I’ve joked that my given and maiden names were gifts my parents gave me, but it’s true. An identity truly is a gift. And my name was the beginning of my identity.
The name my parents gave me, Dawn Mann, distinguishes me as an individual and as a member of our family. Thus, in giving me my maiden name, my parents provided me with something common and something unique—at least unique within my family.
Because my last or family name is common amongst my family, it identifies me as a member of our family. Because my first or given name is unique amongst my family, it identifies which member of my family I am. I am Dawn.
Who am I? Throughout my life, my answer to that question changed.
The name my parents gave me was the first answer I had to an age-old question that most, if not all, of us have grappled with at least at one point in our lives: Who am I?
Throughout my life, my answer to that question changed. One of the times my identity changed was through the gift of another name. This time, the gift came from my husband Reggie and was transferred to me upon our wedding.
After Reggie’s death, I was lost and confused because I had his name, but not him.
I’m learning that anytime I’m lost on the path of righteousness and am struggling to find my next green pasture with still waters (Psalm 23:1-3), more often than not, there’s an identity issue. Because when I know who I am, I can figure out what I am to do and where I am to go.
A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
~ Psalm 23:1-3
Part 13 of How to Respond When Life Happens
Names are very important parts of our identity. Our names carry deep connections:
- Personal – Choosing a name for a child or loved one is a very personal thing. The choice of name can be tied to your unique situation. When an acquaintance of mine was choosing names for her children, a name easily pronounceable by both sets of grandparents—one set was American the other Egyptian—was top of mind. This was due to her personal situation.
- Cultural – Your choice of name could reflect your heritage. The selection of cultural or ethnic names expresses links to a culture. For immigrants, the name chosen could express a desire to stay connected to their country of origin or to connect with the country where they now reside. For some, a cultural name could simply demonstrate an affinity or curiosity about a particular culture with which the person choosing the name is fascinated. All display some connection between you and a specific culture.
- Familial – Some parents choose to name their children after an ancestor or themselves. My father did that. Now, we have three people in our family with his name—my father, brother, and nephew. Using a name previously used in your family demonstrates familial connections to that person specifically and your family more broadly.
- Historical – Many people name their children after historical figures. Such historical figures can be politicians, actors, musicians, artists, scientists, athletes, and other celebrities. Choosing the name of a historical figure reveals a connection to that person or his/her accomplishments.
As you can see, we can learn much about a person’s identity from his/her name. Today, we hope to learn more about Naomi’s family’s names. Won’t you join me?
Who were the members of Naomi’s family?
For the Hebrews of the Old Testament, which the book of Ruth is a part, names connected, and possibly revealed, a person’s character. In that way, names expand past their use as the word by which someone is addressed or referred. Including behavior, expands the answer to the question: Who were they? Who were Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion?
Our deep dive into Ruth 1:2 hopes to answer the question: Who were the members of Naomi’s family? We hope to answer that questions by looking at Naomi’s family’s names in the book of Ruth. Our exploration of the meanings of their names is Part 13 of our deep dive into the book of Ruth on How to Respond When Life Happens. I hope it blesses you.
The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion--Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.
~ Ruth 1:2
Elimelech’s Name Means God is King
The first of Naomi’s family’s names in the book of Ruth we will look at is Elimelech. In the Hebrew, the name Elimelech means “God is King.” To the Hebrews, God (Jehovah) was their sole King—at least until they returned to their Promised Land when they cried out for a king like the neighboring tribes. The book of Ruth takes place before Israel cried out for a king. So, Elimelech knew no other king than Jehovah.
Legally, one of the reasons Moses began Genesis with the creation story was to identify God as our Creator. As our Creator, Jehovah is ruler over the whole universe. This includes Israel and Elimelech.
He failed to acknowledge and demonstrate God’s Lordship over him.
Elimelech’s name reflects God’s position over all Israel, including Elimelech, but Elimelech’s actions at the beginning of Ruth contradict his name. By fleeing Israel, Elimelech fails to demonstrate God’s sovereignty over him. God didn’t tell Israel to flee to Moab. God told them to trust and obey.
As their King, Jehovah had the right to command and expect their obedience. Since his name meant God is King, one might have expected Elimelech to obey too. Instead, Israel’s lack of obedience caused the famine that God sent to draw them back to Him. Rather than obey, Elimelech took his family to Moab—into enemy territory.
By fleeing, Elimelech rejected—failed to submit to—God’s authority as His King. By fleeing, Elimelech failed to live up to his name. Worse, he failed to acknowledge and demonstrate God’s Lordship over him.
Naomi’s Name Means Pleasing
The next of Naomi’s family’s names in the book of Ruth we will look at is hers. The name Naomi, in the Hebrew, means “pleasing” or “agreeable.” In other words, Naomi pleased people or agreed with them. I imagine she was easy to get along with and always willing to help—or at least appeared to be.
Her agreeable, people-pleasing nature may have led to her agreeing to go to Moab without saying a word to the contrary. You see, people pleasers often agree with whoever is right before them. The problem is people pleasers only see those physically before them. They neglect to see that God is before them too.
So, Naomi, it seems, had the same problem as Elimelech; her problem just manifested itself differently. In other words, Naomi, too, failed to recognize and act on God’s will, but for different reasons.Rejection, insecurity, inadequacy, anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. All of these are born out of a need of approval and a fear of not getting it. Click To Tweet
Elimelech failed to recognize God’s sovereignty over his life. Elimelech seemed to think he knew better than God what his family needed. Naomi was the opposite. She thought Elimelech knew better than her. So, Elimelech’s sin was pride; Naomi’s was most likely fear—fear of Elimelech’s rejection, insecurity, inadequacy, anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. All of these are born out of a need of approval and a fear of not getting it.
