“For there is no eternal remembrance for the wise along with the foolish. With the days that have already come, are all forgotten and how the wise dies along with the foolish.”
Do you see what Solomon is saying? As we have pointed out before, he is not falling into nihilism or fatalism of a sort. No, he is recognizing that death is the great equalizer of mankind and if we pursue earthly things, they will die with us and the legacy that we leave behind (the “remembrance”) will be short.
One of the things for which most of us strive is a legacy. We want our name to be remembered by people. Yes, our name will be etched in stone and placed in a cemetery somewhere, but most of us are not content with that. People strive to all sorts of incredible feats just to get their name into the Guinness Book of World Records to leave behind a memory — “I was able to do this…” People leave money to institutions so that a wing of a new school, a part of a library, or a professorship will be named after them. I write books for much the same reason (I want the generations that follow me to know not only my name, but also the spiritual things that I value).
Yet, eventually we will be forgotten. Even the most famous and infamous will be forgotten across the ages. And that reality can be sobering. It’s not going to stop us from seeking to leave behind a legacy, but it calls upon us to explore that which will last eternally — Christ, the Scriptures, and the things of God. This is the one thing that is truly enduring. Solomon is taking us there, but not just yet…he wants us to explore with him the various options that people seek as they seek to find purpose in life and only at the end will he offer the purpose to the one who faithfully walks with him through his reflections. For now, though, this is vanity if done for its own purposes.
“These are the descendants of Shem: when Shem was a son of one-hundred years, he begat Arpakshad — two years after the deluge. And Shem lived, after he begat Arpakshad, five hundred years and he begat sons and daughters.”
Essentially, this list of genealogies picks up where the genealogies in Genesis 5 leave off. Here we find the descendants of Noah that lead us to Abraham. And, much like we find in Genesis 5, we are not seeing an exhaustive list, but simply the covenantal line that leads from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5) and now from Noah to Abraham. God is a God who elects to bestow his grace and blessings upon a specific people, not vague generalities, and out of one lump of clay (in this case, the children of Shem), he has every right to make some vessels for honored use and others for dishonored use (Romans 9:21). We know nothing of most of these people apart from the fact that God called them to be part of the line of Abraham — the man with whom God would establish his covenant. But that is why we call God’s election: “Grace.” It is not what I have done, but what God has done, praise be to God.
Traditionally, Arpakshad’s name has been understood to mean, “healer,” though the etymology of this is a bit stretched. The Hebrew word apr (rapha) is seen as the root, being the verb, “to heal.” The word dv (shad) in Hebrew refers to one’s chest or perhaps to one’s mother’s breast. The Aleph at the beginning could be a use of the first person singular verbal prefix in the imperfect tense, but we are really beginning to stretch the speculative realm of things further than I am comfortable doing. The key is that while we know very little of this particular man, we know that he was born two years after the flood and that he is in the line of Abraham and for that we can celebrate our inheritance with him.
Shem lived a total of 600 years, had other sons and daughters, and then passed away. He had a full life, but we know nothing of what that life entailed apart from his connection to his father and to his son. How often it is that the things that we consider important are not really that important in the economy of God. May we find our satisfaction not in all the things we have done but in the fact that in Christ our names have been preserved in the Lamb’s Book of Life — something far more important than those works that might be attributed to us during our lifetime.
“And she bore to him: Zimran, Yoqshan, Medan, Midyan, Yishbaq, and Shuach.”
And here the children of Abraham and Keturah are remembered by name.
- Zimran: Likely derived from the Hebrew word rAmÎz (zamar), which refers to the playing of an instrument or the singing of praise to God. Children are indeed a blessing and God is the author of blessings, worthy of our praise.
- Yoqshan: Or, in many of our English translations, it is written Jokshan (the “Y” being exchanged for a “J” and the “Q” being exchanged for a “K”). This is a result of German scholarship in the 19th and 20th centuries and the way the Germans pronounced Hebrew words. It was left that way in English for consistency and for ease of pronunciation. Likely his name is derived from vAqÎy (yaqash), which means to snare something in a net or a trap.
- Medan: In Hebrew, this name means, “Controversy,” and is often rendered in the negative way of one who sows discord (see Proverbs 6:14,19). It is purely speculation as to why this name was given, but surely it reflects events that were transpiring in Abraham’s life at that given time.
- Midyan: A derivative of the word “Midian,” as well as “Medan,” again referring to one who is controversial or to one who brings controversy.
- Yishbaq: Likely borrowed from the Arabic word, qAbDv (shabaq), meaning to forestall or to obstruct. Like these other brothers, we know little about them save their name; nevertheless, as the name reflects much about the person’s character, it makes me wonder about these children of Abraham’s old age.
- Shuach: This is the Hebrew word that describes a gorge or a deep pit in rough terrain.
Again, we can only speculate as to the rationale behind some of these names; it should never be forgotten though, that names had a reason and a purpose in ancient times. They told of the character of the person but, like today, they identify the persons who happen to carry those names. These persons are not generic masses, but children of Abraham who are blessed by their connection to the “Father of the Great Multitude.” They had real hopes and fears just like you and me, and God the Holy Spirit thought it fitting to remember them if only in their connection to Abraham. Do not forget the human element of these texts. It is easy to get lost in the names and forget the people behind those names.
There is a reminder in these names for us as well. For most of us, there will come a day when our name will simply be an entry on someone’s family tree. May we remember that in the end, it is not about us or our legacy — it never was — it is about Christ and the legacy of Christ that we leave behind to our children.
“And God was with the lad and he was mighty; he dwelt in the wilderness and became a great archer. He dwelt in the wilderness of Paran and his mother took for him a wife from the land of Egypt.”
And so, Hagar and Ishmael separate from the presence of Abraham and move to the wilderness of Paran. The region of Paran is traditionally located toward the western side of the Arabian Peninsula and it should be noted that Muslim tradition states that it is Mecca where Ishmael settled, again noting the connection between Abraham and Sarah’s sin of trying to rush God’s plan and the Arab nations today. In addition, he did not take a wife from “his own people” as would Isaac, but chose a wife out of Egypt…an idolater.
Notice the contrast between Ishmael and his father in terms of how they are remembered. Abraham is remembered as the Father of the Faithful (Romans 4:11-12) and the Friend of God (James 2:23); Ishmael is remembered as being a good archer, a hunter (not unlike the language that is given of Nimrod — Genesis 10:8-9). One being remembered for eternal things and the other for earthly things. The contrast should be profound.
How often we who know eternal truth find ourselves much more concerned with earthly matters than with heavenly ones. How often we would rather be remembered for our accomplishments on earth than for our faithfulness to God. How often we invest our time and money into things that will not last but for a few moments on the timeline of eternity. How often we behave more like the pagans in terms of what we value than we do like the men and women of God that have walked before us. Loved ones, may it be faithful Abraham who is our example and not Ishmael. May we invest our energies in building the Kingdom of God and not worry so much about building our own man-centered kingdoms. May we be remembered not as a “Great” man or woman, but as “Friend of God.”