Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jacob Gets A Name Change -- Genesis 32:26-28

Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."

Here’s Jacob in extreme pain as we would imagine. While he has just been dealt a blow by God to change the outcome of the battle between them, Jacob’s characteristic determination and stamina causes him to hold on to God with all his might. So much so that God has to say, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” I am not so sure that this was said with respect to the fact that daylight was coming and people across the river might see them when they awoke and heard the commotion. If it was, it certainly points to the possibility that indeed this was a real physical transaction that was taking place between Jacob and God. If it was not, and Jacob was having a dream, it may have been said in reference to the fact that Jacob, having been asleep for sometime and having had a restless night, would soon wake up. If so, whatever the intended purpose of the event was would not have been completed. We do not know. I believe however that when God changes us for His purpose, He does not throw away who or how we had been created to be by Him in the first place. God just takes our strengths and talents and then uses them to His glory.

What we also know is how Jacob answered the question. He said, “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.” There are two things to note here. Jacob still had his own strength. Even though he had received a serious injury to his thigh, he still had sufficient strength in him to hold on and ask to be blessed. When we wrestle with God as to who should have control over our life, no matter how badly we may have been defeated, He will always leave us with enough strength to seek His guidance, His blessing, His protection, and His power.

God then asks Jacob a question He already knew the answer to. “What is your name?” And Jacob tells him. Then God tells Jacob his name from that point on will be Israel. Here is yet another name change in the book of Genesis. First it was his grandfather Abram’s name that God changed to Abraham (father of many nations or a great multitude) in chapter 17. And now it was Jacob’s name that God changed to Israel. And what exactly did that name mean? From the Hebrew, it translates as a prince, and in particular a prince of God. Think of the typical prince and his power. It usually comes from his relationship with the king. So, Israel’s power comes from God. Jacob, based on his having striven with God and man, was now to be successful over others, or with men. All of this would be because of his connection to God. And here’s the neat thing, God gave him this new name because Jacob “prevailed” in his determination to settle things with both God and man.

I stumble at the question, “Why did God not change Isaac’s name?” But as we studied it earlier, you will remember it signified ‘laughter’. He was so named because his father Abraham laughed with joy at the thought of the promise that God had given him would indeed by fulfilled through a child being born to him now that he was a hundred years old (Genesis 17:17). And maybe that’s the reason God didn’t feel Isaac’s name had to be changed. It already related to the covenant and what was to come. Abram (Abraham’s name at first) on the other hand did not as it simply meant “an exalted father”, something that all fathers should be. And Jacob (Israel’s former name) you will remember meant “the heel holder” or “supplanter”. Well, God had much greater plans in mind for them.

It is also interesting that God asked Jacob what his name was. Did God not know? Of course He did. “Then why ask?” you may wonder. God wants us to remember throughout our lives from whence we came and who we were and to always praise Him for where He has taken us and what He has allowed us to be and do for Him. It is important to remember the occasion of our specific calling both as a child and an instrument of His. Jacob would always remember the specific instance God asked him his name and then changed it to Israel. He would be able to tell his children and grandchildren that account. And they would, and still do, pass it on to all generations.

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