the Lord says,
the one who created you, O Jacob,
and formed you, O Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you.
I call you by name, you are mine. …

Isaiah 43:1, NET

I will tell the north, ‘Give them up!’
and tell the south, ‘Don’t hold them back!
Bring my sons from far away,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
and whom I have created for my glory,
whom I have formed,
yes, whom I have made.’”

Isaiah 43:6-7, WEB

Those who God calls by name and whom He calls by His name will not stay separated or forsaken. He calls us not to be afraid, but to trust in His power and deliverance. He has good things planned for us. We just need to stay connected with Him; associated with His name.

One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”

Isaiah 44:5, NET

When God Calls Us By Name

Image of a woman smiling and worshipping with the blog's title text and the words "God knows everything about us and He still wants us to draw into a closer and closer relationship with Him, getting to know His name as well as He knows our names."

When God calls you by your name, that indicates a close, personal relationship very much like the one He had with Moses (Ex 33:12, 17). His relationship with Moses was exceptional, especially in Old Covenant times when having a friendship with God was a little more rare. Now, though, we all have the opportunity to have God call us by name.

“Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don’t know the voice of strangers.” Jesus spoke this parable to them, but they didn’t understand what he was telling them.

John 10:1-5, WEB

Jesus is the good shepherd who knows each of us by name. When we’re tuned-in to His voice we can “hear” Him calling us to follow Him each day. He knows us intimately, and is more familiar with our “existence, character, and reputation” than anyone else we can know. He knows everything about us and He still loves us. He even wants us to draw into a closer and closer relationship with Him, getting to know His name as well as He knows our names.

Featured image by Prixel Creative from Lightstock

God’s Questions for A Faithless People

I often think when reading the Old Testament prophets that it’s as if God could be speaking to us today. We don’t live in a whole nation claimed by God and governed by His laws (as physical Israel was) but believers today are spiritual Israel — the people who belong to God (Rom. 2:28-29; Eph. 2:12-13). When God talks to His wayward, complaining people in history, those words can also resonate with those of us who follow Him today but perhaps aren’t doing as good a job of that as we should be.

Micah’s book starts out with an alarm cry. “Listen, all you nations! Pay attention, all inhabitants of earth!” As a result of His people’s rebellion, the Lord is going to come with great destruction to crumble, split, and melt the earth (1:2-5). A spiritual infection has spread even into the “leadership of my people” (1:9), and that cannot go uncorrected. Wicked schemes run rampant in the land and it will result in disaster (2:1-3). Though people say, “The Lord’s patience can’t be exhausted— he would never do such things,” He will not put up with lying, stealing, defrauding, and persecuting the innocent forever (2:7-11).

Reading this, I can’t help but think of the world today. Outside the church, society is crumbling and the world’s going crazy. Injustice, lack of integrity, and disregard for God’s ways runs rampant. And, to our shame, it’s not much better in some churches. We have plenty of excuses for the way things are — often boiling down to something along the lines of it’s too hard to follow God today, He doesn’t really care what we do, or it’s enough if we’re good in our own way — but those excuses don’t stand up well in the face of God’s questions. God offers hope as well as judgement, though, and I think we can learn much from that message today.

God Will Judge

We know from scripture God will judge the world, but sometimes we forget He will also judge His own household. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Peter wrote, “it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17, all scriptures from New English Translation). That’s still happening today, and it was happening before Peter, too. There are things God’s people ought and ought not to do, and He will hold us accountable.

I said,
“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of the nation of Israel!
You ought to know what is just,
yet you hate what is good
and love what is evil.
You flay my people’s skin
and rip the flesh from their bones.

Micah 3:1-2

James warns that teachers “will be judged more strictly” (3:1), and the same seems true for other leaders among God’s people as well. We’re each responsible for our own actions, but leaders are also responsible for the people who listen to them. When someone misleads the people of God, all those who are disobedient face judgement but the fault lies most with the leaders (Micah 3).

