“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.” Genesis 17:5
There was a small spoiler yesterday when I hinted at some of the changes Abram was going to have to endure, including his name, here in verse 5. Big deal? It’s only two letters’ difference, right? Well if you know what it is to ever change addresses, or phone numbers, or to break/lose a cell phone and miss all of your contacts, you’re getting close to what a name-change might have meant in ancient times.
A person’s name connected them to their people, to their ancestral stories and their land; the head of a household like Abram would have had all his family/property/slaves reckoned under his name. And there weren’t really any “last names” back then, one was just “Jack son of John of the land of the Smiths”. What I’m saying is, a name change was probably no small matter, and it could’ve had large repercussions for Abram. If nothing else, people would’ve asked, “Why did you do that?” And he would’ve been put on the spot to answer, “Well, I’ve suddenly joined into a covenant with God Almighty, the God of heaven and earth. No, you can’t see him or hear him all the time, he’s kind of invisible, but he told me to start calling myself “Abraham” instead.” Sounds cuckoo.
It’s another big sample of how covenant with God, deep relationship with the LORD, was good but certainly not easy. That’s still true. Transformation up into our fullest life, the fullness of who God intends us to be, means leaving something(s) behind. And it might be important to notice exactly how Abram’s name changed. See, Abram means “exalted father” and I assume it was a strong name of honor. Imagine being a little boy named Abram feeling like you’re destined for greatness, for a strong household, etc. It was an honor rooted in himself, his own exaltedness. But Abraham means “father of many”. In those days that was still a big honor, to father lots of descendants and make a great people, but it was an honor rooted in one’s children and everything that comes after. To me, that seems less self-centered. Many of us know all about trying to exalt ourselves, build our personal empires, magnify our own names, and more; but it is very different to shift towards caring first for your family/children and their welfare.
Maybe that was part of God’s shaping of Abra(ha)m. Either way, let’s realize once again that covenant with God isn’t just pleasant; it can be challenging and growth-demanding, even transforming. And the question becomes, how is that happening in and around you, and me? If transformation doesn’t seem to be going on, is it because God is absent or because we have insisted to cling to our former selves and names? Today, without distraction or interference or avoidance, may we dare to listen for God’s name for us.