The changing ( by God ) of names in Scripture should never be taken lightly!
When God changed Abram's name to Abraham, it almost looks, to our English ( American ) eyes like all He really did was add an 'h' and another 'a' to come up with, instead of 'exalted father', 'father of many nations'. This name-change, like many other significant happenings recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, pointed forward to the spread of the Gospel, and the fact that it was not Abraham's physical descendants, but his spiritual progeny, that would inherit the Land of Promise. We can see this by reading certain of the Apostle Paul's letters. It helps to understand Abraham's beginnings as well, for we can find, through other writings, as well as Scripture, that Abram was an immportant leader in the economy of Chaldea, or lower Assyria, of which Babylon is probably one of the most infamous biblical cities!
Jacob means 'one who supplants, or undermines'. Jacob, when he was born, is known for the fact that when his brother was born first, Jacob grasped the heel of Esau, signifying what he would do later in life, taking his elder brother's place, for all intents and purposes, as the firstborn among his brethren! The correlation too, between Jacob and the heel is also significant in biblical prophecy in that it was the heel that would later be bruised by the serpent ( Genesis 3:15 ), though He would crush the serpent's head! As Jacob grew and became a man ( adam ), and began to exercise dominion, God changed his name to Israel after he had wrestled with the Angel ( messenger ) of the Lord. The name Israel literally refers to the fact that he wrestled with God, although the name 'Israel' is most often understood to mean 'prince, or ruler with God'!
As we cycle through the events leading up to the Revelation of the Christ, there are many such circumstances and happenings, though sometimes seemingly trivial and insignificant that point toward the expansion or explosion of the Good News throughout God's Creation, and the Identification of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God as the True Israel, and the Last Adam ( Man ), as Emannuel, or God With Us! The Gospel Expansion was never meant to be, as the physical seed of Abraham assumed, for one certain people, dwelling in one certain place; it was always to be for the whole Creation, for all people, as these new names, among other things, plainly signified!
The apostle Paul's name-change is likely one of the least noticeable, yet most important in biblical history! Saul is the name given him by his parents, and this name means 'asked for', as in 'prayed for', or 'desired'. One might recall that this name was also borne, almost infamously, by the first king of Israel. Thoughout this story, which is recorded in I Samuel 8, with Israel's official rejection of God as their King, Saul was referred to as 'the desire of Israel' ( see I Samuel 9:20 ). Jesus, by contrast, was called 'the Desire of all nations', by the prophet Isaiah!
Paul, a Roman name, means 'small', not as in 'diminutive', but as in 'humble' ( even insignificant? ) As we read in the Story of Saul's exaltation, beginning in I Samuel 9, we see that Saul came from a very exalted position, and was very pleasant to look upon as well; much to be desired! As the Story of Saul's Exaltation continues, we see how the idea of 'power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely' might have its beginnings. Saul was a very proud man, but was brought low because of it!
This was significant of the Apostle Paul who also had much reason for pride, as we read in several of his letters, most notably, to the Philipppians ( chapter 4 ). However, in Acts 9, how Saul, as he was known then, was also brought to his knees! It was sometime after this humbling experience that Saul the exalted, desired one, became known as Paul, the small, humble, almost insignificant one Paul, being the apostle to the Gentiles, was by no means insignificant, being the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, whereby He was the Father of many Nations!
Charles Haddon Shank