“I have called you by name.” Wow! What a powerful statement! Our God, the God who created the universe, all that we see, all that we cannot see, knows who we are – each and every one of us. He knows our name! That in and of itself makes us important to him. Such great news!
Knowing someone’s name is the beginning of relationship. What’s the first thing you do when you meet someone new? You exchange names. “Hi, I’m Sandi” is an invitation to call me by name and get to know a little about me. The initial exchange of names opens the door to continued conversation, and over time, can lead to additional time together, shared experiences, love and trust. Knowing someone’s name makes meaningful relationship happen. God’s knowing of our name means that the door to an intimate relationship with him stands wide open. He longs for a deep relationship with us as individuals.
God has given us his name. “But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.’’ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.” (Exodus 3:13-15) We also know God in Jesus Christ: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
In the Bible, someone’s name gives a person their identity. The ancients believed there was power in knowing one’s name. People were frequently given names that described them (Isaac “he laughs”, Esau “hairy”, etc.) God frequently gave people new names. In renaming them, God gave them new identities and tasks. The new name came with God’s promise to be with the person and help them fulfill their God-given mission. This name giving creates a unique relationship with God, one in which God and the person named work side by side to fulfill God’s will.
Abram (“high father”) becomes Abraham (“father of many”) when God chooses him to be the father of the faith. Sarai (“my princess”) was changed to Sarah, “mother of nations.” Jacob, second born of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, means “heel holder.” He was renamed Israel (“contended with God”) after wrestling with an angel of the Lord. Jesus changed Simon’s name (“God has heard”) to Peter (“the rock”) because Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God is the rock on which the church is built. God changed the name of the early church’s greatest persecutor, Saul, to Paul which means “humble,” after his conversion to Apostle to the Gentiles.
God no longer seems to give us new names when he calls us to specific tasks, but he does know us, call us, and promise to be with us in all that we do.
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)