When you feel forsaken or rejected,
when you feel like a failure or a piece of dirt,
when you feel inadequate or deficient,
when you feel unloved or unchosen,
hear the word of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet
…you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow…
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah ["my delight is in her"],
and your land Beulah ["married"];
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
Isaiah’s message is for post-exilic Israel (Isaiah 56-66). The people had returned from Babylonian exile only to find themselves still oppressed, poor, and seemingly abandoned to their fate. They lived under heavy Persian taxation and were harassed by regional provinces. Jerusalem’s walls were in ruins. Famine and poverty were rampant. The return did not meet expectations; it was not all that it was cracked up to be. Where was the glory of the restoration, the return to the land of promise? The promises of God had seemed to fail. Israel had been deserted and the land was desolate; Israel was rejected and ruined. The people of God were losing hope.
Isaiah 56-59 outlined Judah’s sins, but Isaiah 60-62 proclaims a message of grace and salvation. Isaiah 62:1-5 is the climax of that message. God will not give up on Israel. He has chosen Jerusalem; it is his city. He will not relent. His love endures for ever. He will change Jerusalem’s name, just as he did with Abram, Sarai and Jacob long ago.
God reveals his own character through his names. Yahweh-Yireh is the Lord who Provides (Gen 22:14). Yahweh-Shalom is the Lord of Wholeness (Judges 6:24). Yahweh-Mekedesh is the Lord who Sanctifies (Ezk 37:28). The name “Yahweh” means “the one who is” or “I am that I am.” The name of God matters as it defines him and our names matter too because they define us in many ways.
What others call us matter. They matter because in our woundedness we assimiliate those names within oursleves. “Sticks and stones…but names will never hurt me” is a lie. When, as pre-adolescents, we were labeled “different” or “weird” some of us internalized a life-long stigma in our own minds. Such language and experiences shaped our core beliefs. When we were constantly picked last on the playground, we were named “unchosen.” When we were abandoned by a parent, we were named “unworthy.” When we were abused, we were named “worthless.”
What we call ourselves matters. If, at our cores, we call ourselves “worthless” or “pathetic,” it will shape how we relate to people. It will shape the nature of our marriages, our parenting, and our relationships. It will shape our churches. Indeed, self-righteousness within our congregations is often more a matter of maintaining our own self-image and ignoring the truth about ourselves than it is about the welcoming, forgiving holiness of God.
What God calls us truly matters. And it matters more than our own inadequate and inaccurate views of ourselves. How we hear God–the seive through which we filter God’s word to us–often twists God’s naming. Though intellectually we may hear God say “beloved,” if our core is filled with shame, hurt, pain and abandonment and if our image of God has been shaped by pictures of Zeus holding lightning bolts ready (even eagar!) to inflict retribution, what we hear is not “beloved” but “loathed.” Since we believe–at our core or gut–that we are not worth loving, we cannot believe that God could actually love us in the midst of our shame, abandonment, and sin.
Only recently have I recognized with any depth the significance of other’s names for us and our names for ourselves. In recent months I have discovered that at my core–in my own self-image–I had lived with some names that have negatively impacted me. Whether self-generated, or imposed by others, or impressed upon me by circumstances, these names nearly destroyed me earlier this year. Here are a few of my “old” names for myself.
Forsaken. I felt this intensely when Sheila died in 1980 after only two years and eleven months of marriage. I felt it again when Joshua was diagnosed with a terminal genetic defect and then died at the age of sixteen in 2001. Why, God, have you forsaken me? Will you forsake me forever? Why are you picking on me? Is there something wrong with me that you rip my joy from me and every day fill my heart with sorrow?
Failure. I have felt this most deeply since my divorce. I failed at the most important relationship in my life. During that trauma I was disillusioned, confused, and deeply hurt. I now own much more of the causes of that divorce than I did in 2001, but this only increases my sense of failure. The name, seemingly, only gets more apporpriate with time.
Deficient. One of my early core beliefs is “I am not enough.” Consequently, emotionally I have sought approval and the most effective mode which I found was through work. Approval-seeking became an addiction. I am a workaholic. I stuffed myself with addictive behavior in order to feel good about myself, to gain approval, and connect with others. But ultimately it was an empty feeling. Whatever approval I received was never enough; I always needed more and was envious when others received acclaim. And I needed more because at my core–somehow, someway–I had been named “Deficient.”
What is your name? How have you been named? What have you felt in your gut and believed at your core that has shaped how you see youself, others and God?
I am only beginning to understand the names I have worn. But I know there is something better. God himself has named me. Those are the names I want to internalize; I want to see myself and others through the lens of God’s naming.
God Changed My Name
Israel and I have chewed some of the same dirt. Forsaken…Rejected…Desolate. Indeed, we have all worn these names in one form or another. But there is good news–there is gospel. God changes names and only he can truly do so. To try to change my own name is an illusion, futile and another attempt to fill what is lacking by my own efforts. God must name me and, when he names me, he makes it true.
Isaiah provides a startling image for us which enables us to enter this story emotionally as well as intellectually. Yahweh’s new name for Israel is “My delight is in her”–the one in whom he delights. He loves her, enjoys being with her, and yearns for her presence. Yahweh’s name for Israel is “Married”–he unites himself with his people for the sake of intimacy; he wants to know his bride. Yahweh rejoices over his people like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride–his joy surpasses a wedding celebration.
This is how God feels. This is the truth about his people. “I will rejoice over you,” declares Yahweh. The king of the cosmos does not sit on his throne without emotional engagement with his creation. Quite the contrary, God choses his bride, delights in her, dresses her in a bridal gown, and celebrates her with dancing and festivity.
This is how God feels about us. Our past self-styled names are false names–they are no longer true if they ever were. We have new names–names bestowed by God. No longer are we “Forsaken” but we are “Chosen.” No longer are we “Failure” but we are “Married.” No longer are we “Deficient” but we are “Blessed”! Though he knows the depths of our hearts (which are not always pretty), he loves us just as he loves his own Son (John 17:23).
God’s word to each of us is “You are beloved; you are the one in whom I delight.” He welcomes us, dresses us in festive robes, spreads a table of the best food and the finest wines, and spends the evening dancing with his bride. God wants us and he stands in applause as we wear the names he has given us….Chosen…Beloved…Married…Blessed.
The lyrics of D. J. Butler’s “I Will Change Your Name” speak the essence of this text; hear them, believe them. It is the word of God through Isaiah to each of us.
I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one
Faithfulness, friend of God
One who seeks My face.
**Sermon (audio here) delivered at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ on December 28, 2008**