READ: 1 Chronicles 7-9
THINK: Why this passage on the 4th of July? How does it apply at all? Because this section has a powerful message to those of us living in an American culture that constantly tempts us to live for ourselves and for our cultural idols and we are completely free in this land to do that or not to do that.
Baal was a false idol-god of Zidon who was worshipped by many Canaanite nations. The idol represented the sun and all of its power and the rituals of Baal worship were incredibly disturbing and profane. And what does this have to do with all these names upon names upon names that we just read…again? Well, there is something of the story of Saul and his rise and fall as the King of Israel tucked right into 1 Chronicles 8 if you read carefully.
If we were all ancient near eastern Hebrews or Hebrew linguists – which none of us are – we would be struck and possibly even shocked by the progression in the names of Saul’s sons in verse 33. His first son is named Jonathan, which means “gift of Jehovah.” This is a powerful proclamation and a highly appropriate name for a prince of the nation of Israel. His next son is Malki-Shua, which means “my king saves.” This might spark an alarm bell that Saul is becoming a bit self-reverential, but in light of the name Jonathan for the firstborn it would be easy enough to assume that the “melech” or king being referred to here is God and we might give Saul the benefit of the doubt. Saul’s third son is named Aminidab which means, “my people are liberal.” Read: my people are free to believe and do as they wish. And then comes the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of Saul’s sin-sundae: He names his fourth son Esh-Baal, which means “man of Baal.”
Names were incredibly significant and meaningful to the ancient Israelites and so we know that these names weren’t given on accident. Saul chose them with great purpose and intent. And if we look back over his political career we can see how frighteningly and depressingly close it follows to his pattern in naming his sons. He started out with a heart committed completely to God. Then he became full of himself and he allowed his pride to get the best of him. This led to making his own decisions and believing that his ways were superior to God’s. He stopped leaning on the Lord and began to lean on his own understanding. Eventually, his heart turned completely and he turned to Baal. The Spirit of God departed from him and he lost his kingdom and his life.
We know, though, that Jonathan lived up to his name. He loved the Lord and was faithful to serve him and to serve David, Saul’s appointed successor. So verse 34 provides another interesting twist in this little naming saga. Jonathan named his son Merib-Baal. There’s that pesky reference to Baal again. But the good news here is that Merib means “the one who opposes.” Joshua saw the influence of idol-worship and pagan rituals. He saw the profanity, the suffering, the hopelessness, and the destruction that it wrought. And he committed his life and the life of his son to serving God and opposing the evil of the culture. Amidst the darkest shadows of his father’s reign, Jonathan stood firm.
Who you are in relation to God will absolutely determine who you are in relationship to other people. Whether it’s your kids, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, your significant other, or strangers on the street. Your life will follow the trajectory of your walk with God, just like Saul’s did. The question is: will you be an Esh-Baal or a Merib-Baal? Will you surrender yourself to God in such a way that allows you to shine a light into the darkness or will you be so swayed by the darkness that you surrender to it?
PRAY: Acknowledge that your relationship with God is the single most important thing about your life, and confess that you have often not treated it that way. If you’re willing, celebrate your freedom this July 4th by surrendering yourself completely to God.