Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarai. Unable to conceive a child with her husband Abram, Sarai gave her slave Hagar to be his wife so that Abram could have a child. When Hagar became pregnant, Sarai became very jealous and treated her badly. Hagar fled to the desert. An angel of the Lord met Hagar by a spring and asked where she had come from, and where she was going. The angel told Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to her, followed by a promise that her descendants would be too many to number, and that she would have a son named Ishmael. Hagar then spoke to God and gave him the name El ROI, the God who sees me. She had seen and was seen by God.
After Hagar returned and gave birth to Ishmael, some time had passed. Sarah again wished for Hagar to be gone, so Abraham sadly sent Hagar and Ishmael away with some food and water. She and her son wandered on the desert of Beersheba. They ran out of water, and Ishmael, very thirsty, began to weep. Hagar put him under a bush and began to sob. An angel of the Lord spoke to her, offering comfort, and promising that God has heard her wins cried and one day would make him into a great nation. God opened Hagar’s eyes, she saw a well of water and gave her son a drink. (Genesis 16,21)
Naomi (meaning pleasant) was from Bethlehem, in Judah, but moved to Moab temporarily with her husband, Elimelek, and her sons, Mahlon and Kilion, in order to escape famine. She lost her husband, and her two sons married Moabite women. They lived in Moab for ten years, until Naomi‘s sons died too. Widowed and grieving the loss of her children, Naomi learned that God was providing aid to the land of Judah once again. She decided to return to her home. Naomi spoke a blessing over her daughters in law, Ruth and Orphah, and she said emotional goodbyes, sending them to return to their homes in Moab. Orphah returned to her home, but Ruth, in an act of great love and loyalty, refused to leave Naomi’s side. The two women journeyed back to Bethlehem, and there was a great commotion about Naomi’s return. When the women of the town said, “Can this be Naomi?” Naomi replies, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
Naomi looked out for Ruth and made arrangements for her to work safely in the field of a family member, Boaz, who later married Ruth, and they had a son, Obed. Great joy and restoration came to Naomi, and her family grew and was blessed.
Vashti was the beautiful Queen of Persia. Her husband, King Xerxes, held a great celebration to show off all of the extravagant wealth of his empire. He held a banquet for all the people of Susa, where the palace was. At this time, Queen Vashti was holding her own banquet for the women in the palace. At the seventh day of the feast, King Xerxes, drunk with wine, summoned Queen Vashti to show off her great beauty to his guests. She refused. The king was very angry and met with his advisors to decide her punishment. He permanently banished Queen Vashti from his presence. This was a public statement to all women throughout the kingdom to respect their husbands. Vashti’s defiance paved the way for Queen Esther to become queen and eventually rescue the Israelite people.
From an early age, I have explained my name to people. I’ve often been called the wrong name, like Mary Beth, Laura Beth, or Jo Beth. Or people would ask: Why do you have two first names? Do you have two middle names? Is Sarah Beth one word? Hyphenated? I would explain, I was born Sarah Elisabeth, but my parents called me Sarah Beth as a nickname. I always believed I would drop the Beth and go by Sarah when I became an adult. It sounded much more “mature” and “grown up.” Turns out I didn’t want to be mature and grown up after all, so I kept the name of my childhood. It’s who I was and am today. Names are important for so many reasons. My husband and I chose names for our kids that had a positive meaning. People often live into the meaning of their name. Sarah means "Princess" or "Cheiftainess", and Elisabeth means "Consecrated to God."
God knows the value of names. In several instances in the Bible, God changed someone’s name, marking a change in their life. Abraham to Abram, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, and many more. In the book of Ruth, Naomi changed her name to Mara, meaning “bitter,” representing the new season of grief and hopelessness she lived.
