The Fragrant Name

וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּֽאוּ

“And these are the names of the sons of Israel who went into Egypt with Jacob, each man with his house” (Ex. 1:1).

The conjunctive “ו/vav”, as I’ve translated it, “and”, that begins the Book of Exodus is connecting the beginning of a new era in Israel’s history to that which preceded it, specifically the concluding verses of Genesis (50:24-26) to the end of Joseph’s life. Moses masterfully secures this connection, the continuing story of Israel, with names: שְׁמוֹת. As we read the opening verses of Exodus 1 we find that Joseph and the immediate generations have died, and now:

ויקם מלך־חדש על־מצרים אשר לא־ידע את־יוסף

“And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8).

Why should a later Egyptian pharaoh know Joseph? Simply, Joseph saved Egypt. This pharaoh knew neither the name nor the story of Joseph. He only knew that a people were increasing in his midst, and they posed a threat (Ex. 1:9-10). Because he did not know, he unleashed generational suffering upon those he feared. Interestingly, his name is no more, while the name of Joseph yet endures.


The Bible is full of names. Some of the names are familiar to us; while others, we wonder why they are included at all. Each name is a connection: to a person, place, moment, event, and life. They all speak to the history of how God brought us to now. They connect us to the past, but also to the Lord’s future.

We often wrestle with legacy, as an enduring connection to the future. Will our names be remembered in three or four generations? Perhaps, deep down, we connect legacy to a type of enduring survival. What, then, is in a legacy?

At times I’m not sure how my mind works. There are a dizzying number of names and faces stored in my mind. Often, if you were to ask, I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner the previous night. Yet, a name that belongs to a face coming toward me, who I have not seen in some time or met only once, will often come to mind without hesitation. Why? Perhaps how it is stored. Not, metaphorically speaking, in my mind, but rather, in my heart. They are remembered, but why? Perhaps it’s an aroma. Solomon wrote:

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב

“A good name is better than good, precious oil,” (Ecc. 7:1).

Olive oil, good for light, fragrance, healing, and food, was precious and costly; but Solomon says, a good name is better. How is the good name cultivated? Names were often associated with character, how people view you and those with whom you associate. The property of the olive oil was limited to where it was, and its use; while, the aroma of a good name lingered and spread across distance, time, even generations. A good name was a pleasant aroma.

Followers of Messiah, the Anointed One, often model properties of olive oil (that would be a separate article) as the ethical good commanded in Scripture, nevertheless, the fragrance is to be Jesus. Paul writes:

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:15-16).

Caught up now, in His life and fragrance, our lives, legacy, even our eternity has changed. The legacy of Joseph and the sons of Israel have endured in the forever Word, but what of our names? To His disciples Yeshua/Jesus says:

“… rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10.20), in the Lambs book of life (Rev. 13:8).

We are still impacted by Joseph, his brothers and fathers; and in Messiah, we become caught up in His eternal legacy, with His brothers, sisters, and, above all, His Father. The Lord graciously records the names of His faithful in His Books, and never has to recall either face or name, because we are eternally before Him in His heart, becoming part of His fragrance: the fragrance of so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1).

What does our name mean to others? Perhaps it’s the fragrance that is remembered, the name only to identify; if so, let it always be His fragrant life and name that goes before us. We are momentary oil, pressed and used for His glory, but fragrant in Him forever, as His renown spreads into an endless age. And with that aroma, He is well pleased.

To God be the glory.

Be well. Shalom.

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