The Importance of a Name

Genesis 17:1-8
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him,4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
      Names carry weight. Biblical stories have always portrayed names as more than mere labels, as evident in the transformation of "Abram" to "Abraham". This transformation wasn’t just about the change of a name; it was about the maturation of a relationship, a deeper covenant with God. Let's dive into the depths of this transformation and what it means in our modern context.
      The journey from Abram to Abraham wasn't just about adding an 'h' to his name. It represented a pivotal shift in his life and purpose. God’s renaming of Abram, which translates to "exalted father", to Abraham, meaning "father of multitudes", not only forecasted his future as the father of many nations but also reinforced his deeper relationship with the Lord. In our lives, names and titles do more than just identify us. Think about the titles we acquire over time: child, student, graduate, parent, and so on. Each title signifies a different chapter, a different set of responsibilities, and a new identity. If a woman takes on her spouse's last name after marriage or when someone is given a title at work, it does more than label; it transforms their identity and role in a larger narrative.  Moreover, such name changes or titles often serve as milestones or markers in our life's journey, echoing our personal growth. For Abraham, his renaming was not just a personal transformation but a historical one. It signified a promise, a legacy that would impact generations to come. Similarly, in our own lives, a change in name after a significant event, such as marriage, or the acquisition of a new title, can lead to a ripple effect of changes in how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and the expectations associated with these new roles.
      These titles and names come with a set of unspoken rules and responsibilities. When someone is referred to as a "doctor" or "professor," it implies years of dedication, study, and mastery in a particular field. When one becomes a "mother" or "father," it's a commitment to nurturing and raising a new life. These aren't just mere words but powerful testimonies to the paths we've chosen and the promises we intend to keep. In essence, names and titles, just like Abram's transformation into Abraham, are not mere syntactic changes. They are symbolic representations of our journey, our commitment, and our evolving relationship with ourselves, with others, and in many cases, with a higher purpose or power. They map out our life's chronicle, capturing the essence of our experiences, achievements, challenges, and aspirations.
      Another pivotal aspect of Abraham's relationship with God was his obedience. The Biblical narrative places immense emphasis on Abram’s unwavering obedience and faith in the Lord. Obedience, in various forms, plays a critical role in our daily lives. Whether it’s adhering to societal norms, following spiritual guidelines, or abiding by the rules of our workplace, obedience is key. It’s how we show commitment and dedication to a higher power or principle. Drawing parallels, Abraham’s act of circumcision as a sign of his covenant can be equated with the many rituals and commitments in today’s world. From baptism to wedding vows, from academic degrees to job contracts, these are all tokens of our dedication and faith in a chosen path. The question then arises: What truly drives our obedience? Is it fear, love, hope, or a combination of these elements? Abraham's obedience stemmed from his profound faith and trust in God's promises, even when the path seemed uncertain or fraught with challenges. His willingness to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, upon God's request is a testament to the depth of his belief and his commitment to his divine covenant.
      In modern society, our motivations for obedience can be multifaceted. Some may follow a path out of respect for tradition and heritage, while others might be driven by personal convictions or societal expectations. For many, rituals like marriage ceremonies or graduation ceremonies represent not just societal norms but personal milestones, signifying growth, commitment, and transition. They mark our dedication not just to an institution or another person, but to our own personal growth and the promises we make to ourselves. However, with obedience also comes the responsibility to question and reflect. Abraham might have obeyed, but he also engaged in dialogue with God, showcasing that obedience does not necessarily mean blind adherence. In our lives, while it's crucial to respect and follow certain traditions and norms, it's equally important to understand their significance and, if needed, engage in thoughtful introspection or constructive dialogue. Only then can our acts of obedience transcend ritualistic actions and become meaningful expressions of our faith, commitment, and identity.
      Perhaps one of the most profound takeaways from Abraham’s story is the concept of the "everlasting" covenant. This wasn't a short-term agreement but a commitment spanning generations.  In a world where the fleeting nature of trends and instant gratification often takes center stage, the notion of an everlasting covenant invites us to reconsider our understanding of commitments. Abraham's covenant with God was not just about his immediate relationship with the Lord, but it was a promise that had implications for countless generations that would follow. It was a testament to the lasting impact of our actions and decisions, a reminder that what we commit to today can resonate far into the future. This perspective challenges us to think beyond our immediate circumstances and consider the long-term implications of our actions. Are we making decisions that prioritize short-term gains over lasting benefits?
  1. The transformation of "Abram" to "Abraham" signifies not just a change in name but a deeper covenantal relationship with God. How do names and titles in our own lives represent shifts in identity, purpose, or relationship? In what ways can a change in name or title influence our perception of ourselves and our role in a larger story?
  1. The passage emphasizes the importance of obedience, as seen in Abram's reactions and actions towards God's commands. How does obedience play a role in our personal relationships with God? How do you think the act of circumcision as a covenantal sign compares to commitments we make to display our dedication and faith?
  2. The idea of the "everlasting" covenant made with Abraham is multi-generational, spanning countless descendants. In what ways do you think the promises and covenants we make today impact future generations? How can we ensure that our commitments are made with a long-term, multigenerational perspective in mind?

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