Bible Society of South Africa

The Question is: What is your name? – 19 July 2022

By Louise Gevers

Bible text(s)

26The man said, “Let me go; daylight is coming.”

“I won't, unless you bless me,” Jacob answered.

27“What is your name?” the man asked.

“Jacob,” he answered.

28The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled with God and with men, and you have won; so your name will be Israel.”

Genesis 32:26-28GNBOpen in Bible reader

How do you feel when you have wrestled with something all night?

Jacob must have felt physically and emotionally exhausted. For so many years he’d been wrestling with himself over the choices he’d made; they had exiled him from his family and from God’s call on his life. But he must also have felt exhilarated – spiritually vibrant – because he’d persisted with God and had won.

Only the day before he had worked out a survival strategy, but he had also prayed, “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac” … (Genesis 32:9) thanking Him for blessing him with everything he had, asking Him to protect him, his wives and his 11 children, and reminding Him of His promise to make his “descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” (Genesis 32:12)

Jacob had been in “great fear and distress” (Genesis 32:7) when he learnt that his twin brother, from whom he’d fled so many years before, was on his way to meet him, accompanied by four hundred men. He knew that Esau had no good reason not to still be feeling murderously angry towards him after he’d stolen his birthright from him –- something which had altered the course of his life.

Yet his dilemna became the catalyst that finally changed his heart, gave him new hope and a new name. God changed his name from Jacob, ‘deceiver’, to Israel, ‘one who struggles with God’.

What we can learn from Jacob’s experience is that he had a real encounter with God; God made him face up to who he was by asking him his name; and Jacob persisted in his struggle till he stopped his human striving and won through. God recognised Jacob’s sincere desire and determination to be restored and transformed him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

We need this experience in our lives too. God is with us and He inspires us to never give up, but He often tests our steadfastness when we’re under trial. Engaging with God enables us to confront our true self when we are not submitted to Him and, divested of our comforts, to wrestle with Him, persistently refusing to let go until we are assured of His blessing and rejoice in our new experience of Him.

Do we, like Jacob, have a new name?

Prayer: Father God, only You can calm our striving and transform us from the inside out. We hold fast to You in Jesus our Lord. Amen

Bible Society of South Africav.4.18.8
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