‘I Will Make Your Name Great’: The Name of Humanity and the Better Name of Israel

This paper explores an element of the Abrahamic promise that has been relatively neglected in scholarship: the promise of a “great name” in Gen 12:2. Part of the reason for the neglect of this theme is that when the promise to Abraham is reiterated at various points in the Pentateuchal narrative, the name promise is seemingly not part of the typical formula. Instead, as David Clines (The Theme of the Pentateuch) observed long ago, the promise appears to distill into three main elements: descendants, land, and relationship with God. In this paper I argue that the name promise, although subsumable under the relationship element in the three-fold scheme, is determinative for the theological significance of that relationship. Specifically, I will argue that the name promise orients the relationship between Israel and Yahweh toward the recovery of Yahweh’s presence with humanity in creation. I begin with (1) an analysis of the naming of humanity in their original creation and calling to demonstrate its thematic association with the name promise in the call of Abraham. I then show (2) how the crisis that develops in the primeval history suggests a “weakening” of the original human name that can be associated in particular with humanity’s alienation from the presence of God in Eden. Next, I explain (3) how the Abrahamic name promise can be read as an answer to this crisis and, consequently, an expectation of the recovery of Yahweh’s presence with humanity in creation. I conclude with (4) a discussion of how the name promise develops in the rest of the Pentateuch to fulfill this expectation, with the startling implication that the great name promised to Abraham will ultimately be the name of Yahweh himself.

1 thought on “‘I Will Make Your Name Great’: The Name of Humanity and the Better Name of Israel”

Leave a Comment