A New Name

When my husband was assigned to the School Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia, he regularly attended the graduation for the Drill Sergeant School. The ceremonies always brought a smile to his face as he watched young soldiers accept greater leadership responsibility. He described the scene as transformational. During a typical graduation a soldier would timidly step on to the stage. There was nothing special about the soldier’s carriage or countenance. The everyday camouflage cover was removed from the head and a drill sergeant hat donned in its place. That’s when it happened: transformation. The soldier would stand taller, chest thrust out further, leaving the stage with purpose and determination. The new title, “Drill Sergeant,” signaled a new era in the life of this soldier.

Thus far on our journey with Abraham, we have seen God call Abraham to respond to a promise and affirm that the promise would come. Now God guarantees the promise in covenant with Abraham. In this act (and an earlier encounter in Genesis 15:7–21), God made a formal and legally binding pledge, or grant, that he would guarantee his promise to Abraham and his offspring.

God made this promise to Abraham when he first left Ur, but in this scene it is as if Abraham finally grasped the concept. He fell on his face before God as a sign of acceptance of God’s command. A new era was signaled when God said, “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” (Genesis 17:5).

In biblical times names were much more than identification labels. They signified a person’s character or destiny. This change in name for Abraham (and soon for Sarah), symbolized the internal change that had taken place. The names were changed by God himself and represented God’s seal on their future in his divine plan. As they walked closer to God, their priorities changed, and so did their role in history.

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