Naming Names

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And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:15-21

Red Hibiscus | Houston Botanical Garden | July 2021

“Adams?” “Here.” “Bahn?” “Here.” Blankenship?” “Here!” “Carter” “She’s not here,” someone offers. So was the roll call in junior high home room. We all had a name and knew to let the teacher know we were present when he called our names for attendance. But there’s far more to a name than a means by which someone can be counted “here” or “absent.”

When someone calls you by name, they are expressing a knowledge of you. They are claiming a place in your life. Demanding your attention. Some names are famous: Luther, Paul, Isaiah, Isaac, Abraham. And now God will name some more who should be famous to us. These instruct us as to the reach of God, and his claim on our attention and lives. And our place in his mind and heart – anthropomorphically-speaking.

In the case of these few verses God names three people beyond Abraham who are written into the story of redemption and who do not escape his gracious and merciful attention. 

First is Sarai, who will now be named, “Sarah.” Both Sarai and Sarah mean princess. Sarah is called by God to give him place in her heart. He is requiring her attendance to the matters at hand. He is also opening himself to her. He has her name on his lips and in his heart and mind – again, – anthropomorphically-speaking. 

Furthermore, God tells Abraham that no one will supplant her in the story of blessing that God is writing in their lives. She, herself, will be the mother of the child of promise. She and Abraham will be parents. They will conceive a child. God will bless her. She will become nations. 

Then Abraham has what he thinks is a better idea. Ishmael could the the promised son! It would be so much easier. No trouble trying to figure out how to conceive at this age. No difficult morning sickness to endure with Sarah at his side. No “new boss” in the home. Ishmael! Let’s go with Ishmael, Abraham says. 

Not to be. But God does not dismiss Ishmael. He dismisses merely Abraham’s plan not Ishmael himself. God has a place for Ishmael in his heart, and in the story of grace, mercy, and blessing that he is writing. God will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and he will become a great nation. 

Then there is laughing boy. Isaac is the child of promise. He will be born. It will be yet another year. But he will be born. God will establish his covenant with Isaac. 

Perhaps you are an Isaac: a child of God with whom God has established his covenant. Maybe you are a Sarah, one who will yet deliver a gift to the world. Are you a laughing boy, the child of promise, the fruition of your parents’ hopes and dreams? If so, fulfill your destiny and become all God intends for you to become – under his gracious favor – no matter what your name may be. You might be an Ishmael, one who is not part of the covenant, but whom God will bless. Will you receive the invitation to join the covenant of the redeemed? Will you let God put his name on you and make you part of his family? 

Those who are of faith are the children of Abraham, and as such we are eternally blessed. God knows us by name. We are his redeemed and blessed sons and daughters.

You must understand that people who have faith are Abraham’s descendants. Scripture saw ahead of time that God would give his approval to non-Jewish people who have faith. So Scripture announced the Good News to Abraham ahead of time when it said, “Through you all the people of the world will be blessed.” So people who believe are blessed together with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9

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