Names in Old Testament times. Today, most people don’t stop to think about whether their name has a meaning. For this reason, people tend to skip over Biblical names without considering their meanings. But it was not so in Biblical times. Names had meanings. God further meant to teach us things by studying the names recorded in the Bible.
The Third Commandment. The meaning behind God’s name is so important that it is the Third Commandment not to defame it (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11). Commentator Walter Kaiser once stated: “What then is involved in the ‘name’ of God? His name includes: (1) His nature, being, and very person (Ps. 20:1; Lk. 24:47; Jo. 1:12; cf. Rev. 3:4), (2) His teachings and doctrines (Ps. 22:22; Jo. 17:6, 26), and (3) His ethical directions and morals.” (Mic. 4:5). Jesus likewise taught us to pray: “Hallowed be thy name.” Keeping God’s name holy was so important that violating it was punishable by death (Lev. 24:10-16, 22-23).
The names of the leaders that God identified for each of the 12 tribes are no exception to the rule that all names in the Bible have meaning. To emphasize this point, Moses lists the names in chapters one, two, and again in ten. These names tell us what it takes to be an effective soldier for Christ. Like any soldier, a Christian soldier must know what will protect him or her. He or she also needs to know what firepower he or she will have to attack, what the battle plan is and how the enemy will fight back. Consider the hidden meanings in the following names.
(1) God must be your rock and the source of your fire. “4 With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5 These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur;”. (Nu. 1:4-5). To lead the military men from the tribe of Reuben, God picked Elizur, the son of Shedur.
Elizur. The name Eilzur means “God is a Rock.”
Shedur. The name Shedur means “the Almighty fire.”
Application. For protection, God is a rock and a shield for all who take refuge in Him (Ps. 18:30; 2 Sam 22:3, 31). To attack, we also rely upon God. He is our Almighty fire, who consumes all evil (Ex. 24:17; Dt. 4:24). His word is also our sword (Heb. 4:12).
(2) Be at peace with God by trusting in Him, the almighty Rock. “6 of the tribe of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai;” (Nu. 1:6). To lead the military men from the tribe of Simeon, God picked Shelumiel, the son of Zurishaddai.
Shelumiel. The name Shelumiel means “at peace with God.”
Zurishaddai. The name Zurishaddai means “My rock is the Almighty.”
Application. Before we were reconciled to God through Christ, we were His “enemies” (Ro. 5:10; Phil 3:18-19). Our “access” to God automatically means that we have “fellowship” with Him. The fellowship offering was the only voluntary sacrifice, and it was the only one where the person dined on the offering with God in intimate fellowship (Lev. 3:1-17). According to Jesus, we as believers must still open the door of our hearts to dine with Him in fellowship with Him (Rev. 3:20). The true peace that surpasses all understanding comes to those in fellowship with Him (Phil. 4:7). To have that peace in Him is a necessary precondition to being an effective soldier for Him. If we do not have peace with Him, we are unstable in everything and a liability on the battlefield. Yet, to have peace and be used, we must have complete trust in Him in every aspect of our lives.
(3) Seek wisdom from God, who gives liberally to those who ask. “7 of the tribe of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab;” (Nu. 1:7). To lead the military men from the tribe of Judah, God picked Nashon, the son of Amminibad.
Nashon. The name Nashon means “a diviner” or discerner.
Amminibad. The name Amminibad means “the people of a liberal giver.”
Application. Every soldier needs a battle plan. A good soldier needs to know what battles to fight in and when to fight them. When we seek wisdom, we must ask God through prayer. He gives liberally to those who ask without a doubting faith (Jam. 1:5-8). Yet, you must seek Him with all your heart and soul (Dt. 4:29). He will then direct you when you fight for Him.
(4) God gives His spiritual gifts to the meek. “8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar;” (Nu. 1:8). To lead the military men from the tribe of Issachar, God picked Nethanel, the son of Zuar.
Nethanel. The name Nethanel, means “a gift of God.”
Zuar. The name Zuar means “little.”
Application. “Blessed are the meek because they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5 (KJV)). Meekness is defined as strength under control. God gives His spiritual gifts to those soldiers who can control their strength. They are never rash or boastful (1 Jo. 2:16). If you are calm and collected, He can depend upon you as His soldier in stressful battles.
(5) A child of God is brave in the face of any enemy. “9 of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon;” (Nu. 1:9). To lead the military men from the tribe of Zebulon, God picked Eliab, the son of Helon.
Eliab. The name Eliab, means “God is Father.”
Helon. The name Helon means “brave” or “strong.”
Application. Although we may not belong to a tribe, we can take pride in our heritage as adopted children of God (1 Jo. 3:2; Jo. 1:12; Gal. 3:26, 29; Rom. 8:14-17). God did not give us a spirit of fear (Rom. 8:15). We need not fear any evil (Ps. 23:4; 112:7). Thus, you are to be brave when facing your enemies in battle.
(6) God hears the prayers of the righteous. “10 of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud;” (Nu. 1:10a). To lead the military men from the tribe of Ephraim (Joseph’s first son), God picked Elishama, the son of Ammihud.
Elishama. The name Elishama, means “God has Heard.”
