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February 28, 2012 – What’s In a Name?
5 Nor shall your name be Abram [high, exalted father]; but your name shall be Abraham [father of a multitude], for I have made you the father of many nations. – Genesis 17:5 AMP
At the age of ninety-nine, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. This event is well known in the Bible, as it reveals God’s promise to make Abraham the father of many nations. But what’s the big deal? Why did God have to change the name of someone who had spent nearly one hundred years being called by something else? Couldn’t God have just made the promise and left it at that?
The truth is that God didn’t have to change Abram’s name. He could have just continued to call him Abram. But God knows now as well as then that words have meanings. And with words we bless, curse, and even speak promises over others. That’s what God was doing in changing Abram’s name. In being called Abraham, God and everyone else in this man’s life was literally going to call him a father of a multitude, even though at that time he had only one son born to him by his wife’s handmaid.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also had his name changed by God. The name Jacob means supplanter, schemer, trickster, and swindler (Genesis 33:29). In the early years of Jacob’s life he lived up to that billing. He bribed Esau’s birthright from him over a bowl of stew (Genesis 25). Later he stole Esau’s blessing as the firstborn from Isaac by impersonating him (Genesis 27). But God saw a different side of Jacob. Upon his return to Canaan, God wrestled with him all night and as dawn was breaking changed his name to Israel, which means contender with God.
You see, in the Bible names mean a lot. I even remember a Wednesday night church service years ago when the pastor was talking about manna. That’s right, the manna from the Book of Exodus that fed the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. He asked what the word manna meant. No one knew. Some people in attendance, you know those who put on their spiritual airs at church, started making things up, like the bread of life and food from heaven. Imagine everyone’s surprise when we all learned its true meaning: what is it? That’s right; the Israelites didn’t know what it was, so they named it accordingly.
But things didn’t work like that with children. In Biblical times, the name of a child had great significance. God Himself named some children, like Isaac, John the Baptist, and even Jesus. But when He didn’t name them, the parents tried to name name their children so that the child’s life would reap blessings. Look at Rachael’s children alone as an example. Joseph means may He increase, because she wanted another son. Several years later she gave birth to Benjamin, which means son of the right hand. Even though she died in childbirth (Genesis 35), Benjamin’s birth fulfilled Joseph’s name. Benjamin in turn was the closest of Israel’s sons after Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, thus fulfilling his own name.
Now don’t go thinking that I’m perfect in naming my own children. My children, with the exception of our adopted daughter, were all born before I had a relationship with God. Like many parents, we chose names that sounded good.
I’m not trying to imply that if people don’t choose godly names for their children that they will be pronouncing curses on them. What I’m saying is that parents should simply do their research and be careful. You don’t have to have children named Peter, Paul, Abraham, or John to have their life blessed. That’s where prayer comes in. As parents, we should always cover our children daily in prayer. It’s important to remember that children are a gift from God (Genesis 33:5) and they should be treated as such. I’m not saying that we should let our children get away with whatever they want. What I’m saying is that God has given them to us and trusted us to raise them. We should be good stewards with that privilege rather than just getting them whatever they want and later dumping them into an immoral world without the benefit of a godly upbringing to help them make the right choices for themselves when the time comes.
There is a lot in a name. We name our children after family members, sports figures, movie stars, or even world leaders. Our youngest son Reagan is name after the former United States President. We named him that because Marlo and I admired him greatly as a strong leader from our country’s not so distant past. Imagine our surprise when we learned of his godly heritage, and how there was even a member of his staff who actually prayed over the Oval Office in the White House every morning before he entered it.
The truth is that people put more stock in names than you may think. I all my years as a Christian, not once have I seen any parent name their son Judas or their daughter Jezebel. You may say, of course not, who in their right mind would name either of their children that? No one I hope, especially if they were a Christian. I take that as a good sign. Yes, names are important because words have meanings and names have a certain heritage attached to them. But what’s more important is that we and our children continue to follow God. If you’re getting ready to have a child, choose the name carefully. Your favorite actor or actress may not have the godliest of names nor a godly heritage to follow. And if you’re in the midst of raising your children, pray for them regardless of their name. Your prayers carry more weight in their life than you will ever know.
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