Leon Kass comments, “The change of Abram’s name, offered in conjunction with God’s abundant promise, is in fact deeply significant. ‘Abraham’s very identity is now inextricable from God’s promise of abundant offspring. His being depends on God’s speech. If God breaks his promise, Abraham ceases to be Abraham.’”1 Abraham cannot be Abraham unless God is faithful. It all depends on the promise.
Ninety-nine years is a long time to wait for a new name. Most men make a name for themselves well before. Through their work, they conquer their field and make their contribution. Through their family, they establish their progeny and expand their influence.
But for Abram, it was a different story. We meet him in Genesis 12, where God calls him to go to a land he will show him (Genesis 12:1). He was a foreigner in a strange land, unknown by the world, childless, landless. In a world that depended so much on one’s family line, he was as nameless as they come.
The irony is the name Abram carried meant “Exalted Father.” Would he ever live into his name? That question constantly nagged. In his seventy-fifth year he heard a word from God and followed him into a new land, chasing promises from a God previously unknown but one whom he deemed trustworthy, Abram put all his chips on God’s square. What had become of the gamble? So far nothing.
But the promised remained. Not only did it remain, but it was also constantly reinforced. God kept coming to Abram, bolstering his word with covenants and signs and everything else.