Genesis 35 – The Naming of Benjamin
My parents, Mike and Jen, already had a daughter, an adorable little carrot-top named Amanda who liked to explore and spread the contents of the fridge to more shareable places, like an entire bottle of ketchup emptied onto herself and the kitchen floor. So when they found out they were having a boy they were excited for double the fun, but ran into a speed bump they weren’t expecting. The name Amanda had been obvious and easy to agree on from the start, but a little boy’s name was proving much more difficult to figure out.
When it came time for me to make my triumphant (read noisy and messy) entry into this world, they had several names swirling around in their heads. “He could be Matthew, that’s a good solid name.” “Or how about Justin, I’ve always kind of liked that one.” They didn’t have much to draw on either; no family names were feeling obligatory to pass onto the next generation, and they didn’t go to church, so the vast recesses of scriptural names reaching all the way to Ehud and Jalam weren’t on the table for consideration. There were certainly ideas, but nothing stuck.
As Jacob anticipated the birth of their son, as told in Genesis 35, it became clear that his wife Rachel was not doing well, and probably would not survive this childbirth. As soon as he was born, before Rachel lost her life, she said the name of her son would be Ben-Oni, which means “son of my trouble.” Imagine living you entire life with the name “Son of my trouble” hanging around your neck. Apparently Jacob could picture it, and quickly intervened to name the boy Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” Not only is it a better alternative to “son of my trouble,” but this name, this primary marker of one’s identity in the world, also gave this boy a sense of belonging. He belonged at the right hand of his father.
My mom didn’t have the trouble in childbirth that Rachel did, it all went smoothly actually, but they did provide my first ever identity crisis, though I had no idea it was happening. She held me in her arms for the first time and none of the names seemed to fit. “None of them are his name,” and my dad agreed. And then there was a moment where, in her words, it was like I “told her my name,” and she knew instantly it was right. She looked at my dad and said, “What about Christopher?” They hadn’t talked about it, never even considered this name, but he looked at me and my dad said, “That’s it. Christopher.”
I wasn’t at risk of a name like “son of my trouble,” but the story of the naming of Benjamin reminds me of my naming story, because just as Jacob stepped in on behalf of his son, so too I believe my Father in heaven stepped in on my behalf and marked me as a “son of his right hand.” The name Christopher means “bearer of Christ,” and in a family that doesn’t yet have a relationship with the God who loves them, God marked me as the one who would bear his name, his life, his love, and his very Spirit in this world and family. And sure enough, 14 years after being given the name, I embraced the identity.
God names us. He names us “son” and “daughter,” and that name can’t be taken away. It can be rejected. It can be ignored. It can be ridiculed and despised. But a good and loving Father created each of us, and no matter how deep into our sin we go, or how far away we try to run, he does not stop loving us, his own. Jesus already died for our sins, that can’t be taken back. But we do have to make a choice to embrace the name of “son of God” or “daughter of God” and all that comes with it. I was unknowingly marked for it by my parents, specifically chosen for it by my Father, and am so happy I have been lead to embrace it for myself.