Meaning Of Names Being Changed?

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Hi B____,
Thank you for your question.
You ask why God changes people’s names in the Bible, and you ask if there is a spiritual significance to this.
The short answer is that God changes names to tell you and me what He is doing, and yes indeed, there is a spiritual significance, because what He is doing is always being done for our benefit in the permanent, spiritual realm.
Let’s look at the examples you give to make that simple point. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. Andrew Jukes points out that adding that ‘h’ is adding an expiring of breath upon Abram, changing Him from a mere Abram to a new Abraham. Abraham is now a new man with a new name, and the same is true of every one whose name our Lord changes.
Now let’s see what these names mean and what their new names mean. I am using Hitchcock’s dictionary of Bible names.

1) Abram – high father
Abraham – father of a great multitude
2) Jacob – that supplants, undermines; the heel (same as James)
Israel – who prevails with God
3) Saul – demanded; lent; ditch; death (same as Shaul)
Paul – small; little (same as Paulus)
Let’s also include Abraham’s wife whose name was also changed.
4) Sarai – my lady; my princess
Sarah – lady; princess; princess of the multitude

So Abram goes from being an exalted or high father to a father of a multitude, and His wife from a lady princess to a princess of the multitude, because as “Abraham” he is an Old Testament type of our Lord who is the true “Father of many nations” meaning, eventually “all in Adam”.

Gal 3:29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Abraham is but a type of our Lord, who is the Savior of all, hence the need to change Abram’s name to Abraham.

1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

You need to know the story of Jacob and Esau to understand what God is doing and why He changed Jacob’s name to Israel. It was not because Jacob was a good man, which tells us that God does not choose you or me because of who or what we are. Jacob means supplanter, or one who undermines another. In this case it was his poor brother Esau. Jacob talked him out of his birthright for a mere “bowl of red pottage”, then later Jacob lied to his elderly, blind father in order to outright steal Esau’s blessing as the first- born son.
But all of this is a type of what you and I are doing, both individually as undeserving children as well as a type of what our calling “in Christ” is doing to physical Israel. It was known of, and is the working of, God as are all things good and evil.

Psa 139:16 Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. (ASV)
Pro 16:4 The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked [ you, me, Jacob] for the day of evil [ in you, me, and in Jacob].
Rom 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
Rom 9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
Rom 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

That has a lot to do with all the name changes in scripture. They all highlight and emphasize God doing His own sovereign work in all things. Let’s read on here in Rom 9.

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? [ Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
Rom 9:15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Rom 9:16 So then it [ salvation] is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Rom 9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
Rom 9:18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Rom 9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
Rom 9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
Rom 9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The answer is, the Potter has the power over the clay to make it a vessel of honor or a vessel of dishonor, and He has decided that we are all to be first, “marred” clay vessels of dishonor, and then to have our names changed and be made into vessels of honor.

Jer 18:4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Saul of Tarsus had his name changed for the reason revealed in this story about the king of Israel whose name Saul of Tarsus bore.

1Sa 15:13 And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed [ be] thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
1Sa 15:14 And Samuel said, What [ meaneth] then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
1Sa 15:15 And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
1Sa 15:16 Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.
1Sa 15:17 And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
1Sa 15:18 And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.
1Sa 15:19 Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?

As we saw above the name ‘Saul’ means “demanded” or ‘demanded of’. Israel had demanded that God give them a king over them like all the nations around them. So God gave them King Saul, whose name means ‘demanded’. Saul of Tarsus demanded repentance from all who claimed to be Christians.

Act 9:1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
Act 9:2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

But Saul was just about to experience an ‘attitude adjustment’, which we all must experience. It is only after we have had that crushing experience, where everything we have worked for so hard in this life is taken from us, that any of us are in a position to be given “a new name”.
King Saul is a type of our old man who goes from humble childhood to thinking of himself as the king of Israel who doesn’t need to listen closely to the words of God. He goes from be “little in his own eyes” to being king. Saul of Tarsus, on the other hand, is our new man who comes forth out of our old man who “goes into perdition”.
But “a new name” from our Lord Himself is in store for us all in our new man, each in our own appointed time. Only those who are truly “made another vessel as seemed good to the Potter” know who they are, and no man can take that from them.

Isa 62:2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
Rev 2:17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

I hope this all helps you to see that the names which are changed in scripture were all changed for our own spiritual admonition, and that there is a spiritual lesson to be learned from each and every one of them.
Collectively they are all just types of us upon whom the ends of the world have come.

1Co 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

Your brother in Christ,

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