What’s in a Name? On Ishmael and Isaac

Most believe that the alphabet as we know it is a human invention. I do not. I have come to the sincere belief that every single word (or jot) in the Bible is divinely placed and meaningful. Additionally, I believe that the language in which the Old Testament was originally written is also divinely created and given by God (see God Speaks: The Origin of the Alphabet).

I think some of the best evidence for this belief can be found in Biblical names. I have previously shown the vivid pictures painted in the names Noah and Moses by the ancient Hebrew pictographs. I believe equally vivid stories can be told for most, if not all, names in scripture.

Among the reasons I believe that the ancient Hebrew alphabet was created and given to man by God is the superhuman mix of simplicity and complexity. The simplicity of an alphabet based on child-like pictures (an ox head to mean a strong leader or God) is in stark contrast to the complexity of a name prophetically depicting verses in scripture written some 500 years later (see Elohim as Psalm 23). I can imagine an extremely gifted human developing a language with symbolic alphabetic characters, perhaps even where the symbols can be arranged to form words, possibly even tell stories. But, when someone does this in a manner that also prophecies something 500 years in advance, then I might reconsider my position.

I believe there are countless examples of words and names depicting scriptures, a divine double entendre, but without the ambiguity. In this post, I want to focus on just two of these examples: Ishmael and Isaac.

I believe this is actually possible with any name in the Bible, I have studied Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Moses and others, and never have I been disappointed. I might write on others later, but the account of Ishmael and Isaac has always fascinated me because of its reflection of God’s grace vs our works.

You all know the story, Sarah becomes impatient with her inability to produce a child and persuades Abraham to impregnate Hagar. I’m sure we can all sympathize with Sarah’s impatience. I know I’ve tried to help God along on more than one occasion. But, the promise is fulfilled not through our works, but through God’s grace. So what of the works? They amount to nothing, usually cause problems, and are cut off like Ishmael.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Gen. 22:2.

By this time Abraham had both sons, Isaac and Ishmael. But, what does God say, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac…” This is a harsh, but true reality. As far as God was concerned, Abraham had only one son, the son of promise. Now, God made provision for Ishmael, and promised Abraham that he would become a great nation too, but there were consequences. Here is how the Angel of the Lord explained it:

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Gen. 16:11-13.

First, more than a prophetic statement, this is now an historical fact. Second, this prophetic look into the future of Ishmael was decreed from the naming of Ishmael (You shall name him Ishmael). In Hebrew, Ishmael is spelled YOD, SHIN, MEM, AYIN, ALEPH and LAMED. In the ancient Hebrew pictographs, the YOD is pictured as a hand from the fist to the elbow meaning my, my hand, or my works. SHIN is pictured as two teeth meaning to destroy or consume. MEM is pictured as waves of water meaning waters, nations or peoples. AYIN is pictured as an eye meaning to see, or to see as God sees. ALEPH is an ox head meaning strong, leader or God. LAMED is pictured as a shepherd’s staff meaning to lead.

Recall from earlier posts that the combination of ALEPH and LAMED form the Hebrew name El or God. The name Ishmael means God hears me or my God hears because the YOD or “ee” sound is the letter or sound for my/me and “shama” (produced by SHIN, MEM and AYIN) is the Hebrew word for hear. So, Ishmael (or ee shama el) is my God hears or God hears me. But, when you look at the Hebrew pictographs what you see is Genesis 16:11-13, “his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers…” and “You are the God who sees me…”

Here it is in the ancient Hebrew pictographs:

Ishmael in ancient Hebrew

Ishmael in ancient Hebrew

As much as Ishmael is a vivid picture of future strife, Isaac (meaning laughter) vividly depicts the replacement of Ishmael and the sacrifice God asks Abraham to make with Isaac. The Bible says Ishmael was a hunter or bowman, a man of the bow. Ishmael is a man of the bow because the bow is a symbol of covenant (see my discussion of the bow as covenant), and, while God’s covenant with Abraham was to be through Isaac, we are reminded that God also promised to make Ishmael a great nation.

Nevertheless, the Abrahamic covenant was through Isaac, and Ishmael was completely cut off from it. We can see this is the name Isaac. In Hebrew, Isaac is spelled YOD, TSADE, CHET and QUPH. Again, the YOD is pictured as a hand, meaning my or my efforts. TSADE is pictured as a man lying on his side or a fish hook meaning to hunt or fish. CHET is pictured as a wall or fence meaning to cut off. QUPH is pictured as a horizon meaning some sort of time element. So Isaac is a depiction of the relationship between Abraham and Ishmael: MY HUNTER (Ishmael the hunter or bowman) will be CUT OFF for all TIME, or the product of MY EFFORTS, the HUNTER is CUT OFF for all TIME.

