Hebrew Names


For anyone who knows Hebrew, reading the Bible must have an element of fun, something like solving a puzzle. For the names all mean something, and the reader who can interpret them thus has a clue to the role this or that person plays in salvation history. I mention this fact, because today’s reading bristles with names: Elkanah, (son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph) had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. What do their names tell us about the books of Samuel that we shall be reading at daily Masa for the next while.

Let’s begin with Elkanah. Whenever you see the syllable “El” in a name, you know that it has to do with God, for “El” was one of the names of God in the Old Testament. And so “Elkanah” means “God provided.” (I don’t know any Hebrew; I had to look all these names in a dictionary of the Bible.) This name tells us, then, that God will provide for his people what they need; and it turns out, of course that what they need most is the prophet Samuel (The ancestors of Elkanah are Elihu [“his God”] Tohu [“lowly”] and Zuph [honeycomb(!)].)

One could comment on these as well, but I want to move on to the great figure of Hannah, who was barren until the Lord intervened on her behalf, and she conceived Samuel. Her name means “grace,” whose primary connotation is “pleasing” as in “graceful.” She was pleasing to God because of her fidelity and generosity, as we shall see, and pleasing to man because of her obedient and loving relationship with God. And thus, the stage is set for the appearance of the mighty Samuel, who altered the course of Jewish history in recognizing and anointing David as king, and in doing so pointed forward to Christ, the new David.