Last Saturday, my mother graduated from Purdue University with her Ph.D. Universities rarely bestow such degrees on women who are called “Grandma” by twenty-one grandchildren. Thus, the commencement at the Elliott Hall of Music demanded our presence in a special way.
Many graduates hailed from China, India, or other lands whose languages differ radically from English. Mike Piggott, Purdue’s public address announcer, did a yeoman’s job pronouncing the names as the graduates were hooded. The strange sounding names reminded me of many lengthy sections of Scripture. Many Christians complain as they read aloud difficult names in the Scriptures such as Chedorlaomer, Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz, Romamti-ezer, and Meshelemiah. Admittedly, these are difficult, but they are given us to be read and understood. Remember that we will meet some of these in glory one day, and so their names should be familiar to us when we meet.
In one sense, we have it pretty easy in reading the Scriptures. The names come from a fairly limited number of languages. Most are Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian, or some other near-eastern language. The rules for pronouncing names from such languages are relatively simple, with a little training and practice. Giving attention to correctly reading names from those ancient languages not only helps us to know the Bible better, it also prepares us to wrap our tongues around the names of fellow-saints from language groups still further distant.
At Pentecost, the curse of Babel began to be reversed, as the nations miraculously heard the gospel in their own tongues. Today, men and women from many nations and language groups are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. As I listened to the names of the graduates being read, my mind drifted to the last great day, when the names of all God’s people will be called, and Revelation 7:9-10 will be fulfilled: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (ESV)
I was personally convicted as I considered how well I can generally pronounce the names of my friends and acquaintances – especially given my limited knowledge of language. If I made the most of opportunities to become acquainted with more people around me, my tongue would get more practice like Mike Piggott’s. We have opportunities all around us to speak personally with people from the farthest nations, which should force us to exercise the “gift” of tongues as we pray for, speak with, and write the names of souls from every language group.