In some stories, people, even lead characters in the story, remained unnamed. This has often been a source of frustration to me. Some of the most powerful stories in Scripture were about unnamed women: the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:4-26), the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:3-11), Pilate’s Wife (Matthew 27:19), the Hemorrhaging Woman (Matthew 19:20, Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43), the Shulamite Woman (Song of Solomon). I mean, the longest recorded conversation Jesus had was with the Samaritan Woman at the Well. I remember venting my frustration about this unnamed woman to my dad over lunch one day. He shared with me a conversation with a man who pointed out that the Eastern Orthodox Church had given her the name Saint Photina. Coming from a non-denominational and Baptist background, I didn’t learn about the saints that were celebrated in more orthodox traditions. I began to read and study the story of the Woman at the Well again, and discovered that she was documented in other writings to have been a great preacher of the gospel, responsible for many coming to faith, including some of Nero's household. She was called by some church traditions “Equal to the Apostles.” According to tradition, she and her sisters and sons were also devoted believers and evangelists, and they were persecuted for their faith, imprisoned, and later martyred.
Although the writers of the Scripture didn’t provide the name the Samaritan Woman, she did have a name. This is a great article that goes into more detail about the Scriptural account and addresses the way we have viewed this story in the church.
What does your name mean, and how does it impact you?
It's been over 5 years since I completed this series of art, titled You are Here, and had my first solo exhibit. It's tough to hear myself talk (anyone else have that experience?), but I love looking back at this season that was not so long ago and be reminded of how blessed I truly am. I remember the value of enjoying each and every season of life, pressing in, and celebrating even in the mundane tasks we all have to do. Now I have two teenagers and an 8 year old, working full time in an amazing job, and still creating. I've gone through many highs and lows, but the truth remains, God is with me, no matter how I feel. The Spirit continues to remind me when I forget or want to give up.
Wherever you are in your life, remember to be fully present, experiencing the joy and pain of each moment.
Here's a video my cool husband put together to capture the process and series:
Zipporah (means little bird) was the Midianite wife of Moses and daughter of Jethro. After 40 years of life in Midian with Zipporah's family, Moses received a message from God that it was time to return to Egypt to free His people. Along the journey, God came to Moses and sought to kill him. Zipporah took a sharp piece of flint and circumcised her son, casting the boy's foreskin down before Moses. The Lord spared Moses' life. Zipporah proclaims to Moses, "You are my bridegroom because of bloodshed." She saved her husband's life by the bloodshed of her own child. (Exodus 4)
Tabitha (or Dorcas in Greek) was a disciple of Jesus from Joppa. She was always doing good, helping the poor and widows, and making clothing and robes for them. She became very ill and the sickness took her life. Her friends had gathered to prepare her body for burial in her home, and the disciples sent for Peter, who was in the nearby town of Lydda. Peter came to Tabitha's home, and the widows were all gathered there, mourning and showing Peter the clothing and robes that Tabitha had made with them. Peter sent everyone out of the room and knelt in prayer. Then he turned to the dead woman and said "Tabitha, get up." She opened her eyes and sat up. Peter helped her up and presented her to the believers gathered. Word spread about this miracle, and many people believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:36-42)
Lady Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) is wisdom personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs. There are a multitude of passages describing her value. She shouts in the streets and cries out in the public square. She rescues from immortality. She guards and protects those who love her. She is sweet to the soul and is worth more than gold. There are endless benefits if we cling to wisdom, and she is more precious than rubies.
Shiphrah was one of the two lead Hebrew midwives during the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt. The Pharaoh commanded these midwives to kill all firstborn male children of the Israelite mothers giving birth.
The midwives feared God more than Pharaoh and refused to kill the babies.
When Pharaoh summoned them and asked why they let the boys live, they lied and said “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” God was kind to the midwives because of their faithfulness to Him and gave them families of their own. (Exodus 1:15-21)
Sheerah was a builder spoken of in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. She was a daughter or granddaughter of Ephraim, the son of Joseph. She built three cities, Lower and Upper Beth-Horon, as well as Uzzen-Sheerah. Although briefly mentioned, Sheerah is noteworthy for several reasons. Women were not often mentioned in genealogies, with few exceptions. It was also unusual in her time for a woman to be a builder of even one, let alone three cities. She must have been a woman of great courage, skill, and determination. (1 Chronicles 7:24)
I am a Houston-based artist, creating vivid, thought-provoking art in my home studio.