Dotwatch: What’s in a Name?

[Dotwatch is a series dedicated to showing how connecting the dots in the text of the Bible can reveal a more complete picture of what is being described.]

Gustave Doré's depiction of Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Baal

In my last Dotwatch post, we looked at the showdown between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. By connecting the dots of geography, meteorology, and mythology, we saw how this contest amounted to a duel in which Baal was given his weapon of choice and a home field advantage. But there are other dots in this narrative worth connecting: namely, the play on Elijah’s name.

The name Elijah literally means “My God is the LORD (or Yahweh).” The name is used as a motif throughout the text of 1 Kings 18. First, Elijah sets up this contest as a test to determine whether Baal or the LORD is the one true God:

 I am the only remaining prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh. The God who answers with fire, He is God. (1 Kings 18:22–24, HCSB)

When the LORD answers Elijah’s prayer and consumes the offering with a bolt of lightning, it is unmistakably clear that He alone is the true God. The people immediately begin shouting, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” In other words, they finally affirm what Elijah’s name has quietly asserted all along.

A love-struck Juliet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” Then she proceeded to convince herself that a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In the Bible, however, a name can express the central message of a narrative and the singular mission of a prophet: namely, to urge us all to proclaim, “The LORD, He is God!”

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3 Responses to Dotwatch: What’s in a Name?

  1. Kerry Magruder says:

    The remarkable Gustav Doré illustration makes me think of a set of biblical illustrations in Gerard Hoet, Figures de la Bible (The Hague, 1728). A copy is held by the Bizzell Bible Collection of the University of Oklahoma Libraries, which I oversee as Curator of the History of Science Collections. We have made high resolution images of the entire work available for downloading here:
    Images from other works in the Bizzell Bible Collection are also available:
    There is no charge for the use of these images. See the Terms of Use link at the bottom of any page, which has our contact information. – Kerry Magruder

  2. Pingback: Preach the Artistry of the Narratives | Feet to Follow, Eyes to See

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