God's Questions for A Faithless People | LikeAnAnchor.com
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God’s Questions

After hearing of such judgement and disaster, the people’s objection from 2:7 might seems a reasonable one to some of us. God is loving, patient, and merciful — He wouldn’t really do that! And then when it turns out He’s different than we expect or want Him to be, those objections might then turn to complaints that God isn’t fair or that His expectations are unreasonable (something we also hear today). God has an answer to that.

Listen to what the Lord says:

“Get up! Defend yourself before the mountains.
Present your case before the hills.”
Hear the Lord’s accusation, you mountains,
you enduring foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people;
he has a dispute with Israel!
“My people, how have I wronged you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
In fact, I brought you up from the land of Egypt;
I delivered you from that place of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.
My people, recall how King Balak of Moab planned to harm you,
how Balaam son of Beor responded to him.
Recall how you journeyed from Shittim to Gilgal,
so you might acknowledge that the Lord has treated you fairly.”

Micah 6:1-5

God’s not the one who broke the covenant. If anyone has cause to bring an accusation against someone else, it’s God against the people. And though the language would change if used today (e.g. we no longer personify mountains as witnesses to treaties, as they did in the ancient Near East [NET footnote to v. 1]), God could say much the same thing to many modern Christians. Hasn’t He given and done so much for us? Is what He asks in response so unreasonable?

He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from you:
He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness,
and to live obediently before your God.

Micah 6:8

There is Plenty of Hope

Following God really isn’t all that complicated. He tells us what He expects from us, Jesus lived an example of faithfulness, and then He died to cleanse us from the sins that we do commit. God is clear with His expectations, and He’s got a sort of “safety net” to save us if we slip; all we need to do is repent and move forward in renewed, faithful obedience. We’re the ones who complicate things, or perhaps more accurately the world makes following God seem confusing and difficult. But if we keep walking with Him, there are better days ahead.

God's Questions for A Faithless People | LikeAnAnchor.com
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And in future days the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all;
it will be more prominent than other hills.
People will stream to it.
Many nations will come, saying,
“Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the temple of Jacob’s God,
so he can teach us his ways
and we can live by his laws.”
For instruction will proceed from Zion,
the Lord’s message from Jerusalem.
He will arbitrate between many peoples
and settle disputes between many distant nations.
They will beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nations will not use weapons against other nations,
and they will no longer train for war.
Each will sit under his own grapevine
or under his own fig tree without any fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has decreed it.
Though all the nations follow their respective gods,
we will follow the Lord our God forever.

Micah 4:1-5

This promise is still for the future. We can look forward to the time when Christ will rule as David’s heir (Mic. 5:2-9) and the whole world will have peace. Until then, we ought to follow the prophet’s example here in saying no matter what the other peoples of the earth do, we will follow God. In Hebrew, it is more literally “walk in the name of our God,” which involves recognizing His “authority as binding over” your life (NET footnotes to v. 4-5). Living as a Christian can’t be a half-hearted commitment. God wants your whole heart, and in light of how much He loves us that doesn’t seem an unreasonable request.

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Immanuel: The Lord’s Incredible Response To Dealing With A Sinful People

The name Immanuel means “God with us.” It’s part of a beautiful Messianic prophesy that God delivered to a sinful king. When confronted by people who wouldn’t do as they were told, who thought they didn’t need God, and wanted to do their own thing, God’s response was to promise He would come and visit them. He followed through on that promise by coming to live on our plane of existence, getting as close to us as He could so He could relate to us and save us in a uniquely vulnerable way.

For Christians today, there’s a temptation to look at the stories of the Old Testament as just that — stories. These include the stories about all the bad kings of ancient Israel and Judah, which might not seem particularly relevant to us. King Ahaz of Judah was just one in a long list. He committed idolatry, sacrificed his own children, and tore valuables out of the Lord’s temple to pay-off his neighbors (2 Kings 16).

When Jerusalem was attacked during Ahaz’s reign, the Lord sent Isaiah to him with a message. Isaiah tells Ahaz, “Be careful, and keep calm. Don’t be afraid, neither let your heart be faint” because the Lord will not let enemy plots against His people succeed (Is. 7:3-9, WEB). Even though Ahaz was actively practicing evil, God was still concerned with Judah and He still held open a door for Ahaz to repent.

