Why doesn’t anyone name their children Hephzibah anymore?

How we think about people matters. How we treat people matters. Because we are all people who reflect God’s glory. We are all people in whom God delights.

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Isaiah 62:1-5 | John 2:1-11 

I think I have started us off with what may be a flawed assumption. I asked why people don’t name their children Hephzibah anymore, which assumes that there was a time in the past in which people named their children Hephzibah, and that may not be true.  It’s certainly not a popular name now. On one of those sites that ranks the popularity of names, Hephzibah came out at number 1723 out of 2000.[1] Maybe more surprising is that there are 277 names that are less popular than Hephzibah.

There are a few Hephzibahs in literature, TV, and movies. 

  • There’s a Hephzibah in the Harry Potter stories,
  • and Hephzibah is a central character in the book The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne,
  • and in the book Silas Marner by George Elliot.  
  • The one I remember most was in the TV show Bewitched.

But that’s not very many.

I first started pondering this question a few months ago when I was reading through Isaiah. As Isaiah tells us, Hephzibah means “My delight is in you.”  God delights in you. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful name?

I thought so.  So I named my great grandmother’s doll Hephzibah. I brought her to share with you. She’s very old, far older than anyone here. She belonged to my great-grandmother when she was a little girl. Since Hephzibah means God delights in her, and this doll has been treasured down through the generations, the name seemed fitting.

When I started comparing the different Bible translations of this passage, I found one very simple answer to my question. Why doesn’t anyone name their children Hephzibah anymore?  Because most versions of the Bible didn’t keep that name, so unless you went digging or read the footnotes, you’d never know about the name Hephzibah.  That’s why [name] read us the NIV this morning.  It’s one of the few versions of the Bible that keeps the actual names.

There are actually four names in verse 4:

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;

Deserted is the name Azubah, and Desolate is Shemamah. (Azuba, Shemamah, ooh I want to take ya[2])

No longer will they call you Azubah,
    or name your land Shemamah.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah];

This is poetry and the names rhyme. One of the reasons these particular names are used is how they sound.  It doesn’t sound as poetic in our English translations, but it did in Hebrew.

Isaiah uses a form that is common in ancient poetry called parallelism.  The phrases are in sets of two, and the second one restates the idea of the first one using different words.  This helps us understand better. For example:

Verse 1: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,

In verse 3 this helps us figure out what a diadem is:

You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

What is a diadem?  A crown.

Another reason people might not use the name Hephzibah so much is that here in this passage, the name actually refers to a group of people – the people who live in Zion or Jerusalem, the people of the tribe of Judah, the people of Israel.  So it’s more common to find churches or towns named Hephzibah, or schools.  Hephzibah High School. In Hephzibah, GA.

Why did the people of Israel need a new name?

This is poetry written to a group of people who had just come through a devastating season, a time when they thought that God had forgotten them.  Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and almost all of them were carried off as prisoners to Babylon.  All of Jerusalem was nearly destroyed in the battle.  Seventy years later, when they were finally released from captivity, they came back to a city in ruins.  They probably felt like Azubah and Shemamah were appropriate names, as the city had been deserted and the land had become desolate.

But God promises restoration. God will not keep silent, God will not rest until Jerusalem and the people of Israel are again reflecting God’s glory.

In verses 4 and 5, Isaiah uses the metaphor of marriage[3] to express this commitment God is making to the people:

As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

A marriage is a joyful occasion, with dancing and lots of food and drink. This imagery in Isaiah conveys God’s commitment to restore joy and to provide.

[4]

We see this idea in action in our reading from John 2. Jesus, his mother, and the disciples are at a wedding celebration in Cana, and they’ve run out of wine.  The hosts are stuck. Hospitality is one of the highest values in their culture and running out of wine is a failure as a host, a big embarrassment. They can’t just run down to the store and buy some more like we would.  So Jesus, demonstrating that he is God who provides, turns the water into wine.  And there was much rejoicing. “Yay!”

This story shows us that it’s not just ancient Israel that was named Hepzibah. God continues to delight in us, to delight in blessing us.  Jesus revealed his glory, and in that glory is God’s joy.

We are all Hephzibah. God delights in us. God rejoices over us.

