When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. . . . What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram; now you will be known as Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.” - Genesis 17:1, 5
Abram was ninety-nine years old when the Lord appeared to him and introduced himself as “God Almighty”—El Shaddai in Hebrew. That God disclosed himself by name meant not only that he wanted Abram to know who he is, but also that he was inviting Abram to experience intimacy with him. In effect, God was saying, “You can call me El Shaddai, Abram.” Abram discovered that God Almighty was eager to be known on an intimate basis.
When El Shaddai, God Almighty, invited Abram into an intimate covenant relationship, he gave him a new name—a name that contained God’s covenant promise in its meaning. El Shaddai wanted his new friend to understand what was going to happen in the future. He had decided that Abram should be the means whereby all the nations of the world would be blessed, with a family numbering in the millions from among his descendants. To reinforce the message, Abram underwent a name change from Abram, meaning “exalted father,” to Abraham, meaning “father of many.”
Along with a new name, God Almighty gave Abraham and his family a new identity as a people set apart for relationship with him. The token of this relationship was that Abraham and his descendants would be circumcised. The name and the token both indicated the same identity as God’s people.
God may not give us a new name now, but he does give a new name in heaven to everyone who has a covenant relationship with him (Rev. 2:17). That name represents the new identity of a person changed by Christ. And a changed man who engages in careful study of God’s word gains a deeper knowledge of the Lord and a clearer understanding of himself. (It is only as we see ourselves as God sees us and know ourselves in relation to God that our self-understanding is accurate.) This deepening of insight and excitement of discovery in turn create a freshness of message and a sharpening of focus, and the man who lives in the power of El Shaddai becomes like a father to many.
Names matter. They express who we are and whose we are. So when it comes to naming our own children, it’s a good idea to give them names that will remind them of our aspirations for them. Their names can help them understand their identity. A lot can be expressed in a name.
For Further Study: Genesis 17:1-14
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