What happens next leads to one of the most famous prophesies in the Old Testament. But rather than just skip ahead to the Immanuel prophecy, let’s take a close look at the conversation God had with Azah that led up to this incredible promise. Read more

Instructions To Teachers

In June, I’ll be giving my first seminar at a church-sponsored young adult retreat. The last time I spoke in front of an audience was in a college class five years ago, so I’m a bit nervous. On top of that, teaching the Lord’s people is a serious responsibility. But it’s also one I’m grateful to have an opportunity for here on this blog and soon in-person as well.

While the Bible does talk about female prophets, it’s a bit fuzzy on the subject of women teaching. On the one hand, we have examples of prophetesses advising and instructing and women like Priscilla going out and teaching God’s truth. On the other, we have Paul’s admonitions for women to keep silent in the churches. So if I am going to teach in writing or speech, I want to be particularly careful I go about it in the way God intends.

The New Testament contains several instructions, as well as warnings, for teachers. Many are aimed at people in ministry, but I think in most cases we can apply them to anyone teaching God’s way of life. And to a certain extent, that includes every one of us in the church. Even if we’re not a “teacher,” we’re still serving as examples of God’s way and have a responsibility to faithfully represent Him to others.Instructions To Teachers | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Teach Only Truth

The bulk of the instructions to teachers concerns what they teach. They’re given the responsibility to faithfully share God’s words without straying from His truth. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that their worship was “in vain” because they taught human traditions instead of sound doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). That’s a trap we mustn’t fall into.

Jesus’ parting command to His disciples, which we now call the Great Commission, tells them to teach the nations “to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20, WEB). The early disciples followed that command by teaching in Jesus’ name the same things He taught (Acts 4:18; 5:42; 15:35; 28:31).

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spends quite a bit of time warning him not to get distracted from sound doctrine. There will be people people who teach other doctrines, who get distracted from God’s message, who pollute Christ’s teachings with their own ideas. But that’s not what a teacher of God does. They stick to the scriptures, use the law lawfully, and faithfully practice righteousness (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-12; 6:3-6). Read more

Music of the Spirit

Every once in a while, I’ll get into a discussion with someone about what sort of music is and is not appropriate as part of a church service. One of the groups I regularly attend with plays contemporary Christian and Messianic music, the other only sings songs out of their custom hymnal. And there’s quite a bit of variety in other groups as well, from a capella psalm singing to rocking worship bands.

I’m not going to say any of these musical traditions is “wrong” or “more right,” but I did notice something interesting about music when I was studying prophecy last week. One criticism that I’ve heard hymn singers level against those who sing more up-beat songs is that it’s too focused on emotion. You can’t “welcome the spirit of God” through music, they say. The music should be respectful and instructive. Worship’s not about making you feel God’s presence. Or is it?

Music of the Spirit | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Musical Prophecy

Early in Elisha’s ministry as a prophet, three kings came to ask him a question. They were planning to attack Moab, but ran out of water and wondered if their venture was doomed. King Jehoshaphat of Judah suggested inquiring of a prophet of the Lord. Once Elisha agreed to help, he makes what might seem like an odd request.

But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. (2 Kings 3:15, KJV)

Read more

The Gift of Prophecy

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses a variety of spiritual gifts. But there’s one in particular that he specifically tells them to “earnestly desire.” That gift is prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39, WEB).

A basic definition for this word is to “speak forth by divine inspiration” (Thayer, G4395). Usually when we think of people prophesying, we think about the prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. We think of men God used to foretell future events, confront sinful Israel, and write books of the Bible. We probably don’t think about prophets in the modern age.Why did Paul tell the New Covenant church that they should earnestly desire the gift of prophecy? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

And yet, Paul wrote that the New Covenant church should earnestly desire the gift of prophecy. He said you should want it and if God gives it to you you should use it. But how do we recognize a gift of prophecy (in ourselves or others), and how should it be used? Read more