Summary: God changed Abram's name when he made the covenant with him. In the Bible, changing of names often indicates something significant happening in a person's life. When we let God into our life, things are different. God wants to enter into covenant relation
Changing our Name
Do ya’ll remember the show “let’s make a deal”? That was kinda fun, seeing who would wind up with the best deal from what they traded. They all traded hoping to get something better in exchange. How many of us try to make a deal with God in much the same way? We say, “God, if I do . . . Then you will . . . ” or “God if you do such and such, then I will…” We want to make a deal to get what we think is best for us. God, on the other hand, seems to be in the business of covenants, not deals. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is making covenants with people. In deals, someone often gets the short end of the stick, someone has to give up something in order to get from the other person or entity what they think they need or want. What you make deals with folks, you are on guard much of the time. On the other hand, covenants are based on mutual trust and are always win/win. God seems to want relationships that are based on trustworthiness and faithfulness, not fear or conniving. In our story today, God makes such a covenant with Abram. God comes to Abram and promises to make him “exceedingly numerous.” God basically said, “Abram, I’m changing your name; and that name change will mark a new stage in our relationship. Sarai will become Sarah and from her will arise nations and kings.” It’s a double blessing.
We have name changes for many reasons today: marriages,
divorces, adoptions, etc. These name changes don’t really refer to
changing someone’s personality, rather, the name change represents a new stage in life. The new name may or may not affect someone’s character. The apostle Paul tells us that we are “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we take the name Christian, we’re still the same person we were before, but now we are more attuned to our divine purpose in life. From this new name, we begin to be transformed into new creations. Our personality and character begin to be molded and transformed so that our personhood comes to match that new name. Through their covenant with God, Abram and Sarai would be transformed into Abraham and Sarah. They would experience God’s work in their lives through these new names, and their names would become great throughout the generations. There are others in the Bible who experienced name changes, but I want to highlight 2 here. Abraham’s grandson, the second born twin was named Jacob, which meant heel grabber. Jacob was, bluntly, a rogue and a scoundrel. He behaved in a deceitful, greedy, and cowardly way a lot of the time. But he was still the one that God chose to bear the promise given to Abraham. Jacob was still the one God picked to father a nation that would be known as God's people. God chose Jacob, so it was up to God to make something of him. God changes Jacob’s name, and with a new name, calls Jacob to a new life. Jacob is no longer "heel-grabber" but "Israel," which means "God rules."
We know someone in the NT that had a name changing experience as well, but he took a while to live into his name. Jesus told Simon that his new name would be Peter. Peter would become the rock on which the church is built. He didn’t start that way, did he? But he allowed God to mold him into becoming what was within him. It took trust, humility, and forgiveness to get Peter to become malleable. How ironic that once Peter allowed himself to be molded, he could become the “rock” of the church. In order to be Rock solid for Jesus, Peter had to humble himself and put himself in the position to be malleable - moldable. That is true for us as well. In order to live into our new name, “Christian” and become solid in the faith, we must be humble and become like clay, malleable, shapeable, in God’s hands.
Why would Jesus call Simon a rock? Why would God make Heel-grabber the father of a nation? Why would God make of an old man and woman, and them almost at the end of their days, the bearers of the promise? The name for this is "grace." God gives us a gift when we don't deserve it, and that gift calls us through struggle to a new and better life. That's one of the reasons that in earlier days a person was given a new name…a "Christian" name…at baptism. No matter what the circumstances of our birth, no matter what has happened to us in the past, or no matter what our personality, faults, or disabilities, when we are claimed by Christ, we are given a new name. Not a name that fits us yet, but a name to grow into…a name that represents our calling and God's hopes and dreams for us. It doesn't matter what the rest of the world has called us. In God's kingdom we are not humiliated. (I will change your name). We are honored with God's presence and called to engage the struggle to become the person God has named us. Abraham was called to go to a new place, and be the bearer of the promised one through whom all the nations would be blessed. Jacob's calling was to be the father of the twelve tribes which now…4,000 years later…still bear his new name, Israel. Peter, a simple fisherman with a tendency to leap before he looked and a tendency to open his mouth before engaging his brain, was to be the founder of the church. They weren't the most likely people to get the job, but God gave them those names anyway. And so it is with us. God wants to change our name as he did Abram’s - and Jacob’s, and Peter’s - God wants to give you and I a new name today, a name that reflects who we are in Christ. A name that will change the direction of our lives and through us, the lives of others. A name that reflects healing and wholeness and who we are in Christ.