Dr. Tan Kok Beng
Naming and Name Changing!
Throughout the Word of God, we notice that objects, places, phenomena and persons are named for some descriptive reason. For example, take the name Bethel:
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. (Genesis 28:10-18)
Bethel means house of God.
Change of name entails change of destiny in the Word of God
Another name change we read of is that of Jacob, which means “supplanter” or “heel-catcher” due to his being born catching Esau’s heel. The name also implies being a “cheat, deceiver, thief”. Calling anyone by that name is like cursing him- cheat, thief, deceiver. According to Proverbs 18:20-21, the power of the spoken word will activate the curse or blessing it speaks:
From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
When Jacob met God on the banks of the River Jabbok (Gen.32), he surrendered his life to God. The Lord then blessed him and gave him a new name- “Israel”, which means “prince with God”. From a deceiver and supplanter, he became a prince of God. From that day onwards, he would never be the same again.
This new name changed his life and destiny. From a crook he became the Father of Israel-producing 12 sons which in turn became the 12 tribes of Israel. The history and destiny of the whole world became affected by that change. From Jacob’s lineage came Joseph, David and Christ. What an impact on history and the nations of the world they made!
The Story of Jacob-Israel
Let us examine the life of Jacob-Israel and see how he became thus:
There was a surrender and commitment to God. For over 25 years Jacob lived his own sinful, deceptive life. He had been cheating his own brother and others and in turn also got cheated. No end of trouble in his life. Then he met God in a special way in Jabbok. God wrestled with him until he yielded to the Lord.
Upon his surrender, God changed his name and life. His destiny was also turned around. The blessing and favor of God suddenly descended on his life and never stopped. He enjoyed long life, peace and satisfaction.
Hebrews 11:21 gives us an indication of his life. He worshipped God and walked by faith even in old age. That means from that day he met God, he had been faithful in his walk with God:
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
The above three points must be kept in mind if we are to see a new experience and to have our destiny turned around.
But more importantly, it is not just our wanting to change the name. It is God who must tell us to change our names. If you are naming a child, you should seek God for a name and not anyone else (not even the grandfather).
Names of Endearments
Those who have ever fallen in love and married their sweethearts will remember that during their courting days they gave nicknames to one another. These are endearing names which express their devotion and love for each other.
God also does that, as He is the greatest Lover of all times. He gave names or descriptions to some special people with whom He had a special relationship. For example, He Himself called David “a man after My own heart”. He addressed Jesus as “My beloved Son”.
The Joy and Tragedy in the Story of Solomon
The one special name God gave to Solomon at his birth was “Jedidiah” which means “beloved of Yahweh” or “Beloved of Jehovah”. That was how much God loved Solomon which means “peaceable”. All people referred to the king as Solomon but God called him by his special name, “Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:24,25).
Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.
Jedidiah means ‘loved by the LORD’.
This name implies that God’s desire was to draw Solomon close to Himself and show Himself to him. There was to be such an intimacy between them that no one in this world could have with God. That was why God personally appeared to Solomon twice. The first time it was to give him wisdom, wealth and greatness (1 Kings 3:1-15).
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
“Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for-both riches and honor-so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke-and he realized it had been a dream.
The second time God appeared to Solomon was when he had built the grand Temple for Him (1 Kings 9: 1-11).
When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. The LORD said to him:
“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
“As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’
“But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’
People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them-that is why the LORD brought all this disaster on them.’ ”
How pleased God was with their relationship. Solomon would have been greater and more blessed if he had continued that relationship.
Pride and Lust Bring Downfall
However, after 20 years in his walk with God and enjoying the goodness of God like no other men in history had, two things crept into his life that destroyed everything. Pride slowly crept in when he became more famous and more powerful. He started to marry for territorial gain-taking the daughters of the kings of heathen nations to be his wives. The attention he gave to his 1000 wives replaced his love for God and time with God. Pride and lust destroyed him, his kingdom and his soul. What a sad end! How many great men of God since then have also fallen due to these evils?
God’s Love for Us Expressed through Loving Names
God also wants to call us by endearing names. He actually does, the moment we gave our lives to Him (Isaiah 62: 4,5).
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a maiden,
so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
So let us not be like Solomon. Let us start well and end well. Let’s remain His “Hephzibah” (My delight) and “Beulah” (My married).
Humility and Name Change
Another name change is that of Saul of Tarsus. After he became a believer and a preacher of the Gospel, he took on the name of Paul. The name Saul in Hebrew means “asked for”. But knowing the history of King Saul who was dethroned by God and cursed, as well as his own experience of persecuting Christians and allowing Stephen to be stoned, he might not have wanted to be known by that name. The evil memory of the name Saul may have determined his change of name.
I think this is true of our experience. Some names do insinuate a curse each time we call them. Or we may not want to be associated with a name like Judas, Lucifer, or even Balaam. Whether God asked him to change his name or not, we are not told. However, knowing him, he would not have done it without prayerful consideration.
The name Paul means “little”. Figuratively speaking, Paul would have considered himself “little” in the sight of man and God. It could imply his humble attitude towards himself like the Baptist who said, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3: 30). What we do know about Paul is that he was indeed a great man who achieved great things for God, yet he said of himself, “I am the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8) and “I am the least of the all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:6).
I do think that it was because of his humility that God honored and blessed him. He had the sense of unworthiness in the presence of a holy God. He wrote to his young son in the faith, “I am the worst of sinners, yet God poured out His grace abundantly on me” (1 Timothy 1: 14-15).
Is it any wonder then that God used this humble servant so mightily? Paul was little in his own eyes but great in the sight of God. He thought and talked little of himself, but spoke highly of his great Master Jesus Christ. He was drawing people to Christ , and not people to himself, like some preachers do. Humility is a rare commodity these days and very hard to find in people. Yet God’s promise is: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4: 7, 10).
Dr. Tan Kok Beng
Bethany International University
Asia-Pacific Mission, Ltd.