Updated: Dec 20, 2019
What’s the longest name in the Bible?
No, this isn’t a joke from a cracker – like the old chestnut that goes: “Who’s the shortest man in the Bible? Knee-high-miah” – it’s a serious question.
If you’re on top of your Scripture trivia you may answer, “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (Isaiah 8:1). And you might be right. Certainly, many people say that’s the longest name (and word) in the Bible. The name of one of Isaiah’s sons, it means something like, “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens”. Like another son of Isaiah named Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7:3), meaning “a remnant shall return”, this boy's name was laden with prophetic significance. In just a few years’ time, Assyria, hastening to take the spoil, would sweep down from the north, taking the people of Israel into exile. But before God affirmed that in the naming of this baby, He had assured Isaiah through his older son’s name that a remnant would survive.
We may not be facing an Assyrian invasion, but rapid cultural changes and deep political divisions across our nations may leave us fearful for the future. But before you (re)name your child “Leaving looms, the union crumbles” or “Remainers moan, democracy dies”, take heed of the meaning of Shear-jashub. God is sovereign and the gospel will prevail. Whatever happens on the world stage, the Lord’s promises will stand. Shouldn’t that put all of our political hopes and fears into perspective?
But, ‘Baz’ may not have the longest name in the Bible after all. Take a closer look at a verse that’s familiar at this time of year – Isaiah 9:6. In our English translations the name reads as four titles separated by commas, but it could be written like this: Pele-joez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom. And you thought Baz’s name was a mouthful! This last of four prophetic names in Isaiah 7-9 clearly refers to someone greater than either of Isaiah’s sons. As does the other name we haven’t mentioned yet - another Christmas favourite - Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14).
There’s some uncertainty as to whether a child born in Isaiah’s time fulfilled the ‘Immanuel’ and ‘Pele…’ prophecies in part, but the achievements prophesied for this child go way beyond anything in the history of Israel. With the benefit of Christian hindsight, we know they can only refer in their fullness to the Lord Jesus. He is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is also ‘Pele-joez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom’. This longest name signifies much more than a tiny remnant clinging on while the world turns upside down. It inspires us to hope for wonderful things to come and breeds peace as we wait.
Advent and Christmas are often intensely busy for Christian leaders. Stretched between creating attractive programmes and caring for lonely people, we can forget what the longest name in the Bible tells us. So, I urge you just now to take a few moments and reflect.
Jesus is your Wonderful Counsellor. If you’re ever foolish or confused, take heart that all wisdom is found in Him and He guides us tenderly through that other Counsellor He promised, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the Mighty God or, as some translators suggest, Hero God? If you feel weak and weary, perhaps even about to go under, remember He came to your rescue and He holds you firm.
Jesus is the Everlasting Father. If you struggle with rejection and self-loathing, rest in the arms of the God who was revealed to be a faithful Father through the incarnation of His Son.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. If your heart overflows with turmoil and tensions, hear Him speak the shalom of God, commanding the waters to ‘Be Still!’ and restoring your soul.
The team in Living Leadership will be praying that you, the shepherds of God’s people will find space over this season to be refreshed in the grace gift of God in Christ. So, let me close with a prayer for you:
God, our Everlasting Father, affirm us in your unfailing love.
Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, calm our troubled minds.
Holy Spirit, our Wonderful Counsellor, lead us into faithfulness.
Three in One, our Mighty God, enable us to endure unto the end.