“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us'” (1 Samuel 7:12 NKJV).
I enjoy maps and signposts. I often visualize terrain by looking at maps, and when I see an unusual or suggestive place name I like to think about the stories and history that it suggests for that place.
As we drive into Khulna from the Bible College we often go through an area of the city called Labonchara. In Bangla “Labon” is the word for “salt” and chara means “village” or sometimes “place.” Was this once a salt works, or, since it is beside the river, perhaps a place where salt was loaded or unloaded from boats?
There is a congregation in Nepal in the village of Bhalumara, meaning literally “bear kill.” Many questions arise from simply translating the name. “What kind of bear?” “Who killed it, and under what circumstances?” “Are there still wild bears in the area?” One’s imagination can run a little wild.
One of my all-time favorite place names is a small town in the western U.S. that I have never visited, but only seen as a dot on the map. It is Cut and Shoot, Texas. One does not have to think hard to invent a colorful history for that town.
Bible people, places and objects were often given names with special significance. After Israel won a victory over its great enemy, Philistia, the prophet Samuel erected a memorial stone whose name, Ebenezer, meant “Stone of Help” so that the people would remember that the victory came from God.
Jacob had a dream in which he saw Angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven. When he woke he proclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place” (Genesis 28:16). He named the place Bethel which means “House of God.” The applicability of this name is obvious.
Such stories could be repeated almost endlessly, both from the Bible and from secular history. Names help us identify, understand, and remember significant people, places, and events. Names with obvious meanings tied to those things are excellent memorials.
Of all those place names which we might bring to mind, one stands out far above the rest.
“And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull” (Mark 15:22).
Scholars are uncertain as to the reason for that name. Some suggest it is because it was on a hill that had somewhat the shape of a human head. Others think that it was a common place of execution and the area was littered with bones and skeletons.
Whatever the origin of the name, its appropriateness and significance can never be disputed. It was a hill of death, but not just one such place. It was the place where the most important death ever recorded took place, the Crucifixion of Christ.
Though Jesus’ body did not remain there, nor did his flesh decay, yet Golgotha will always be remembered as where his last breath was taken and his last words were heard. It was there that our Savior’s beloved head sunk one last time to his chest as he said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Some names remind us of tragedy, some of pleasure, and others of interesting events. Golgotha recalls victory, when Satan bruised the heel of the “Seed of Woman”, only to find his own head mortally wounded (Genesis 3:15). This place, also known as Calvary (Luke 23:33), is commemorated in Christian songs (“At Calvary,” “Burdens Are Lifted,” etc.).
The cross on which Jesus died has become a symbol of purposeful suffering, which gives hope rather than despair (Romans 5:3-5). In every way we are encouraged and made to rejoice by the name Golgotha. Jesus’ suffering there ensures our eternal joy. Let us praise and thank God each time we hear that name.