I was challenged to write about two men with frankly the oddest names, only to discover the mention they get is the grand sum of a few verses each in chapter 7 and 8 of Isaiah. I have to admit, I had never heard the names Shear-Jashub or Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz before, perhaps I had not paid close enough attention when reading Isaiah, so I had to get reading before I could write about them.
This section of the Bible falls about 300 years after David and Goliath, but the nation looks very different. During David’s rule the people of God were united, but the kingdom split with ten tribes in the North which became the kingdom of Israel, while the remaining two tribes in the South became the kingdom of Judah. The North chose Samaria as its capital, while the South had Jerusalem as its capital. It is this divide we continue to see in the New Testament time of Jesus; the Jews in the South despised the Samaritans of the North.
Isaiah was the prophet sent to the South, while Hosea was sent to the North at much the same time. Both prophets were sent to call the people, the nation, back to God.
We open Isaiah with a few key verses:
‘The children I raised and cared for have turned against me… No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand. Oh, what a sinful nation they are! They are loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil and corrupt children who have turned away from the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, cutting themselves off from his help… No matter how deep the stains of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow… If you will only obey me and let me help you, then you will have plenty to eat. But if you keep turning away and refusing to listen, you will be destroyed by your enemies.’ Isaiah 1 : 2 – 20
Isaiah was a man that heard God, and saw visions from Him, but the messages he was to pass on were not all pretty or encouraging. In fact, many were doom and gloom, of impending destruction, captivity and death. Not at all the kind of messages most people want to be burdened with. Not only did Isaiah feel God had messages for the people but He also had message God wanted to use his sons to pass on. Before they were born God indicated the names He wished each son to have, a name that would remind the people of something specific.
Isaiah’s first son was to be named Shear-Jashub which means, a remnant will return. His second son was Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means quick to plunder, swift to spoil.
Sometimes we glance over names because so few names in this country have an instantly recognisable meaning. People would recognise Daisy and Hope but what about Jonathan or Matilda? These names though meant something to the people, they were in their everyday language. It would be like me naming my child Destruction-Comes, Christ-Returns or Love-Overcomes-Evil. Anyone who met us or heard of us would instantly know and understand that I had a message. Obviously, some people would choose to believe Destruction-Comes was talking about the destruction the child was bringing each time they entered the room, but they would understand clearly that you were communicating something important.
God had a message for Isaiah’s sons to give and they didn’t even have to use words because their very name expressed God’s message each and every time their name was spoken. Their names reflected the messages Isaiah had been sent to tell the people.
One of Isaiah’s messages was to tell the people that the whole area would be deserted, a wasteland, with the people driven to distant lands. Only a few would survive and return – the remnant described in Shear-Jashub’s name – only to be invaded again and again. Isaiah’s son’s name reflected this concept that no matter what happened to the people, each time only a remnant of them would return to Judah. The remnant were the faithful few, those whose hearts were not hardened to Isaiah’s message, who were faithful to God and who understood that Shear-Jashub’s name was not only a message of gloom but also a message of hope. The name meant there was hope for those who remained faithful. God would bring that remnant back safely to their homeland, He would protect them no matter what circumstances surrounded them and no matter the outcome for the rest of their community. There was hope for those who chose to listen and not be hardened to the heart of God.
Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s name would reflect the destruction other nations would bring to the people of God. They would plunder Israel and Judah, and carry off their wealth, they would spoil the land. While Shear-Jashub’s name bought a glimmer of hope to a few, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s name was intended to work differently, it was to strike fear into the hearts of the people and to remind them of their past.
Isaiah‘s message reminded the people about the promised land God had brought them into, but they had spoiled it. Instead of following the ten commandments, and in particular having no other gods beside the One true God, they had allowed the practices of the land to continue, they had even joined in. They worshipped other gods. The people had been given something precious and instead of protecting it, they had spoiled it. They allowed others to plunder its promise, by not stamping out the practices they knew God did not want for them. And because the people had allowed all this to happen God would allow other nations to further spoil and plunder the nation. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a reminder that doom was coming, it was imminent.
Isaiah’s message, that we opened with, was for the people to turn from their wickedness and return to God for help. The people thought they knew best and refused to listen, so both of God’s messages expressed in the names of Isaiah’s sons came true. The people were scattered and carried off in many directions, and only a few of them came back to the land to pick up the pieces and rebuild what little there was left. The names were significant. But what relevance do they have today?
God may not speak His messages through people’s names in the same way now, but He does still speak. He does still have a message to bring, and it is not always the variety we want to hear. Sometimes the message does sound like doom and gloom, sometimes it prompts us to acknowledge things we don’t want to hear, to admit things we have done. But no matter how difficult the message can be to swallow there is always hope. Hope because of another name, the name of Jesus. Jesus made the way for all things to be different, He brought the possibility of restoration in our relationship with God. So, because we can call on the name of Jesus, we will always have hope. No matter how dark the places we are seem, no matter how dreadful the circumstances appear, and no matter how far we think we have fallen – that hope always remains. The knowledge that the price Jesus paid on the cross has changed everything forever is a blessing, not so that we can continue in our dark places but so that we can change our ways and be counted as the faithful remnant who return to Him again and again.
So, what’s in a name? Well once you start digging beneath the surface you discover that there is a great deal to be found in a name. Before I finish, let’s just go over what the name Jesus means. It comes from the Hebrew Yehoshua. Yeho- meaning (the same as Yahweh) the Lord, and -shua (from yasha) meaning to deliver, save or rescue. The literal translation of Jesus is God saves. The name of Jesus is important, because God brought His message through Jesus, he saved the people through Jesus.