What might that look like?

  • I imagine it’s kind of like a mother putting her child to bed and singing a lullaby.
  • Or maybe like Will Farrell in the movie Elf where he gets so excited for other people’s successes.
  • Or like the father in the story of the prodigal who runs out to greet his long lost son.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, … He will take great delight in you; … will rejoice over you with singing.”

What songs is God singing over you?

When we truly believe that, when we let that sink in, how does that affect how we live? It helps us to see others as God’s delight and be gracious with them.

[5]

When our daughter Tess was about two years old, a friend came to visit and brought her two-year-old.  We were curious to see what would happen when these two-year-olds met.  Sometimes little kids get territorial about their stuff.  Not Tess. She was the little gracious hostess, even handing the new friend her toys to play with.  It was quite heartwarming.

When we treat people like that, I think God’s heart is warmed, too.  We are always God’s beloved, but we especially enjoy God’s delight in us when we receive God’s love and then share it.

The book of Isaiah is full of encouragement and hope for the restoration of Israel, but Isaiah also tells us some of the ways we should be sharing that love.

Verse 1 says “for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn.”

Vindication means righteousness or rightness with God. Through faith in Jesus, we have this vindication, this freedom from sin, but not the freedom to do whatever we want without regard for our impact on the people and world around us. Our neighbors are named Hephzibah, too. They are also God’s delight, and all the more when we help each other and treat each other with respect and graciousness.

Our star words that we got last week are not just about connecting with God, but also about how we connect with the people around us. Pick one up in the lobby if you didn’t get one. My word this year is “servanthood,” a word that by definition involves the people around me.

A few chapters earlier, Isaiah is pretty clear about how we can better reflect the glory of God’s delight in us. In Isaiah’s time, it was common practice to have a day of fasting. The people were doing the fast, but it was more of a show, and not the day of repentance it was meant to be. So Isaiah 58:3-7 NIV says:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

They were not living for God, they were living for themselves.  They were not living out the command to love our neighbors as ourselves.  God delights in us, and we want to be worthy of his delight.

[6]

There’s a beautiful example of this in the way a church is living out God’s righteousness by honoring the slaves who wrote the African American spirituals that we sing.  We pay to use songs when we buy sheet music or hymnals. We pay for a license with CCLI to use the songs that aren’t in the hymnal. The composers of these songs receive royalties for the use of their songs.  But the composers of those spirituals never got paid for their songs, so a church in Boston is making reparations for that. This mostly white congregation is taking a special offering whenever they sing a spiritual and giving that money to a local music school that has mostly black students.  One of the church leaders says,

“This is not about alleviating our guilt. Rather, it’s about inspiring our communities to build deeper relationships with people who look, think, act differently than we do and have different historical realities than we do.”[7]

[8]

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. day.  In many places, this will be a day of service. At my alma mater, Clemson University, we had a day off from classes so that we could participate in the service projects that were set up for that day.  In Galveston, many of us gathered at St. Vincent’s, the food bank and free clinic, for a prayer circle.  One of the biggest black churches in Galveston had a competition for which children memorized and recited King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  Some churches have special worship services on this holiday. Our own Sterling College will have a special chapel service tomorrow.

It’s a good day to serve. It’s also a good day to learn.

  • Watch or rewatch the movie Selma about the famous march for voting rights led my Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • Another good one is the movie Marshall starring Chadwick Boseman as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The movie tells the story of Marshall’s early career as a lawyer working for the NAACP.
  • You could go to the website of Think Tank[9], an organization that helps us better understand poverty and read a blog or listen to a podcast about the experiences and struggles of people living in poverty. These stories challenge many of our assumptions about people.

How we think about people matters. How we treat people matters. 

Because we are all people who reflect God’s glory.

We are all people in whom God delights.

We are all Hepzibah.


[1] https://nameberry.com/babyname/Hephzibah

[2] A take-off on the Beach Boys song Kokomo.

[3] Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

[4] Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

[5] Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

[6] Photo by Michael Maasen on Unsplash

[7] https://www.npr.org/2022/01/08/1071542936/some-white-congregations-are-paying-to-use-hymns-written-by-enslaved-african-peo

[8] Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

[9] https://thinktank-inc.org/

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