No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.”
In Genesis 17, God appears once again to Abram, reaffirming the promises he previously made and clarifying the divine covenant with Abram. But something new happens in chapter 17. God gives Abram and Sarai new names. Abram will now be called “Abraham.” Sarai will be “Sarah.” The name “Sarah” is a variant of Sarai, which means “princess.” “Abraham” means “father of a multitude.” From this moment onward, Abram’s name will embody the essence of God’s covenant with him. Indeed, from this moment onward, the name “Abram” does not appear in the Bible, except for two verses that use both “Abram” and “Abraham” (1 Chron 1:27; Neh 9:7).
I wonder what it was like for Abraham to receive a new name from God. We’re so familiar with the name Abraham that we might quickly gloss over Genesis 17:5. But if we stop and reflect, if we put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes, we may discover a new dimension of God’s grace. God did not merely give Abraham a job to do. Rather, God gave him a new identity and a new name to signify it. The name “Abraham” epitomized Abraham’s crucial role in God’s plan to bless all nations through him.
As I reflect on this passage, I wonder what new name God might give me. I’m not planning on giving up my name, “Mark,” even though its original meaning isn’t entirely to my liking. “Mark” comes from the Latin word that meant “dedicated to the god Mars” or, like Mars, “warlike.” Of course, “Mark” was also the name of the author of the second gospel, which I like much better. In fact, my parents named me “Mark” because they liked the name and my mother had an exemplary student named Mark. “Mark” = “good student,” that does rather fit me.
But, what if God were to give me a new name, a name that captured the essence of my identity, my calling, my role in his work in the world? As I reflect on this, I’m allowing my new name to be more than one word, rather like the character “Stands with a Fist” in the film Dances with Wolves. As of this moment, I’m not yet sure what I’d like my new name to be. But I find this exercise helps me focus on who I really am and what I’m really called to be and do. Let me encourage you to take some time to consider what name God might give you. Whether you come up with something or not, the exercise will be worthwhile.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you think Abraham and Sarah felt when they received their new names?
If God were to give you a new name, a name that encapsulated your identity and calling, what name might this be?
Gracious God, what a gift you gave to Abraham and Sarah. The gift of new names! Thank you for how this must have encouraged them.
I wonder, Lord, what name you might give me. Who am I before you, at the core of my being? To what have you called me? What defines my life? My leadership?
I don’t expect that you will actually give me a new name, Lord. But I pray that you help me to know more deeply who I am because I belong to you and have been called into relationship with you and into your work in the world. Amen.