All Eyes on Israel
Chapter 1 - What is Your Name?
Page 9 - Jacob Wrestles With God
(Go Back to Page 8 -
Jacob and Esau)
On this page we will look at this event where Jacob wrestles with God and try to understand more of what that means.
Everything was in jeopardy. Jacob was racked with guilt because this family mess was all his fault. He felt in great need of a blessing. When did he ask for a blessing before?
"And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy firstborn; I have done according as thou badest me: arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me." (Gen 27:19)
And when he was asking for that blessing, he was asked again and again the question "What is your name?"
So here he is, many years later, asking for a blessing and all this is going through his head, things are not going well but here was a chance for a blessing. He had this spark of hope, that some good might come out of this, he asked for a blessing and what reply did he get? "What is thy name?"
- "What is thy name?" - that was the last thing he wanted to hear!
- "What is thy name?" - the very question that has haunted him for 20 years!
- "What is thy name?" or "What is thy character?"
This is not just some stranger asking his name and to whom he replies, "Hi, my name is Jacob, nice to meet you." He knows this is a supernatural being and he knows this question is a probe deep into his mind and conscience. This is the kind of situation where we could appropriately apply this verse:
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb 4:12)
The being he was wrestling with had the ability to ask a piercing question. "What is thy name?" If only he had told the truth when his father asked him who he was, he could have saved all these problems! This is a good example of how we have to face the consequences of our actions. God does not exempt us from reaping what we have sown, in fact He tells us that we will. But we have the promise:
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28)
If you fail God, He will often bring you back to the same situation to give you another chance - a chance the next time to not fail but overcome - to be an overcomer. And He'll do it even late in your life, He doesn't give up. Jacob was about 97 years old at this point.
What did Jacob need to do to receive the blessing? - he had to admit his character. It was a common custom to name a baby with some circumstances about their birth. Of course, God, in his foreknowledge can give a name appropriate to the later life as well, a name appropriate to the person's character.
So, this unknown being asked Jacob, "What is thy name?" not to find out his name but to give him an opportunity to admit his character. And Jacob answered: "Jacob." "I am a liar." "I am a deceiver." He confessed what he really was. It was his moment of greatest strength. He passed the test. He probably felt better than he had for 20 years. It may have felt to Jacob like a rebirth. He overcame. Really, he overcame himself.
It was a great blessing to be asked that question again, to be given an opportunity to make things right, to clear his conscience. Probably it was the blessing he most needed. And he received more blessing. He was no more to be labelled as a deceiver. His name was changed to Israel:
"And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." (Gen 32:28)
This is the first time the word "Israel" is used in the Bible and we know that there is a Bible principle that the first use of a word in the Bible can be very significant. In this case: Israel because "as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
Israel was used here as the name for a single man who gained a spiritual victory. He realized his own condition; he had had many reminders of it and his need of dependence on God. Throughout his later life, even after his name change, he had reminders of this incident as well:
"By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." (Heb 11:21)
This may be a reference to his need to prop himself up because of the damage to his thigh. So in this story in which Jacob wrestles with God, we see that "Israel" means: "a prince with God," "he prevails over God," "he rules with God." The "-el" suffix is short for Elohim a name for God and part of the name of a number of Bible characters such as Daniel, Elijah, Elisha and Michael.
Reading the story of how Jacob wrestles with God should remind us that we also are to wrestle with God to gain His blessing and aid in overcoming our defects of character.