In the Bible we have several illustrations of people having their name changed by God. He obviously wanted people to rise to new heights of effectiveness as a result of such changes. Names, and their meanings, were very important to people in Bible days.
The most notable examples of a name change would be that of Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. A lesser known one is that of Solomon to Jedidiah.
SAUL TO PAUL:
Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, but we’re not told that God changed it for him. Up to Acts 13:9 he was known as Saul, but from then on he is referred to as Paul.
The name "Saul" means t powerful in ministry."asked" (Young’s Analytical Concordance & Strong’s Concordance), or "requested" (A Dictionary of Proper Names, by J.B. Jackson), whereas the name "Paul" means "little" (Young’s, Strong’s & Jackson). The Saul of the Old Testament had the meaning of his name fulfilled by his becoming the first king of Israel at the "request" of the people. Paul evidently was small in stature, a humble servant, yet powerful in ministry.
JOSEPH TO ZAPHNATHPAANEAH:
In Genesis 41:45 Pharaoh called Joseph "Zaphnathpaaneah" (Joseph is definitely easier to pronounce!). He was 30 years old at the time.
The name "Joseph" means "increaser" (Young’s); "let him add, adding (Strong’s); or "let him add" (Jackson), while the name "Zaphnathpaaneah" means "saviour of the world" (Young’s); or "treasury of the glorious rest" (Jackson). Joseph’s life demonstrated the meaning of the name. In all his circumstances he prospered under the blessing of God. Pharaoh called him Zaphnathpaaneah (say it again!) because of his incredible ability to save the nation from ruin in the time of harvest and famine.
GIDEON TO JERUBBAAL:
Gideon’s father (Joash) renamed him from Gideon to Jerubbaal (Judges 6:32).
The name "Gideon" means "feller, hewer, i.e. great warrior" (Young’s); "feller, i.e. warrior" (Strong’s); or "the cutter down" (Jackson), whereas "Jerubbaal" means "contender with Baal" (Young’s); "Baal will contend" (Strong’s); or "Baal will be contended (with): Baal will be taught" (Jackson). Gideon was anything but a great warrior to start off with. However, for 40 years he led Israel from bondage to peace and security! The name "Jerubbaal" was given because of his one exploit of cutting down the groves of Baal.
ABRAM TO ABRAHAM:
It appears that in Bible days the meaning of names had prophetic impact. Your name spoke of your destiny. For example, Abram (meaning "father of height" - Young’s; "high father" - Strong’s; or "father is exalted" - Jackson) had his name changed to Abraham (meaning "father of a multitude" - Young’s; "to be populous; father of a multitude" - Strong’s; or "father of a great multitude" - Jackson). See Genesis 17:1-7. From that time Abram was called Abraham. The prophetic meaning and fulfilment of the name "Abraham" happened in his later years, but even more so after his death.
SARAI TO SARAH:
Sarai (meaning "Jah is prince" - Young’s; "dominative" - Strong’s; or "my princesses" - Jackson. The word "dominative" here would not tend to mean a controller so much as one "who towered above" - Collins Dictionary) had her name changed to Sarah (meaning "princess" - Young’s; "female noble: lady, princess, queen" - Strong’s; or "a princess" - Jackson). See Genesis 17:15. From that time Sarai was known as Sarah. Sarah was a very beautiful woman, even in her older age, to the point where others would have taken her for themselves (Genesis 12:15 - she was about 65 at that time).
SOLOMON TO JEDIDIAH:
In 2 Samuel 12:24-25 we have an interesting account of Solomon being called Jedidiah at birth, either by God, or by the prophet Nathan, or, as one translation puts it, "nicknamed by David." Let’s look closer:
"And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he (David?) called his name Solomon: and the Lord loved him. And He (the Lord?) sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he (Nathan?) called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord" (KJV).
"Then David comforted his wife Bath-sheba, and he went and lay with her. She gave birth to a son and they (David and Bath-sheba?) named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, He (the Lord?) sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah" (NIV).
"David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bare a son, and she called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved [the child]; He (the Lord?) sent [a message] by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and [Nathan] called the boy’s [special] name Jedidiah [beloved of the Lord], because the Lord [loved the child]" (AMP.).
"Then David comforted Bath-sheba; and when he slept with her, she conceived and gave birth to a son and named him Solomon. And the Lord loved the baby, and sent congratulations and blessings through Nathan the prophet. David nicknamed the baby Jedidiah (meaning ‘Beloved of Jehovah’) because of the Lord’s interest" (TLB).
(I’ve included these translations so you can see the differences.)
The name "Solomon" means "peace" (Young’s); "peaceful" (Strong’s); or "peaceableness" (Jackson); whereas the name "Jedidiah" means "Jah is a friend" (Young’s); "beloved of Jah" (Strong’s & Jackson). It is interesting that even though it appears God gave the name "Jedidiah" this is the only time it is mentioned in the Bible and David continued to use the name "Solomon" for his son. Even God referred to him as Solomon (e.g. 1 Chronicles 22:7-19; 1 Kings 3:5). The name "Jedidiah" was not referred to, nor used again. (I wonder why it was recorded at all, or that way?)
