“Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’”
Jacob was, in many ways, a thief and a liar. A cunning one, at that. With the support of his mother Rebekah, Jacob stole the invaluable blessing of his older brother, Esau, through the deceit of their blind father, Isaac. He did it by pretending to be his older brother and appealing to what his father loved about the eldest: a skilled hunter who satisfied Isaac’s taste for game.
Not long before he did this, he played his father again in an outrageous exchange: Jacob’s food for Esau’s firstborn rights. It’s not that Esau was an innocent victim – nor Isaac a perfect father – but Jacob took advantage of the situations that presented themselves, making a name for himself. Years later, we will still see this inner struggle to discover his own worth, identity and blessings is still raging with utmost intensity.
What are the struggles and victories, the failures and successes that have defined you? How have they given you worth, value and significance, or brought defeat, hopelessness and self-rejection?
We’ve all been given names (both from others and ourselves) that speak of who and what we are not: incapable, unable, unloved, unforgiven, insignificant, worthless. But what of the name that has been given to us by God, our true Father? This name speaks truly of who we are, but it is the one we are often so unable or unwilling to accept.
Return now to Jacob as he wrestles with God and is ultimately given a new name. In today’s age, we can hardly appreciate the social significance of a name in this context of Hebrew history. It was implicit of so much more than it is today, depicting the qualities, character and even defining the soul of the one who bears it.
Of any name God could have given His very own people, He chose “Israel.” The “children of Israel” – you and I – are the children of struggle and ultimately the children of victory. There’s a story in this name, one in which we wrestle with God, refusing to let go of control. But in this name we prevail, receiving what was and is promised: His blessing and favor. In that moment, when we are battered and bruised but still holding on, our name assures us we will prevail.
Our name is struggle. Our name is victory. Just as Jacob, just as Israel, we have walked with God, and we have prevailed. In the nearness of our encounters with the living God, He has given us a new name. We are now defined by the light of something greater than what we had ever believed about us before.
Every difficult step we take with God will result in victory. In every wrestling match or struggle we have with God, we prevail. We may come out of it with a limp, but our hearts will be stronger than ever before. We strive, wrestle and struggle – not against God, but with him.
Jacob refused to let go until he heard the name he had been longing to hear, from the Father he had been so longing to know. The blessings he had received from his earthly father through lying and deceit was never enough; it couldn’t touch the deepest part of his ache to be loved, known, called, blessed and named.
There is no acceptance full or pure enough to satisfy our hearts except for an intimate encounter with the living God. When Jacob finally figured it out, he was bruised and left limping, but he walked away with the blessing of the name he had been seeking all along.
With God, Jacob no longer needed to hide or pretend to be someone else in order to know love, acceptance and blessing. He no longer needed to live by another name. Finally, he was named for who he really was: Israel.
Many of us fail to see ourselves according to the name we’ve been given by God. This name calls us to live in victory and blessing, leaving ample room for struggle, seeking to receive God’s blessing. Too often, we only accept the first half of our name – work and struggle – without ever getting to the second, most important aspect: prevailing into victory and entering into rest. Like Jacob, in all we may have lost or forsaken, in all our failures and sins, in every place we have fallen short – let us never forget our true name: “…for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”