Isaac in ancient Hebrew

Isaac in ancient Hebrew

Moveover, in the ultimate test of one’s faith, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It is quite an amazing test, one I’m not sure many would pass. But, Abraham does, and it is recorded in this way:

Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Gen 22:9-12

You can almost picture Abraham taking his son by the hand and then in his arms and laying him down to cut him with the knife, but the angel intervenes in the nick of time. What is truly remarkable is that this picture was painted before Isaac’s birth, when the Lord told Abraham, “your wife Sarah will bear you a son and You will call him Isaac…” Gen. 17:19. Actually, now that I think about it, all of these word pictures were painted before time began. They were only revealed later. Quite astounding!

Here is Isaac:

Isaac in ancient Hebrew

Isaac in ancient Hebrew

…lest anyone doubt the significance of a name!

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  1. #1 by livingjourney on August 29, 2008 - 2:33 am

    Another fantastic post… as usual. You should write a book!

  2. #2 by petermlopez on August 29, 2008 - 6:21 am

    Thanks, I would be happy to. You’re not in publishing by any chance are you? :)

  3. #3 by Learner on March 31, 2009 - 5:58 pm

    I have couple of question from you first paragraph if you can clear that out then I will go further. You said above “I have come to the sincere belief that every single word (or jot) in the Bible is divinely placed and meaningful.”
    Are telling me that no a single word is from human? even the ones we have no clue who wrote it and can’t be found in old manuscripts?

    You said “Additionally, I believe that the language in which the Old Testament was originally written is also divinely created and given by God” Now can you tell me which language is that, because from my studies of Bible it clearly make sense that we are not even 100% sure what language Jesus talked in and if it is Hebrew then the Hebrew we talk and write today is not the same as the one they talked?

    Please clear those points for me.


    • #4 by Marvin on March 21, 2013 - 8:21 pm

      Hello my brother Peter, It is always a pleasure to meet someone who’s eyes are blessed and can see. I believe you have the “Hebrew Word Pictures” book by Dr. Frank T. Seekins. I use it myself to find the picture messages that Yahuwah (Our God Father) have hidden within the names, which correspond with the verses. When I show people the meaning of the pictures, some of them say, “For what purpose do we need to know that, if the scriptures have already told us?” What they fail to understand is, God purposely designed the pictures to tell the same story, so that the hidden pictures will authenticate that the Tanahk is Genuinely from God himself. It is like the 100 dollar bill. When you hold it up to the light, you can see another PICTURE of the President, which you can’t see otherwise. When we see the picture of the President that is hidden in the 100 dollar bill, we know that it is genuine and was made from the United States Government’s Mint, and that it is not a counterfeit. Likewise, in the same way, we know that the Hebrew Tanahk is Genuinely from God himself, and is not some made up story that some man made up, because ALL religious books are like the counterfeit 100 dollar bill, you can see the words, but they do not have the hidden pictures.

  4. #5 by petermlopez on April 1, 2009 - 2:33 pm

    First, I think I agree with what you are trying to say. I do not know if we have perfect manuscripts in the original language (I assume we do not). Nonetheless, with some variations, I think we have texts that are reasonably close. And this, of course, is not scientific, by any means, merely observations of mine on the ancient Hebrew pictographs. Second, I think many of the old Semitic languages evolved from an original pictographic alphabet, and it is that pictographic alphabet to which I refer. Again, it’s not an exact science, but it’s a fun and exciting exercise in exploring the Bible.

  5. #6 by Learner on April 4, 2009 - 9:08 pm

    Like i said in my previous comment in other blog of yours I do admire your truthfulness of admitting that bible is not 100% from God. Thank you for clarifying that for me. Please don’t get offended but I would like to ask you if you have also learned any other religions besides Christianity if you did what are they are why did you go to that faith? Thank you.

  6. #7 by petermlopez on April 6, 2009 - 11:32 am

    Okay, that’s quite a leap, and one that I’m not willing to make with you. I don’t think it’s one that you can logically make either from what I said. As far as “learning” other religions, I haven’t “learned” Christianity, it is something I came to through experience after having rejected it when I was younger. I have explored other religions, but not extensively. As far as why I came to my faith, I think if you will read my earlier posts, you will get a good idea (try December 2007 in the archives and read the posts entitled “A Little Context” and “On Doubt” for starters.

  7. #8 by Learner on April 6, 2009 - 8:46 pm

    I have read your earlier post but it doesn’t give me my answer which is if you don’t believe Bible to be 100% word of God then how can you make yourself believe that this is the right faith and word of God? You also said you explored other religions but didn’t do extensive studies of them so basically you didn’t fairly studied and challenge your religion vs other religions to find the truth, it’s like saying you have seen the whole world when you didn’t even come out of your house? I hope I am not offending you, I am just trying understand. Can you tell me what other religions you explored? As always it’s interesting to talk to you.


