Troublesome Topic: God Gave Abram a New Name

We pick up Abram’s story when he was 99 years old God. At that point the promise had not yet been fulfilled and he needed some encouragement. The lift he received came in the form of a name change. God changed his name from Abram (meaning “exalted father”), to Abraham, (meaning “father of many”). He was exalted in the eyes of those around him; in fact he was exalted in every way except the one that matter most to him – descendants. The change to “father of many” confirmed that God knew Abraham’s greatest need and would fulfill His promise by giving Abraham descendants – many descendants. The name was not meant to convey “the father of many individual people” but rather “the father of many nations which in turn contain many individual people.” Notice that God said it using a past tense idea “For I have made you a father of many people groups or nations.” It was already accomplished, even though Abraham could not yet see its fulfillment. That requires faith. We likewise must trust that what God has spoken is already a reality even though we cannot see it with our physical eyes. By becoming the father of many people groups, Abram went from being exalted in the eyes of the people who lived in his part of the world during his day, to being exalted in the eyes of almost everyone in many parts of the world throughout all of human history.

To have one’s name changed was no small thing. A name was one’s reputation, not just an identity. So for God to change his name indicated that there had been a true and deep change within him and he was no longer the same person as before. Now, every time that someone said his name, Abraham would be reminded of God’s promise and of the special bond between them. The covenant relationship with God had altered who he was, how he should think of himself and how others should think of him.

The lesson for us today should be obvious. The relationship between God and us should change who we are, our reputation, our identity, how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others. Today the name Christian has become a designation which can be applied quite freely, and we have all seen it applied to people who live lives in total violation of the standards of Christ, whose name they pretend to bear. A name change should only occur if there has been a change in one’s life, altering one’s loyalties, and one’s motivation for living.

The next lesson for the full series on Covenants is: Additions to the Original Covenant