All this week I will be sharing some thoughts on the life of Jacob, based on a series of messages I gave at a youth retreat last fall. I pray that this has been encouraging and challenging for you, as it was for me!
Monday we asked the question, “Who are you?” Tuesday, we considered “What do you really want?” Wednesday the question was, “Where are you?” Today we finish our studies of the life of Jacob with one final, very important question: what is your name?
Today we find Jacob, the heel-grabber, the deceiver, fearing for his life as he nears his reunion with Esau. In verses 9-12, Jacob prays as we have never seen him pray before.
Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies…
This is the first time we have seen Jacob acknowledging God’s undeserved mercy and blessing toward him, and expressing faith in God’s promise to watch over him. And what is God’s answer to his prayer?
After dividing his family and possessions into two groups, hoping at least one of them would escape if Esau attacked him, he sends them across a stream ahead of him and prepares to spend the night alone. Then verse 24 says, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” What? How random is that?? It seems strange, but really it is God’s answer to his earlier prayer. If you haven’t read this recently, take a few minutes to brush up on this account – Genesis 32:24-30.
Who is this random man who wrestles with him? Jacob apparently knows – in verse 30 he says, “…I have seen God face to face…”
He is wrestling with Jesus himself! (This is what is known as a “Christophany” – an Old Testament appearance of Christ.)
So Jesus is wrestling with him and Jacob just will not give up. He is fighting and fighting and fighting, so Jesus touches his hip socket, dislocates it, and forces him into submission. Then Jacob refuses to let go of Him unless He blesses Him. Jesus asks Jacob his name, he gives it, and then Jesus says he is no longer Jacob, but will be Israel.
Here is my rephrased version of this chapter.
Jacob, “the deceiver,” the “heel grabber,” finally cries out to God. He finally recognizes that he is absolutely unworthy of all of God’s blessings upon Him, and begs for God’s protection and deliverance. God’s answer to the prayer? Jesus Himself comes and fights Jacob into submission – it is a long struggle, but He physically forces Jacob to submit. Jacob then clings to Him until he receives His blessing.
And then, Jesus asks him what his name is.
Isn’t that a strange question, since God created Jacob, has watched over him, pursued him, and knows him intimately? Did Jacob’s “hello, my name is:” tag fall off during the wrestling match? Why does He ask Jacob’s name?
Imagine the tension here. He is clinging to “the Man” he somehow knows is God Himself and has asked for a blessing. Jesus looks into his eyes and says, “What is your name?” And now Jacob has to say it: I am Jacob. I am a deceiver. I am a heel-grabber. And he knows full well that he has done a bang-up job of living up to that name. Jesus hears his answer and then replies, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel…
This change of name was very significant. He is no longer the deceiver. His name has been changed because his character has been changed.
Imagine that your deepest, darkest sin in your life was your name… what name would you have to confess to Him if you were in Jacob’s position?
We all have something to confess to Him. No one is good except God alone.
It is interesting to me that in Genesis 32:28, Jesus changes Jacob’s name to Israel and says, “because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 there are seven letters to different churches- and each ends with a promise to those who “overcome.”
In Revelation 2:17, Jesus says that He will give to those who overcome “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him to receives it.”
We overcome the same way Jacob did… we don’t overcome by following rules. We don’t overcome by looking the part. We don’t overcome because we have a Christian heritage. We overcome by submitting to Jesus Christ, admitting to Him who we really are, and clinging to Him with all of our strength.
When you do that – He changes your name.
And He changes your story.