Names often carry great significance in the Bible. Jeremiah’s prayers in chapters 14 and 15 illustrate this phenomenon. The prophet addresses God with descriptive names and terms that convey traits of the Lord as well as the faith and doubts of the prophet. As is the case elsewhere in the Old Testament, he also implores God to act in defense of His Name. Jeremiah prays,
” Although our sins testify against us, O Lord, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you. O Hope of Israel; its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, O Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us” (Jer. 14:7-9).
Jeremiah names God as Israel’s Hope when it seems there is none, the nation’s Savior in time of distress. Yet he also accuses God; he reveals his fear that God will not justify that hope, that Israel’s salvation will fade away like a mirage. God seems to be “a stranger in the night,” “a traveler who stays only a night,” “a man taken by surprise,” “a warrior powerless to save,” “a deceptive brook” (15:18), and “a spring that fails.” These phrases convey the strength of the prophet’s faith, but also the depth of his doubts. When we stare into life’s darkest moments, Jeremiah’s words become ours. We too question God’s promises in “desert” seasons, when the River of Life seems to evaporate. The prophet teaches us how to pray in those dark hours, for in those moments he still can pray, “You are among us, O Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us” (14:9b); he can say, “You understand me, O Lord; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering – do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake“(15:15).
Jeremiah reminds God that both the nation and he himself bear God’s name: “El” in Israel is translated God; “Iah” or “Yah” in Jeremiah reflects the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh, for which the term “Lord” is substituted in most English translations. He also gives us insight into the foundation of his enduring faith: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight; for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty” (15:16). Corporately and individually, God’s people bear his name. Echoes of this theme arise in the New Testament as well. The apostle Peter counsels persecuted Christians, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Peter, in the context surrounding that quote, like Jeremiah in his prayers, ties ethical behavior to wearing well the name of God and Christ.
O God, our Hope and Savior, we are your family; you have adopted us as your children. May we remember in the hours of darkness and times of temptation that we bear your name. May your promises sustain us. You understand us; through Jesus, you have walked our paths. Remember us, care for us, restore us when when we turn our hearts back to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.