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."