The name Nazareth means hope

November 28, 2011

The well in Nazareth where, according to Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary encountered Gabriel

If I had more time in yesterday’s sermon, I would have shared this insight about the possible meaning of the name Nazareth from Adam Hamilton’s new book. A possible root of the name is netzer, a Hebrew word meaning shoot or branch. It is used in Isaiah 11:1-4, a traditional Advent text:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…

When a tree is chopped down, a shoot will sometimes grow from the stump, enabling a new tree to grow from the old. Hamilton writes,

When the village founders named their village Nazareth they may have chosen this name as away of expressing hope that God would once again restore Israel—that though Israel had been cut down by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and then the Romans, a branch would come up from the stump. They may have chosen this name because, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, it was a sign that there are no hopeless causes with God. They may have chosen this name as a  way of articulating their hope that one day the Messiah would come to Israel. It was as if they were saying, “We believe there is always hope. We believe God will deliver us. We believe the day will come when God  will send a new king who will deliver us.” Little did they know that the branch foretold in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah would be a child who would grow up in their own village!

Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 20.

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