Names matter to God. In ancient cultures the name seemed to matter more than it does now. Nowadays, we are much more concerned about choosing a name for our children based on how it sounds with the last name or whether it might lead to unfortunate nicknames. In biblical culture names represented character and were often based on circumstance at the time of the birth. Isaac means laughter; Peter means rock; Jabez means one who was brought forth in pain. Knowing someone’s name often meant knowing his character. When Moses asked God what his name was, it was more than just “what should I call you?”; it was more like “who are you?”.

But it is also a question that God expects us to answer. Jacob struggled all night with God and refused to let go until God blessed him. God’s response to his demand for a blessing was “What is your name?”

This question demanded that Jacob identify and define who he actually was…by name and by behavior. In saying his name, Jacob describes his character. To his credit, Jacob didn’t dodge the answer. He didn’t say he was Isaac’s son or Rachel’s husband or Esau’s brother. He didn’t say that he was the owner of this property or threaten him. He told the truth. He said he was “cheater”. He tells the truth of who he has been. He has stolen his brother’s birth rite and blessing. His honest answer to God’s question brought him self-respect that he has never had before. God gives him a new name, Israel, that signifies new hope and a new start. Hos 12:3-4 says that the name Israel means “he who struggles with God”. This new name that will give him a heritage to grow into, not a curse that will hold him back. He will now be identified by his relationship with God, rather than his mistreatment of his brother.

It is common biblical practice for God to change the name of people who need a new start in life, who need to leave behind what they’ve been and become more of the people God created them to be, who need to be defined by what they can be, rather than what they have been.

God asks the same of us. And when we are honest about who we have been, he gives us a new identity. Some in the Bible got a new name here on earth: Abram, Sarai, Saul of Tarsus. But we will all receive a new name in heaven. The same God who sacrificed himself to rescue you from the consequences of your sin will give you a new name that defines who you can be, rather than who you have been.

Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Let your name be associated with who you are becoming, rather than who you have been.