Epithets (ˈepəˌTHet)

By: Zach Collins

You might be wondering, “What exactly is an epithet?” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the word is defined as, “an adjective or descriptive phrase expressing a quality characteristic of the person or thing mentioned.” As you walk through the aisles among the tombstones in graveyards, you will see thousands of these epithets. Engraved in stone or marble are descriptive phrases of those who have been laid to rest. However, epithets are not only for the dead, but they are also for the living. We are walking epithets. Our lives are encapsulated by certain descriptive words. For instance, my life could be encapsulated in the words “Christian, husband, and father.” These descriptive words give meaning and purpose to my life while painting a picture of who I am as a person. In our conversation, you might refer to my title in the church, “Preacher.” This descriptive word, even though it is a positional title, adds depth to my life as it carries a functional overtone of ministering, teaching, and compassion. In a similar manner, there are many adjectival epithets attributed to various men and women in the Bible, by the Holy Spirit, that help us to understand more about God and His people. 

When Moses died atop Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, he carried with him his Epithet, “Moses, the servant of the Lord” (c.f., Deuteronomy 34:5). When Abraham was raised to rest by Isaac and Ishmael, his epithet was etched for all eternity into the pages of holy scriptures, “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (c.f., Genesis 25:8). But not all epithets are reflective of the good that embodied one’s life, some reflect their mistakes. After Judas betrayed innocent blood, the one who kissed the door to Heaven was remembered in this manner, “Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself” (c.f., Matthew 27:5).

For a moment, let us notice three epithets, words of description evident in the life of David, that can teach us some important lessons about the Christian life. Are these descriptive words descriptive of your life? 

1.     A mighty man of war” (1 Samuel 16:18). While it is true that God desires peace, not war, this epithet embodies David’s willingness to go to battle for the Lord. Yet, his might was not found in his skill as a warrior, even though he slew his thousands (c.f., 1 Samuel 18:7). His might was found in the strength of his faith. His faith in God enabled him to overcome adversity while remaining strong in the strength of the Lord. 

2.     Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). While David will always be remembered as a warrior of God, this epithet is descriptive of another aspect of David’s life that will be remembered for all eternity, David the sinner. The words, “Thou art the man!” ring throughout the ages as the words that broke the back of the murderer and adulterer. No soul can avoid the touch of sin! Yet, God will forgive when we commit to repentance. 

3.     A man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The heart of David was shattered in his sin, yet God helped David take the broken pieces and put them together again. It was David’s heart of faith, devotion, and contrition that brought him out of the prison of sin into God’s palace of grace. Like David, we all make mistakes, but we seek a place where we can rest in God’s grace. There, we too can become one after God’s own heart.

In my office hangs a sin that says, “Live your life so that the preacher doesn’t have to lie at your funeral.” One day, you will leave this world behind so live a life that you will remember and be remembered with many epithets that are descriptive of God’s greatest servants.