(as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. Rom. 4:17
The apostle Paul, in one among several allusions to Abraham’s example of faith in the letter to the Romans, quotes here from the context of chapter seventeen, verse five of the book of Genesis.
Here we offer the entire verse. Gen 17:5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.” The Genesis passage deals with the time and events surrounding when God changed Abram’s name (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). God’s renaming of Abram came some thirteen years after Ishmael had been born through Sarai’s maid, Hagar. Remember this is where they tried to hurry God’s program along via their own machinations. It didn’t end up with the best results. The LORD reiterated the covenant He had established with Abraham and his seed (C. f. Gen. 15:4ff) and confirmed that covenant would be carried out through the son to be born via Sarah, the still barren wife. (Gen 17:17-19) God’s purpose was to bring life from that which was “dead.”
This brethren, is a precedent we don’t want to miss nor take for granted. This is the first example in the Scripture of someone’s name being changed, and more importantly, the change is by declaration of the LORD. The Almighty goes on to change Sarai’s name to Sarah (which means princess). In both cases, the LORD was stressing His purpose in them and through them as His servants in His plan. Abraham and Sarah were to be the beginning of the line of kings to come from many nations as their seed. (C. f. Gen. 17:15-16. ) It was because they believed He would do what He said He would through them.
The next reference we have of the LORD changing someone’s name is Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. The timing of this event is interesting as well. Jacob’s character earlier in his life was one of an opportunist and deceiver concerning his brother Esau. He had maneuvered his older brother Esau into relinquishing his birthright; then openly deceived his father and brother in seizing the blessing. Because of the deception, he had to flee for his life to Haran and the house of his uncle Laban, where he met his future wife. It was here the LORD allowed Jacob to get a taste of his own medicine. Laban took advantage of the opportunity to pawn off his older daughter by deception after Jacob had worked 7 years for the hand of Rachel, then got 7 more years of labor for the hand of Rachel in marriage. Finally Laban got 6 more years of his labor promising Jacob all the spotted and speckled goats and black lambs by caring for his flocks. Through all this, Jacob learned to trust and believe in God, while dealing righteously with Laban who cheated him and changed Jacob’s wages some ten times over the course of 20 years.
Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (He who strives with God) after wrestling with “a man” who was the LORD) all night and not letting go until he received a blessing. Jacob’s name was changed because he had striven with God and men and had prevailed. He was now ready to be used by God as His servant because he sought God’s blessing.
The book of Galatians lets us know that the seed that was to be the true realization of the promised royal progeny by Abraham and Sarah was Jesus the Christ. (Gal 3:16) The true spiritual heirs were to come from all the nations, those who were to receive the blessing of Abraham, the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:8, 9; 14) in Christ Jesus. The LORD was going to finally fulfill that covenant made with Abraham and his Seed, by bringing to life, calling into existence, that which was dead. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) the Scripture says, but now being born again in our immersion into Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) believing what God said, He is able to perform. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you” (Rom. 8:11) “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” (Rom. 8:16-17a) Receiving this blessing, our names’ have been changed, from sinner to saint, once separated from God to servant of God, from belonging to the world, to belonging to Christ, a Christian, the power to overcome by faith in a changed name. Amen!