Most new parents say No. According to on-line baby-name sites, Ichabod was the 54,629th most popular baby name in the USA in 2018, with the estimated number listed at zero.
One reason given is that it just sounds funny. On the school playground, a kid with this name is for sure going to be called Icky. Maybe a shortened form of Icky Bod. Or he could get a variant label as Itchy Bod. Parents aren’t likely to put that curse on their child.
On top of that, most people in our culture are familiar with the character Ichabod Crane, from a 1949 Disney cartoon film* and later adaptations of the same figure in more recent movies. He, of course, was created by American author Washington Irving in his 1820 classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in which Ichabod Crane is a nerdy, awkward country school-teacher who is trying to win the hand of the village’s most eligible young maiden. His rival scares him off one dark night by pretending to be the legendary “Headless Horseman” and removing his fake pumpkin head at a critical moment. The terrified Ichabod gallops off on his horse and is never seen again. This story, told in America’s schools every Halloween, should be enough to put Ichabod on the don’t-give-your-kid-this-name list forever.
But Washington Irving didn’t invent the name Ichabod. It comes from the Bible. Parents of newborns often favor Bible names —with some exceptions, like Judas and Goliath and Satan. Ichabod, unfortunately, has to be added to that list. Here’s the story.
According to the Bible’s Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was the center of Israel’s worship for almost 800 years. It was a modest-sized wooden box (like a medium-sized coffin) that was located in the Tabernacle (movable tent worship site) through the Israelites’ 40-year nomad period after their escape from Egypt. In it were placed important mementos of God’s special relationship with them: the Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, a container of manna (the miracle food God gave them during their wilderness wanderings) and High Priest Aaron’s miracle rod. Evidence of God’s reassurance hovered over it as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When the Israelites finally settled down in the Promised Land, God’s presence no longer seemed as critical, as their lives became more comfortable. Bible scholars who have tried to piece together the history have no clear understanding about where the ark was during the two-plus-century period of the Judges. There’s no indication that either a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud appeared to show God’s presence.
And then came a moment of great threat: the superior Philistine army was about to swoop in for a crushing victory. Some old-timers said, “Get the Ark of the Covenant; then God will be with us.” They found it and brought it to the center of the battle. It didn’t work, and the Philistines overwhelmed the Israelite army and took possession of the Ark of the Covenant. Shortly after this tragedy, a baby boy was born, and with her dying breath, his mother spoke:
She named the child Ichabod, meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God had been captured . . . She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (1 Samuel 4:21-22)
Yes, that’s the literal meaning of Ichabod: “The glory has departed!”
There’s lots more you can read in the Bible about the subsequent history of the Ark, including its placement in the Holy of Holies at the center of King Solomon’s great temple. But this is enough for our purpose. In my mind, the dying mother’s reason for giving her baby such a bleak name was not quite accurately expressed. She should have said, “Israel has been defeated and the ark captured because its glory had already departed.”
Also, to me, this is an allegory of the modern Church as an institution, or organization. As our recent sermons have emphasized, the Church was created by God to be a Super/Natural Fusion. We’ve gotten the Natural part down, but the Supernatural part often seems to have departed. When the Spirit is missing from the Church, it’s JUST AN EMPTY BOX!
We might as well call it Ichabod. Many people in the world around us have already given the Church the nickname Icky!
– Pastor George Van Alstine
* Above image is from Disney’s “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”