Try using Esther rather than Nimrod

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It has been 10 years since my maternal grandmother died. I remember her as delightful, encouraging and opinionated. Grandma was fond of using biblical terminology to describe people she didn't like: "Oh, he's a real Judas, that one!" referring to Judas Iscariot, the treasurer of the original disciples of Jesus who betrayed Jesus' identity for 30 pieces of silver. Clearly, to be referred to as "a Judas" is quite a verbal slam.

Grandma also was heard to refer to certain women as "Jezzies." A Jezzy, to my grandmother, was a schemer, a conniver, a person not to be trusted. Jezebel was the celebrated queen of the old northern kingdom of Israel, the wife of King Ahab, circa ninth century B.C.E. First and Second Kings tells her tale.

According to these books, Jezebel is revealed as quite a gal. She turns her husband, the king, away from the Israelite God and toward the Phoenician god Baal -- which in turn leads to idol worship and ritual sexual immorality. She has the prophets of Israel's God, Yahweh, slaughtered. When Ahab dies, she connives to rule the kingdom through her son, Ahaziah. When Ahaziah is killed, she exercises power through the next in line, son Jehoram.

In time, Jezebel is tossed out a window, trampled by horses and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30-37). To call a woman a Jezzy, then, is far from a compliment.

One name Grandma didn't use, to the best of my knowledge, is Nimrod. Even though this was not part of my ancestor's war chest of put-downs, I've heard that appellation all of my life. Nimrod, too, has a biblical foundation. He is first mentioned in Genesis 10 as the great-grandson of Noah. Nimrod is called a "mighty hunter" and was a king over Shinar.

It was in Shinar that the fabled Tower of Babel was built. Babel is the most famous failed construction project in human history. Although the Bible does not state this explicitly, the doomed Babel job came during Nimrod's tenure and he, historically, gets the blame. Nimrod, through the ages, is a name that has come to mean a rather hapless figure -- a person both silly and foolish.

Naturally, there are biblical names with positive connotations: Ruth, Naomi's ever-faithful daughter-in-law; Esther, the fabled Jewish queen who saves her nation from extermination; Jeremiah, the prophet who believes, despite what the evidence may show, that God will restore the land as he promised; Barnabas, the noteworthy man of encouragement and onetime companion of St. Paul.

Wouldn't it be great to trot out these positive biblical monikers and start applying them to people?

Rather than call someone a Judas, a Jezzy or a Nimrod, why not find someone whose life demonstrates the necessary qualities and honor them with a different biblical reference?

"Hey, you've got the courage of Esther!" "You know, you're a modern-day Ruth!" "Thanks for being such a Barnabas to me." "Your vision makes you a modern-day Jeremiah."

Of course, using such names with someone may trigger on-the-spot Bible study. There's never anything wrong with that.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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