In His Embrace

Names are important in the Bible. They don’t just denote a person; they describe the person before he or she even gets a story explaining who they are or how they act. Just think of all the naming stories in the Bible. Jesus and John the Baptist’s names are given straight from the mouths of angels. Mothers frequently name their children in reference to their situations or the Lord’s action on their behalf (Hannah, Rachel, Leah, Eve and Sarah, for example). Think even of the creation story and how the Lord names the things he creates and they come into being because the name uttered from his mouth is so powerful. Or remember when Adam named the animals, in that action both knowing their natures and exercising humanity’s dominion over them. Point is, names matter.

And the prophets are no exception. Isaiah means The Lord Saves. Ezekiel means God Strengthens. These guys’ names encapsulate the message they bring and the nature of the messenger. So I was reading Habakkuk… and I read in a commentary that his name was probably a Babylonian word that meant ‘potted plant.’ I don’t know if you’ve read that book lately, but there’s nothing about potted plants in there. Absolutely nothing. If you wanted to really stretch it (we’re talking contortionist-like stretching), you could say that the end of the book, when Habakkuk talks about flourishing no matter the circumstances, is about living well away from your homeland—flourishing like a potted plant. But… I don’t really buy that. And anyway, I found another explanation of Habakkuk’s name recently that I like better. Who knows, maybe after you hear my theory you’ll think it’s just as much of a stretch as potted plants, but I’ll give you the goods and let you decide.

I’m no Hebrew scholar, so I use websites (like to help me when I want to know a word. Habakkuk’s name, directly transliterated from Hebrew looks something like Chabaquq (put a little phlegm in your throat for that first consonant sound). There’s another Hebrew word quite similar to Habakkuk’s name. In fact, the actual construction of the name intensifies the meaning of the word it seems to be built on. The Hebrew word chabaq (don’t forget the phlegm) means to embrace, or to hug. If you know me, you know that when I found that out, it felt like Christmas. Haha 🙂

I really struggled a few years back when I returned from a month-long trip to Romania. I had grown very attached to people I didn’t know if I’d ever see again, and I had fallen in with a culture which expressed everyday affection through lots of hugs and kisses. When greeting a new person—stranger, relative, friend, foster-parent, believer, communist insurgent, it didn’t matter who—you gave them two real kisses, one for each cheek, and a big warm bear-hug. And it was a completely normal thing to hold someone’s hand, no matter how well you knew them. I was a touchy person before that trip, but when I returned, I felt starved for human contact. I came home from immersion in a body of believers who expressed their connectedness through physical affirmation. And no one did that here. In the States people look at you weird if you hold a friend’s hand and you aren’t dating them. They tend to back off when you go in for a hug unless you’re a very close friend. And kisses are reserved only for the most intimate relationships: family or significant others.

So when I returned from Romania I worked hard to fall back into this distanced way of life. And many of my friends and family worked hard to give me extra hugs or extra meaningful ones. As I grieved for a people I felt like I had lost and for the physical connection to loved-ones around me, I decided to do a word study in scripture for words like hug, kiss, and embrace. My search came up pretty dry. I barely found anything in the Old Testament, and in the New most references were to the prodigal son story or to holy kisses among the believers. And some of the OT references were talking about kisses from prostitutes or from Solomon’s personified Folly. Not too encouraging. I wanted to find instances of God personified, physically caring for his people and showing his love to them tangibly. I couldn’t find it. I guess that goes to show what happens when you come up with your own idea and dig through scripture trying to find things to prove your own point.

I will say this, though. As the Body, we are connected, and we should care enough about each other to hug our brothers and sisters and welcome them in close to us. I have noticed since my return from Romania that we, as the American church, often don’t like to let people in. It’s a fairly universal thing that no one likes to reveal themselves at their ugliest, but we’re extra good at hiding those parts of us in America. We don’t like accountability, confession, or vulnerability with each other. So we don’t comfort each other like we should because we don’t know each other’s struggles. We’re all hesitant to share our difficulties for fear that people will see us broken and judge us for not quite having this Christian thing worked out. But I’ll let you in on a secret: we are all of us broken, every one, and the Body is supposed to care for its members by sharing burdens and joys alike. Scripture does back me up on this point. Maybe we should take a cue from those holy kisses in the NT and, if not physically enacting that culture’s expression of the Body’s intimate bond, we should at least welcome each other deep into our lives.