  8. #9 by petermlopez on April 8, 2009 - 12:14 pm

    I don’t get offended by discussions of religion, but your analogy doesn’t apply. I wasn’t looking for religion, nor was I studying religions to find the “right” one. I am not claiming to have seen the whole world or all religions. Again, I wasn’t looking for a religion. For that matter, all religions can be done away with as far as I am concerned. I am not a Christian because it was the first religion I came in contact with. In fact, I rejected Christianity because of the emphasis on “religion”. I later came to faith because of a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus to be my personal Lord and Savior. I believe Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. I believe I am saved by grace through faith. I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. And I believe Jesus to be the embodiment of that Word. Other religions interest me intellectually, but I am not now nor have I ever sought to find the “right” religion.

    • #10 by Marvin on March 21, 2013 - 11:14 pm

      Peter, what this person doesn’t realize is what makes Christianity different than other religions. Religions are like car dealerships, they all claim that what they have to offer is better that what the other has to offer. But when you examine what each religion has to offer, nothing is better than what God has offered us, through the salvation of his son. Some religions tell us they can give us enlightenment, and others piece of mind, but all of the religions put together does not offer FREE Eternal Life. What they fail to understand is, Adam ate of the forbidden tree, and when the fruit that he ate entered into his blood stream, his blood became CONTAMINATED with a sinful nature, and that the rest of us inherited his sinful nature, through the blood that we received from Adam, our forefather. And because we became CONTAMINATED with a sinful nature, we could not enter into Heaven, but had to be thrown into the fire. Because all things that are contaminated MUST BE thrown into the fire. But because God loved us all so much, he did not want us to burn in the fire, so he took all the contaminated sins of all human beings and placed them upon his only begotten Son, and threw him in the fire, in our place, so we would not have to pay for our own sin. God did this to show all of us, just how much he loved us. There is no other religion that shows us that God loves us that much, so why would we choose another religion?

  9. #11 by Learner on April 8, 2009 - 4:56 pm

    Thank you for clarifying your thoughts with me. I only wish you could also look into other religions.


    • #12 by petermlopez on April 8, 2009 - 7:53 pm

      Which other religions exactly?

  10. #13 by lassie1865 on May 19, 2010 - 3:02 pm

    I think it is fantastic to study paleo Hebrew; it is a window into the depths of the Word. I also think that names are very important, instructive, prophetic, etc. Therefore, I am most puzzled as to why scholars, translators, pastors, teachers, etc. shun the Name of Yahuweh, and Yahushua and are content to promote misleading and incorrect replacements? I asked the same question of one of the translators on the committee for the ISV; his response was: “We translate according to our traditions and translation philosophy.” Great; just keep the sheeple in the dark.

    • #14 by Peter on May 20, 2010 - 4:40 pm

      I think grace should prevail here, and since I’m from Texas, I’m not sure how a Sunday morning service full of properly pronounced Hebrew names would fly because where does one draw the line, Yeshayahu, Jochanan? Most people wouldn’t know who you were referring to…I probably wouldn’t know many…

  11. #15 by Misty on February 5, 2012 - 3:23 pm

    Thank you for this post. My husband and I have been lead into the Hebrew roots of our walk with God and have found more depth, emotion and passion then we ever expected. God continually blows our minds with the deepness of his Sod. ( not sure if that’s spelled right. Sod pertains to God’s word and the part that lies underneath or hidden. Meaning the deeper you dig into the word the more you will find! Sod is a Hebrew word) I have to tell you that today my mind was utterly blown away by the discovery that every letter in every word adds to the Sod and story of God! That must be what he meant when he said that “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” WOW! every jot and tittle are not just small marks that enhance the word but important foundation bricks which hold significant meaning with in themselves adding support and stability to the word.

    I will defiantly be doing my bible studies a little differently from now on!

    may the lord bless you and keep you!

  12. #16 by Chijioke on February 17, 2012 - 5:48 am

    Can you do the favor of translating another name if provided to you, possibly with it’s (the name’s) own “dialect” meaning to Hebrew?

  13. #17 by Heidi Q. on April 20, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    Just because most people have not been taught the truth, does not excuse “hiding your light under a basket”. Once they begin to learn more truth, they will gradually understand.
    Yes, using the correct names is very important. There is so much hidden truth in scriptures…even within names or series of names! We are not to change ANYTHING in scriptures…Yahweh (god) commanded “do not add or take away”…rememberr?!

  14. #18 by ipa on January 17, 2014 - 8:14 pm

    looking at the picto, it says Isaac is cut-off, not Ishmael

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