Friday, June 1, 2012

Hannah or Hagar or Hephzibah

One of the movies I watched over and over again as a child is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The seven brothers all have Biblical names in alphabetical order (the oldest is Adam and the youngest is Gideon.) When one of the brothers becomes a father to a little girl, his wife suggests continuing the tradition and naming her "Hannah or Hagar or Hephzibah."

I had two thoughts concerning this suggestion:

1. Uh. Really. Who names a kid Hephzibah?

2. Furthermore, who in the world is Hephzibah?

I'll go ahead and say there are other "H" girl names in the Bible. (There is also at least one boy "F" name, so poor Frank could've avoided that whole Frankincense bit.)

Hannah and Hagar are fairly well known women of the Bible. Hannah is the mother of Samuel - the child for whom she prayed. Hagar is the mother of Ishmael - the child that not the promised one. I may write about them one of these days, Today, though, I'm answering that question from my childhood: Who is Hephzibah?

The name "Hephzibah" appears twice in the Bible.

The first is in 2 Kings 21 where we learn she is the mother of Mannaseh and the wife of Hezzekiah. Both of these men reigned over Judah. We don't know anything else about this Hephzibah as far as I know.

The second time we see the name is in Isaiah 62. This passage is the one that makes me apologize for my crooked face at the suggestion of Hephzibah as a name because it is absolutely beautiful. In Isaiah we find that Hephzibah is God's term of endearment for Israel. Hephzibah literally means, "My delight is in her." The prophet Isaiah records it thus: (NKJV, emphasis mine)

For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
And her salvation as a lamp that burns.
2 The Gentiles shall see your righteousness,
And all kings your glory.
You shall be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord will name.
3 You shall also be a crown of glory
In the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem
In the hand of your God.
4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,

And your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.

6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
7 And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
8 The Lord has sworn by His right hand
And by the arm of His strength:
“Surely I will no longer give your grain
As food for your enemies;
And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine,
For which you have labored.
9 But those who have gathered it shall eat it,
And praise the Lord;
Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
10 Go through,
Go through the gates!
Prepare the way for the people;
Build up,
Build up the highway!
Take out the stones,
Lift up a banner for the peoples!
11 Indeed the Lord has proclaimed
To the end of the world:
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Surely your salvation is coming;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.’”
12 And they shall call them The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
And you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken

This is where I want to focus this week - on the imagery, specifically the feminine imagery, of this name God gives his people. This is only one of the many instances in the Bible where the recipient of the unyielding, abundant, restorative, and lavish love and grace of God is personified as female and/or feminine.

Let's break down verse four a little more.

You shall no more be termed Azubah, (Forsaken)
and your land shall no more be termed Shemamah, (Desolate)
but you shall be called Hephzibah, (My Delight Is in Her)
and your land Beulah. (Married)
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

I love the comparisons and reversals here. From Azubah to Hephzibah. From Shemamah to Beulah. No longer forsaken and forgotten - - you are the delight of the lord. No longer is your land (the very source of your livelihood) desolate and barren, now it is married - claimed, supported, provided for, and loved.

Recently, I have seen articles and blogs where Christian leaders condemn the "feminization" of the church. They speak against what is considered weak or frilly. They call for toughness and ruggedness and strength. I think these people forget the way God speaks of the church - calling Her one in whom He delights. And, he doesn't simply adorn her as something pretty to look at - no, she is the bright bearer of righteousness and holds the burning lamp of salvation. She is described as the crown of glory and the royal diadem - a sign of victory and authority. I know that it is still common in the English vocabulary to refer to the Church as a feminine pronoun, but somewhere in the battle of the genders and whose place is what, I think we have overlooked just how significant that is. This is not the only passage where the church is referred to as feminine, it is simply one of them in the great extended metaphor of Christ the bridegroom and his bride the Church. God values the feminine. God created the feminine and he describes the feminine with terms of strength, beauty, authority, victory, abundance, and power among other things. The feminine is not weak. Yes, she receives delight and love, but she is anything but passive.


  1. I'm holding on to that promise. :) Thanks for writing.

  2. Beautifully written! <3 I've always loved that passage in Isaiah. (And the fact that we serve a God who takes that which is desolate and chooses to take delight in it. *sigh*) He is good.

  3. I am glad I'm not the only one who loves 7 Brides for 7 Brothers :)

    This is so beautifully written. I really like your last paragraph. I couldn't agree more.