Genesis 25 – What’s in a Name

Genesis 25 Bible with Endangered Species 72 percent Cocoa Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds

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Today’s PassageGenesis 25

Tip for Dungeon Masters: if you need an intriguingly foreign-sounding name for a non-player character in your tabletop RPG, put aside those random name generators and just turn to any of the genealogy chapters in Genesis: 4, 5, 10, 11, 22, 25, 29-30, 35-36, and 46. You only need open today’s text, chapter 25, and you can populate your Dungeons and Dragons game with the likes of Ishbak the Barbarian, the great wizard Zohar, or the noble king Adbeel, ruler of the plains of Eldaah. That said, if you would rather be playing Dungeons and Dragons than reading the genealogies, I wouldn’t entirely blame you.

Fortunately for the easily-bored among us, today’s chapter is not only genealogies. We also get to meet Rebekah’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob, but the twins don’t come easy. Rebekah, the text tells us, is barren (21): Hebrew עָקָר, aqar, for which Strong’s Concordance gives the definition of “sterile (as if extirpated in the generative organs).” As best her people can tell, something in her reproductive system is hamstrung so that she can’t have kids. Isaac has to ask God to enable her to conceive. But even then, the hard work isn’t over. God tells Rebekah: “Hey, you’re feeling this struggle in your womb because you’ve got two whole nations in there” (23, Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Version), and she can feel it. Carrying and then extruding one tiny human is hard enough; I can’t imagine doing so for two, much less two who spend entirely too much of the pregnancy wrestling. Rebekah, you are an absolute hero.

And the wrestling doesn’t stop when the babies enter the extrawombular world, either. The first baby to come out they name “Esau” (more or less meaning “hairy”), but his ever-so-slightly-younger brother comes out holding onto Esau’s hairy heel. So they name the second brother “Jacob,” which means “heel-grabber.”

It’s times like this that I think Tolkien’s elves have the right idea. Without going too far down the elven-naming-tradition rabbit hole, the only name that an elf will necessarily receive at birth tells you who one of their parents is. Because what else do you know about them at birth? The mother will give a second, meaningful name within the first few years of the child’s life as they develop, and as the child grows up they may choose another meaningful name for themselves or acquire a nickname–also meaningful–but oh great, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

Here’s the point: giving meaningful names is great. And our friends throughout Genesis have been striving to give their offspring meaningful Hebrew names. But if you give this tiny newborn baby, just because he happened to be holding his brother’s heel, a name that basically means “usurper,” don’t you think that might be a self-fulfilling prophecy? “Esau” is a great name when the baby is visibly red and hairy! It reflects his true nature! But if Jacob exhibits acquisitive, even underhanded behavior, maybe it’s because his straitjacket of a name leads people to expect such behavior from him.

And as the chapter closes, one day Jacob exploits Esau’s shortsightedly ravenous hunger to trade him a bowl of stew for his right to Abraham’s stuff as the firstborn. It’s not the nicest move in the book. But let’s be charitable to the guy with the kinda-unfortunate name. And despite Jacob’s flaws, God will use him for good.


Over the weekend, I posted a few bigger-picture thoughts on this chapter and Genesis as a whole for my patrons on Patreon. Check out the Patreon bonus post!

2 thoughts on “Genesis 25 – What’s in a Name

  1. For RPG names, Numbers has a bunch, as does Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

    That’s how I got through reading through the whole Bible one summer. I used to get stuck on the lists and glaze over. Now it was a treasure hunt, looking for the weirdest or boldest or cutest names!


    1. In one campaign, a friend of mine actually played an archer character named Ulam. Much of Ulam’s personal arc involved discovering the history of his father Eshek.

      Another funny thing is how some Biblical names have stood the test of time and are common today. Of course, it’s much more natural to name a kid after David, the subject of numerous detailed accounts, than it is to name a kid Arpachshad, about whom literally the only thing noted is that he was Shem’s son and Shelah’s father.

      Also, it’s a lot easier to pronounce “David” than “Arpachshad.”

      Liked by 1 person

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