Scripture: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. Genesis 17:4-5 ESV
Observation: In this reaffirmation of his covenant with Abram, the Lord renames Abram (meaning “exalted father”) Abraham (meaning “father of a multitude”). This name change may appear to be a minor variant, but it signaled the soon fulfillment of the promised child who would come from the womb of Sarai, thus initiating the rapid expansion of God’s people. Indeed, when the Lord announced to Abraham that Sarai would bear him a child, he commanded Abraham to call his wife Sarah (“princess”) because “kings of peoples shall come from her” (17:16). And the Lord instructed Abraham to name the child Isaac (meaning “he laughs”) in keeping with Abraham’s response to this seemingly impossible conception: bemused laughter (17:17). Isaac’s name would serve as a reminder of their initial doubt and God’s faithfulness.
Takeaway: It’s all in the name. Whether it be the many names of the Lord or his chosen people, they reveal attributes that define one’s character. In the birth narrative of Christ, Luke tells us of two such naming events. First, an angel of the Lord instructed Zechariah to name his son “John” (also miraculously conceived in his parent’s old age), which means “graced by God.” And the angel Gabriel instructed Mary to name her son “Jesus,” a derivation of Joshua which means “God is deliverance.”
All families do the same when they designate nicknames based on a particular event in the child’s life. But for those who choose names for their children based on this biblical principle, when they pray to that end and when they intentionally instill and affirm those qualities in their child, in due time, they will see the Holy Spirit shape the child’s character accordingly. Our oldest, Hannah, means “grace.” For our twins, we decided on Joshua (see above) and Daniel (“God is my judge”). And for our youngest, we selected the name Elizabeth, which means “God is my oath/promise.” How’s it going so far? The early prognosis is good—lol!
So here’s the bottom line: names have the power to encourage and edify, but only if the name-bearer has faith and desires to wear the character of their name well (cooperating with the refining work of the Holy Spirit). Equally so, one’s name can be a curse, but thankfully, in this age of our Covenant of Grace, when we come to faith, the Holy Spirit will write a new name on all our hearts: child of God and brother/sister of Christ. It’s all in the name!
Prayer: We thank you, Father, for giving us new names as your adopted children: “chosen” and “beloved.” Would you please help us live out the meaning of our names and pass on the blessings to the next generation? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling