Jacob was rightly named “the cheater, the liar, the supplanter,” but in great grace, God gave him a new name. “Your name will no longer be Jacob... It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Israel means “God rules” or “God wins.”
“Moses renamed Hoshea son of Nun, Joshua” (Numbers 13:16). Hoshea means “salvation.” Joshua and Jesus, its New Testament equivalent, mean “Jehovah is salvation.”
Imagine a conversation. “Hello. My name is ‘God wins!’ It’s nice to meet you. Beautiful day today...”
God renamed Abram saying, “As for me, here is my covenant with you: You will become the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4–5). Abram, “exalted father,” became Abraham, “father of multitudes” or “father of nations.” True to the Lord’s prophetic statement, Abraham did become the “father of nations.”
Jesus gave Peter a new name. “When Jesus saw him, he said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which is translated ‘Peter’)” (John 1:42). Cephas in Aramaic, and Peter in Greek, both mean “stone” or “rock.” Later, when Peter proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus declared, “I also say to you that you are Peter (Petros in Greek), and on this rock (Petra in Greek) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). The church isn’t built on a fisherman named Peter, but on the reality that Jesus is indeed the “Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Joseph was “a Levite from Cyprus.” He was given the name “Barnabas (which is translated Son of Encouragement)”(Acts 4:36). As a mentor and encourager in the New Testament church, he earned that great name.
Saul of Tarsus was a proud Benjaminite, named for his most heroic ancestor. Saul, the first King of Israel, was “an impressive young man. There was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2). With a name like Saul, you could strut and swagger! The other boys on the synagogue’s playground were envious.
As an enemy of Jesus’ Way, the Pharisaical persecutor of the church continued to swagger. Folks on both sides of the religious isle recognized Saul as the heavy-weight, the big-shot, the head-honcho. But, everything changed on the road to Damascus.
As Dr. Luke recorded the events of the first missionary journey, he interjects an important note. Saul was “also called Paul” (Acts 13:9). Paul is translated “small.”
Imagine another conversation. “Hi, my name isn’t king-like, big-shot Saul. My name is small Paul.” Paul saw himself as the insignificant, unimportant, small, Paul. Jesus was the head-honcho. Paul was only His servant, His slave, His disciple ... Small Paul.