“And the sons of Midyan were Eyphah, Epher, Chanok, Abiyda, and Elddaah. All these were the sons of Keturah.”
Moses gives us the final listing of the grandsons of Abraham and Keturah, in this case through the line of Midyan (Midian). These are the sons who will establish the tribes of the Midianites that will give the people of Israel so many problems in the generations to come, hence their likely inclusion. There are others in the Bible who share the same name, but as with people today who are named John, Samuel, and Paul, these names were not totally uncommon in the ancient near east. Apart from the parallel in 1 Chronicles 1:33, we know little else about these sons and grandchildren.
- Eyphah (Ephah): Literally, his name is translated as “darkness.” Perhaps more literally, the idea conveyed by the word is the presence of that gloom whose effect is to create a darkened state — see Job 10:22. However you explore the nuances of this name’s meaning, its connotations are ominous.
- Epher: There is some debate as to the term from which this word gets its name. Traditionally it has been understood to be a derivative of rRpOo (opher), which refers to a young fawn or gazelle. It may also be derived from rDpDo (aphar), which refers to the dust of the earth. In either case, both are fleeting. The deer runs swiftly from its hunter and the soil, when dry, is scattered by the wind, much like the wicked before God’s judgment.
- Chanok (Hanoch): Typically this name is rendered as “Enoch” in our Bibles (see Genesis 4:17 & 5:18 for example) and means “dedicated.” In the context of the son of Cain, a city was dedicated to him. In the case of the son of Jared, he was dedicated to God. As this Enoch is not part of the Covenant line, most likely the former is the intended meaning, not the latter.
- Abiyda (Abida): Literally: “My Father has Known Me.” Here we probably have the most positive of the group, though again history makes clear that the Father in question is an earthly father, not a heavenly one.
- Elddaah (Eldaah): Literally: “One who seeks God.” Yet does anyone ever really seek after God of their own accord? No, not even one (Romans 3:11-12). Only those that the Father draws to himself will come (John 6:44).
“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.