Now, with some distance on the situation, I realize that the NT rarely speaks of God personified, because he came in the person of Jesus. There was no need to personify Him anymore. We had the Incarnation. And the OT was just the beginning of the revelation. God wanted to show himself to his people as a Mighty commander of armies, a fierce judge, a creator of cosmic scale. He wanted his people to know him for his holiness and his power, not his desire for a personal relationship with Him. That option died at the Fall, and was not available again until Jesus came. So, of course I wasn’t going to find passages going on about a loving father who embraces his children or kisses their heads as they sit in his lap. In the Old Covenant mind, God is holy, awe-inspiring, terrible, and unapproachable. Sin is gruesome and not allowed in his presence. He was a gracious God, but instead of tender scenes with the Father, the OT depicts scenes like those of Is. 6, where the last thing anyone wanted to do was get anywhere near YHWH.

So, now back to my point, after what was perhaps too protracted of a back-story. Habakkuk’s name uses as its root the Hebrew word for ‘embrace.’ If prophets’ names describe what God does to or for his people and his prophets, what is a book on judgment doing coming out of the mouth of a man named Huggy (not to be confused with the diapers)? I think Habakkuk is one of the most brilliant names for a prophet given in the OT for not a few reasons.

First of all, think of what a hug is. When you hug someone you welcome them into your private, personal, intimate space. It’s a defenseless gesture, too; neither you nor the other person can protect yourself. And in real embraces, not those silly Christian side-hugs, you learn a lot about the person. You can tell if someone’s muscles are tensed because they’re angry, stressed, defensive, or shocked. You can tell how fast they’re breathing and how fast their heart is beating. You know immediately after a hug if a person is agitated or calmed. Often, you can feel a person relax into a hug as they let themselves be comforted by someone who cares about them. In embracing someone, you come intentionally and fully into their presence.

That still doesn’t explain Habakkuk though. He was a watchman on a wall, not an over-zealous Walmart greeter. But I think it does explain him. In Habakkuk’s book, he asks God a question about justice among his people. He sees the poor among them mistreated and neglected. He asks God why and how he can allow such injustice to go on. Habakkuk got a little more than he asked for. God tells Habakkuk that He’ll do an amazing thing among his people (1:5). But then God goes on to explain that his definition of amazing means suffering and exile and war and even more injustice. God will bring a nation against the Israelites to conquer them and exile them from their homeland in judgment against the injustice Habakkuk remarked on. Habakkuk responds, not questioning God’s right to do as he pleases, but questioning why God would use a nation even more wicked than the Israelites, and why he would dole out punishment indiscriminately to the righteous and unrighteous. He ends his question with a beautiful statement (2:1) of his trust in God’s judgment and humble acceptance of whatever answer God will give him. In time God responds, affirming his holiness and power, and reminding Habakkuk that he has an ordered plan in all of this; that in the end He will punish the wicked for their deeds. If the Lord’s answer wasn’t breathtaking, Habakkuk’s response certainly is.

He offers a prayer to God in chapter 3. His humility is striking. He conjures up awe and communicates the Lord’s terrific power as he explains that he and his people will accept whatever comes from the Lord’s hand. His closure in verses 16-19 is the kind of beautiful that makes a grown man cry. The whole book is wonderful, and I encourage you to read it when you have a few minutes. But these four verses are well worth committing to memory. Habakkuk says that no matter what happens—even when the food runs out and calamity comes—he will rejoice in the Lord. He’ll take joy in the One who saves him. He won’t just accept it. He’ll be happy it about it, the deep-down kind of happy. I’ve often wondered before what wells of trust and understanding of God’s character he pulls this confession from. How can he be broken over the suffering he sees, know that the Lord will bring even more, and commit to be full of joy over it?

Because of his name. Because, even though Habakkuk spent his time in a watchtower instead of a temple, he spent his time in the Lord’s presence. His whole book is a book of prayer—of speaking with the Lord, watching the Lord, waiting on the Lord, listening to the Lord, understanding the Lord. He spent his time fully and intentionally engaged in the Lord’s presence.

In His embrace.

His name is perfect. Habakkuk spent time with the Lord in prayer and understood His character, will, and plan all the better because of it. And Habakkuk knows that he will rejoice in the future, no matter what comes, because he will still be in the Lord’s embrace. He says so. In 3:19, after his wonderful confession, he says that the Lord is his strength. He’s spent so much time in the Lord’s embrace he knows that’s where true strength and comfort come from. And in the end, he trusts the Father who wraps him in an embrace, because He knows the character and the heartbeat of his God. He breathes the Father’s breath after him. He understands why. And he trusts the One who protects him in His arms.

I pray for you, brothers and sisters, as I hope you will pray for me, that you will learn to live fully and intentionally engaged in the Father’s presence through prayer. That you will, like Habakkuk, live wrapped in your Father’s embrace, breathing his breath after him and fully contented in his character.