Ammihud. The name Ammihud means “the people of majesty.”
Application. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in God’s army. He hears the prayers of those who trust Him (1 Ch. 5:20). Don’t go into battle without your best weapons.
(7) God rewards the redeemed in Christ. “10 . . . of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur;” (Nu. 1:10b). To lead the military men from the tribe of Manasseh (Joseph’s second son), God picked Gamaliel, the son of Pedahzur.
Gamaliel. The name Gamaliel, means “God is a rewarder.”
Pedahzur. The name Pedahzur means “the Rock has redeemed.”
Application. Unlike soldiers in a secular war, we can rejoice because we already know the outcome. The Jews were told that they would be rewarded with victory in the Promised Land. They only needed to trust God. Today, God rewards all the redeemed through Christ who seek Him with faith (Heb. 11:6). Thus, we have no reason to fear going into battle.
Christ the Redeemer statue struck by lightning (image credit)8
(8) God will judge and cut down the wicked. “11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni;” (Nu. 1:11). To lead the military men from the tribe of Benjamin, God picked Abidan, the son of Gideoni.
Abidan. The name Abidan means “my father is a judge.”
Gideoni. The name Gideoni means “the cutter down.”
Application. God told Abraham that the wicked people of Canaan would be judged. But He is patient and gave them hundreds of years to first repent. Today, we also know the fate of the wicked. He will judge and cut them down (Is. 11:4; Ecc. 3:17; 1 Kgs. 8:32). We need only trust Him and allow Him to use us as His instruments (Rom. 13:4).
(9) Help God’s people. “12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai;” (Nu. 1:12). To lead the military men from the tribe of Dan, God picked “Ahiezer”, the son of Ammishaddai.
Ahiezer. The name “Ahiezer”, means “brother of help.”
Ammishaddai. The name Ammishaddai means “the people of the Almighty.”
Application. We are ready for battle and have been assured victory. But there is one more thing we must know before we receive our first assignment. We are to help our fellow soldiers. He needs an army. He needs your help to make sure that none of the soldiers fall out of rank or give up the fight. In other words, a good soldier cares for his or her fellow soldiers. You can’t fight the war alone. Thus, you must bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Are you encouraging others who feel defeated and broken down?
(10) Help the afflicted. “13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran;” (Nu. 1:13). To lead the military men from the tribe of Asher, God picked Pagiel, the son of Ocran.
Pagiel. The name Pagiel, means “event of God.”
Ocran. The name Ocran means “afflicted.”
Application. You are ready for our first mission. Along with your fellow troops, you are to help the poor, the disabled, the widows, the orphans, and the defenseless (Matt. 25:34-45). That is true religion (Jam. 1:27). Paul said that he made himself “a servant to all.” (1 Cor. 9:19). Have you volunteered to help the poor, widows, prisoners, or others in need?
(11) God provides for us when we seek Him first. “14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel;” (Nu. 1:14). To lead the military men from the tribe of Gad, God picked Eliasaph, the son of Deul.
Eliasaph. The name Eliasaph, means “God has added.”
Deul. The name Deul means “known of God.”
Application. Although secular armies have fallen throughout history when their supply lines for the troops fell apart, you can fight confidently without ever needing to turn back to worry about your supplies. He provided Manna and water for the needs of His troops. Today, all you need to do is “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). Are you seeking first His kingdom?
(12) Have your eyes open for troublesome brothers. “15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16 These are the men who were called from the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.” (Nu. 1:15-16). To lead the military men from the tribe of Naphtali, God picked Ahira, the son of Enan.
Ahira. The name Ahira, means “brother of evil,” i.e. trouble.
Enan. The name Enan means “having eyes.”
Application. As you fight together with your army, you must realize that your enemy cannot fight a conventional war and expect to win. He must instead engage in an insurgency. He will seek to strike at you in your blind spots. In the end, it was fear within the tribes and a lack of trust in God that doomed the initial planned invasion into the Promised Land. The warning to the people was hidden in the names of the men leading them. Later, Jesus’ enemies would come from within. Judas was one of the 12 apostles. Today, the enemy will also seek to sow confusion within God’s army. He will seek to seduce brothers to evil to draw you away from your mission. You must always be vigilant for false teachers and false prophets (Matt. 7:15; 24:11; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Jo. 4:1). The best counter-insurgency plan that you can follow to prevent the enemy from deceiving you is reading the Word (Ps. 119:105). How much time are you spending in the Word to protect yourself?
The Levites were not to fight the physical battle. They were to be set apart for God’s use. They prepared and guarded the Tabernacle (Nu. 3:25-39). Their weapon was prayer. Like them, we are a holy priesthood (2 Pet. 2:5, 9). As priests, we are to be soldiers for Christ (1 Tim. 2:3). We must always be set apart for His use. We are the salt and light of this world. Yet, if we lose our saltiness through our association with this world, we can’t be effective soldiers (Matt. 5:13-16). If we have become dirtied by the world, you must repent of your sins (1 Jo. 1:9). If we are justified by the blood of Christ, His Word sanctifies or sets you apart (Eph. 5:26). Are you reading the Word and repenting when He exposes your sins?