So, Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
I, like Chris Baxter did yesterday, chuckled a bit when I realized that my writing again was about a “name”. (Remember last week Kit’s writing and my post was about Gideon and the “name” that God addressed him…Mighty Warrior.) Well, this week we see once again how important names are.
The name, “Jacob,” in Hebrew means “supplanter”, “over reacher”, or “following at the heel”. An adjective form of the word even means “deceiver”. Isaac and his wife must have had a quirky sense of humor to name their son “supplanter”— all because, when he was born, he was holding on to his twin brother’s foot. I’m sure that Jacob’s parents never dreamed that this name would become their son’s defining trait. But from the time he was a child, Jacob lived up to his name, playing tricks on his brother, even cheating/deceiving Esau out of his birthright as the oldest son.
Jacob had no idea of his true potential in God’s eyes. We are a lot like that. Especially if in our past a relative or other adult made a careless, insensitive remark that crushed our self-image, like telling us that we never do anything right, or asking why we can’t be smart like our sibling.
Notice that God gave Jacob a new name, “Israel”— one that reflected what God had planned for him. God renamed Jacob long before the young man had made any changes in his attitude or behavior. God knew what Jacob/Israel was capable of once he teamed up with God.
What happened that night that was recorded in Genesis 32: 24-28? Well, God had taken on the form of an angel. When Jacob wrestled with God and would not let go until God blessed him, it showed Jacob’s determination. The young man had felt cheated out of the traditional family blessing by only a couple of seconds. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t fair. He and Esau were twins and should have shared the birthright equally, but tradition wouldn’t allow it. That night, locked in battle with God, he realized that this was his chance to be blessed by God, so he held on to God for dear life.
When we struggle to handle tough situations, sometimes God lets us get a glimpse of our true strengths. Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Jacob’s determination and persistence came out while he wrestled with God. These were qualities that God had already instilled in him. Suddenly Jacob knew that he was more than the cheater that everyone said he was. Sister, when you are in the middle of a crisis, do you hold on to God for dear life?
Jacob’s new name changed his self-image and his life purpose. The Hebrew name יִשְׂרָאֵל (Yisra'el) means "God contends,” “God fights.” As “Israel”, Jacob now saw himself as fighting side by side with God against the enemy. He didn’t have to cheat to get what he wanted. He now knew that he was strong enough to fight for what was right, to be a defender of others, and to live for God.
Just like Jacob, God has a new name for you. Your new name is an expression of the potential He has placed in you and the purpose He has called you to. You no longer have to be crushed by Satan’s relentless reminders of your past failures or his cruel comparisons, making you feel unworthy. Instead, remember that when you accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you were freed from your past and made worthy and able to accomplish whatever God has called you to do.
Maybe your new name is “Lifts Others Up”, or “Stands Up for the Truth”, or “Peacemaker”. Think about what you do for the Lord that makes you happiest. That will give you a clue as to what your new name is. Your new name describes your calling. When Jacob began living the way God wanted him to, God promised that he would father a whole nation: “A nation and a community of nations will come from you...” (Gen. 35:11). Jacob/Israel became an inspiration like Abraham and Isaac, so much so that an entire nation, Israel, adopted his new name as their own. As you live according to your God-given name, God will touch others through you.
For additional reading: Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 2:10, 4:22-24, 2 Chronicles 7:14
Dear Lord, I am so glad that You don’t see me as the sum of my past failures. You don’t chain me to my weaknesses. Instead, as my heavenly Father, You have given me a new name so that, like Jacob, I can start becoming what You have called me to be. You have a plan for me and every day You are equipping me and letting me discover my strengths through each challenge that I face. Through it all, I cling to You for dear life. And like Jacob, I receive your blessings. Thank you, Father. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.