Thankfully, in the same creation story where we meet God as our Creator, we also learn all His creation is “good” or “pleasing” to Him. And we are pleasing to Him by our sheer existence. He created us to fulfill a purpose—to bring Him glory. And we please God through our mere existence. You see, creating us, meaning God’s act of bringing us into existence, glorifies Him. In other words, God was glorified by His actions, not ours. So, our doing something is not required.
When we glorify Him out of our love, it’s a gift we give God.
Now, we can do things that glorify Him—and we should, but not to gain His approval or love. We do them out of our love for Him. When we glorify Him out of our love, it’s a gift we give God. When we seek His approval, it’s a gift God gives us.
With God, it’s all about the position of our hearts. With God, it’s about who we are—lovers of Him, His children who love Him, not what we do. Therefore, it’s about identity, not activity.
In the context of Ruth 1:2, the way Elimelech and Naomi could bring God the most glory would have been as believers, who believe in who God is—a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Then, out of their faith, they would have trusted Him, then submitted their will to His Will.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
~ Hebrews 11:6
Naomi’s Saving Grace in the Book of Ruth
A saving grace for Naomi was submitting to her husband. Because all authority comes from God, submitting to one of the authorities in our lives, as one of God’s representatives, is the same as submitting to God directly. In other words, when you don’t agree with your authority, in Naomi’s case her husband Elimelech, but submit anyway, it’s an act of submission to God. Basically, in doing what she was doing, just for different reasons, Naomi would have been glorifying God.
In other words, as mentioned above, it wasn’t her actions that were sinful. It was the position of her heart. It was her motives.
Had she disagreed, but submitted anyway, trusting God had her husband, Naomi would have been fine. Agreeing out of fear rather than faith was her problem.We should only seek to please God. Click To Tweet
The same is true for us. God is more concerned with our attitudes than our actions.
Instead of focusing on and agreeing with Elimelech, Naomi’s focus needed to be on God. As my pastor, John K. Jenkins, Sr. says, People “don’t have a heaven nor a hell to put me in.” For that reason, we shouldn’t seek to please any human. We should only seek to please God.
The Meaning of Elimelech and Naomi’s Sons’ Names
The last of Naomi’s family’s names in the book of Ruth we will look at are those of their sons: Mahlon and Chilion. Mahlon’s name means “weak” or “sickly” and Chilion’s name means “pining” or “suffering from declining health.” So, in COVID terms, both of these boys would have been “high risk due to having the comorbidities associated with negative outcomes.” Like with COVID, during a famine, health is critical to survival.
My research on famines for this study revealed most deaths during famine are a result of sickness and malnutrition, not starvation. The lack of food during the famine, results in a lack of nutrition and the nutrients needed for good health. In other words, Mahlon’s and Chilion’s failing health at the start of the famine left them susceptible to sickness, disease, and ultimately, death at a higher rate than someone in good health at the start of the famine.
Nothing weighs on a parent’s heart more than an inability to care for their children or meet their child’s needs.
Under normal conditions, Mahlon’s and Chilion’s health would have been a major concern for their parents. That’s probably why Naomi’s Family’s Names included these meanings. Since famine was a reality—both due to spiritual droughts and physical droughts—during the time of the book of Ruth, Elimelech and Naomi probably would have been aware of this.
And their awareness of this would have made the famine that much more stressful for them. Nothing weighs on a parent’s heart more than an inability to care for their children or meet their child’s needs.
Thus, I’ve no doubt the poor food and health situations pulled at both Elimelech’s and Naomi’s hearts. Also, the enemy is more likely to attack when we’re weak. So, we need to stay strong to combat and survive both physical and spiritual battles. That means nourishing and exercising the physical and spiritual body—the Body of Christ.God knows your situation, He knows the terrain on the path He has you on, and He knows the good works He has prepared for you. He knows it all. Click To Tweet
Today, we learned from Naomi’s Family’s Names in the Book of Ruth that their family was not strong. But we don’t have to be like them. In those moments when we aren’t strong, especially when under attack, we’re to trust God and submit to His will—regardless of the situation with our family, spouses, or children.
God knows your situation, He knows the terrain on the path He has you on, and He knows the good works He has prepared for you. He knows it all. Your situation didn’t catch Him off guard or unaware—and just like He was able to handle it before it got “bad,” He’s still able to do exceedingly abundantly above. We just have to trust Him.
So, I encourage you to do so.
Until next time…
Agape—loving and loved by Jesus,
The “How to Respond When Life Happens” Series:
- Part 1 – How to Respond When Life Happens
- Part 2 – The Freedom to Do You
- Part 3 – The Purpose of Chaos
- Part 4 – The Difference Between Felt Needs and Real Needs
- Part 5 – Who’s Ruling You? An Article about Submission
- Part 6 – Famines in the Bible
- Part 7 – The Differences Between Famines, Fasts and Feasts
- Part 8 – Famine in the Community
- Part 9 – The Meaning of the Land as Israel’s Possession
- Part 10 – What’s Important about Naomi’s Opening Situation in the Book of Ruth?
- Part 11 – Three Locations in the Book of Ruth
- Part 12 – Traveling in the Book of Ruth vs. Now
- Part 13 – Naomi’s Family’s Names in the Book of Ruth