Monday, 16 July 2012

a rose by any other name?

Shakespeare's Juliet asks a question;
What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

…I wonder.

I have been reading the account of Isaac and his wells. It begins with God setting the scene and giving it a long-view perspective.
Then the LORD appeared to him (Isaac) and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Gen 26:2–5 NKJV.
Isaac's prospects were good because Abraham was faithful. There is an unbreakable link here. Isaac was intended to build on the foundation that Abraham had laid. He cannot choose his own ways and traditions, he is part of a continuum.

God was preparing Isaac for the tests that would surely come. They came in the form of hostility from the people of the land that he was camped on. They had blocked up all the wells that Abraham and his servants had dug. No doubt it was a way of telling Isaac to 'move on'. So Isaac 'moved on' and came to the valley of Gerar and pitched his tent there. (Gen 26:17) The place had a history; Abraham had stayed there. But the people of the land had already blocked up Abraham's old wells so Isaac had the task of unblocking them, and of doing something else. He not only unblocked Abraham's old wells but he insisted in changing their names back to the names that Abraham had given.
And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. Gen 26:18 NKJV.

This is a glimpse into the culture of the day. If you owned something you had the right to change its name. God worked on this principle when he changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah. Later he would finally get Jacob in his grip and change his name to Isaac. So Abraham had dug these wells and named them but those who wanted to erase the memory and testimony of Abraham had blocked the wells and renamed them. It is the ultimate re-writing of history; change the name. The idea is scattered through the Old Testament as the names of significant places receive new names.

But Isaac didn't give the reopened wells new names; he gave them old names. He was not innovating but building on old foundations.

We live in days when innovation and enterprise seem to be the watchwords of God's people and their mission. The search is on for more relevant methods of evangelism and 'church' planting and meetings. In some circles the search is on for different words and concepts that will better build the bridge between the local church and the community. The old words and concepts have too many disappointing and dusty memories; they are a 'turn off' to the 'current generation'. Some biblical phrases are too loaded with theological baggage; Baptism in Spirit, Sanctification, New Covenant, Regeneration.. they are all yesterday's words. Time to move on?

Of course to go back to the old names when the wells are still blocked would be folly. That would be a simple but deceptive paint-job. You don't change the nature of the well by giving it back an old name, but we should be cautious about finding new names for old truths in order to make them more acceptable. And there is a another danger that faces us. To use the old word but to change the definition is a well tried and tested method of perverting truth. No, a paint job will not do, nor the the pretence that all is well just because we are using the right words. We need to reopen the old wells AND give them back their old names. After all, to return to an ancient refrain of mine; "words have histories". Ah, some will say, this is just semantics and pedantry… but I wonder…

Who was right? Juliet or Isaac?

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