I have decided to read through the Bible again this year. As I walk through the pages of Genesis with the patriarchs it’s like a step back to when I first went to Bible school, when I first realized that every page of the Bible was written for me… that, though written thousands of years ago to people I will only meet in eternity, every story and every detail is included by the Holy Spirit for my benefit.
This time through, there is a specific theme speaking to me. It begins subtly in Genesis 2.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not fount a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Just before this, in verse 15, God “took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” To work it and to guard it. To take responsibility for it—the plants, the animals, the waters. All of this beautiful garden was given into the care of Adam, and the way he showed his acceptance of that responsibility was by choosing their names. Here begins the longstanding Hebrew custom of showing ownership with a name.
But as the book progresses I notice a shift: yes, people are obviously still naming their children, but it is not just people and animals’ names that are important anymore. People are naming places—not simply to say “I own this ground,” but to say something more triumphant. More difficult. “I own what happened here. I own what I saw God do here. I take responsibility for what God asked of me here. I own the right to hold God to the promise He made to me here.”
Hagar, broken and abandoned, meets God in the wilderness when He calls her by name. “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi (the well of the Living One who sees me).” (Genesis 16:13-14a)
Abraham, promised nations through his only son, is asked to give up that son as a burnt offering to God—when at the last minute a ram is provided instead. “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide (Jehovah Jireh), as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:14)
Jacob, fleeing from the death threats of his brother, meets the Lord in a dream where He renews His promise to the descendants of Abraham. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ . . . He called the name of that place Bethel (the house of God).” (Genesis 28:16-17, 19a) Years later, God would call Himself “the God of Bethel” (Genesis 31:13) when speaking to Jacob, and eventually send him back to that very location as a reminder of His faithfulness (Genesis 35:1).
The mighty acts of God in the lives of these men and women were commemorated by name. The places became reminders of the progression of their testimonies. The voice of God was not obvious in their lives every single day, so when it was, they took ownership of it. No matter what days or years of spiritual silence lay ahead, they sought to never forget that He saw them. That He would provide for them. That He was present with them.
It has made me think… when in my life have I been at Beer-lahai-roi? When have I been at Jehoveh Jireh? What about Bethel? Peniel (Genesis 32:30)? El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:20)? When did God meet me at Mahanaim (Genesis 32:2)?
Have I taken ownership of the ways God has worked in my life? Have I taken responsibility for my response to His leading? Have I given that much reverence and awe to the moments I have spend in His presence?