JACOB TO ISRAEL:
The issue that started this study going for me was of the name change of Jacob to Israel. We will look at three passages in Genesis.
The first is Genesis 32:24-28. This was the time in Jacob’s life when he was returning home after many years of serving his father-in-law, Laban. He was returning to face his brother Esau who, previously, had declared he would kill his brother for "robbing" him of his birthright and blessing. Jacob was, to say the least, very unsure of the reception he would get. Suddenly he had one of those times in life when he was alone and he encountered an angel of God who wrestled with him throughout the night. As a result of Jacob’s prevailing with the angel he was asked,
"What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (NIV).
"[The Man] asked him, What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob - supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler! And He said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob [supplanter], but Israel [contender with God]; for you have contended and have power with God and with men, and have prevailed" (AMP.).
The name "Jacob" means "following after, supplanter" - (Young’s); "heel-catcher (i.e. supplanter)" (Strong’s); or "he will take by the heel" (Jackson).
The name "Israel" means "ruling with God" (Young’s); "he will rule as God" (Strong’s); or "he shall be prince of God" (Jackson). Something happened in Jacob’s life that night. From then his life carried an impartation from God that others recognized and respected (Genesis 35:5).
The second passage of Scripture is Genesis 35:9-15. After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him,
"Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel. So He (God) named him Israel . . . " (NIV).
Twice now we have read, "You will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel." Yet if we turn to the third passage of Scripture with regards Jacob and Israel, we see that God still called him Jacob! Genesis 46:2-4.
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!" (Genesis 46:2-4).
What are we to glean from this? It seems that Jacob experienced some real "high spots" in his life. When it really mattered he could rise to be "Israel." The setting in Genesis 46 is that of a man who had had "the stuffing knocked out of him" by the actions of his own sons in "selling out" Joseph. Jacob had mourned for years over the "loss" of Joseph. Even God had allowed him to believe "a lie" until this moment. Maybe, through discouragement and hurt, Jacob had drifted back into some of his old "Jacob thinking" ways? (Have you found how easy it is to do that?)
I find it amazing that God had not revealed to Jacob the evil doings of his sons regarding their dealings to Joseph, which meant Jacob believed for a number of years that Joseph was dead! But in fact he was very much alive in Egypt. Then God spoke to him in the visions of the night, "Jacob! Jacob!" the name God said he would no longer be called by!
Maybe God was challenging Jacob with the spiritual aspect of the meaning of his name, "following after, taking by the heel"?
Maybe God was saying, "Jacob, believe Me, trust Me; you’ve thought for years that Joseph was dead, but follow Me, take a hold of My heel (so to speak), and I will lead you to your son who is fulfilling My purpose in Egypt"?
Maybe God was saying, "Jacob, you had to trust Me before when you went far away to Laban’s house (as Jacob). I blessed you then and provided for you then, and I can do the same for you again. Trust Me by going down to Egypt; for there you will see your son Joseph"?
(I really don’t know the answers to why God does what He does. I don’t know why He reverted back to calling Israel Jacob. But I find it fascinating and thought-provoking, and I hope these notes will provoke you to think about these things too).
In 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 we read of Jabez, a man with only the one name, but a name that had two different meanings: 1. "to grieve, sorrowful" (Strong’s) and "whiteness swept away: mire swept away: shovel of mire" (Jackson) and 2. "height" (Young’s):
"Jabez was more distinguished than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because she had such a hard time at his birth (Jabez means ‘Distress’).
He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that You would wonderfully bless me and help me in my work; please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all evil and disaster! ‘And God granted him his request" (1 Chronicles 4:9-10, TLB).
That prayer, that cry to God brought about the change that enabled Jabez to rise out of his rejection and the blame of his mother’s pain being engraved in the very naming of him. How extraordinary that a mother would inflict her child in such a way. But Jabez rose above it and fulfilled a destiny! He knew what it was to change from a "grieving, sorrowful" man to experience great "heights" in God.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
In Bible days destinies were in their names. Even today, in the Christian Church, God is working in us to change us from the old "Jacob nature" into the new "Israel nature." From the natural to the spiritual. The old Jacob lived according to "what’s in it for me?" whereas the new Israel lives in the resurrection power of God. For us today, our name - that of "Christians" - means "to be like Christ." We are called to live like Christ. To demonstrate His love, grace, peace, joy, forgiveness, power, etc., to a world that has lost its way and has no understanding of its destiny. We have been given authority to use the name of JESUS, the name which is above every other name! (Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9-10; Hebrews 1:4).
In several cultures today, because at birth children are named according to the gods, idols and false religions their parents serve, once they become born-again Christians, they actually change their names to Bible names.
I don’t have a Bible name; I’m "Rodney." What does the name "Rodney" mean? It means "esteemed one" or "famous." Yes, I have a destiny, and so do you. (I’m well on the way to fulfilling mine. How about you?)
Do you know the meaning of your name?
Whatever your name today, with JESUS in your life you are called "Christian" and that’s one of the highest honours you’ll have this side of eternity! Carry that name well!
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