WEEK 1: “What is Your Name?”
Genesis 32:27: “The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered.”
In the Bible, names have always had a very specific and special usage. The book of Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית which literally means “in [the] head of” or “in [the] beginning of”) lists many names of people – names that portray peoples’ origins, their occupations, their futures, their characters: Adam’s name (derived from אֲדָמָה Adamah, meaning ‘ground’) is rooted in origin, Jabez (יַעְבֵּץ meaning ‘pain’) was named on account of his mother saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’ (Gen. 21:6); Esau was named because of an attribute, i.e. being ‘hairy,’ and Jacob was the one ‘who grasped the heel of’ – a Hebraic idiom for someone who ‘deceives’ and so it goes on. Many prophets of old had the name of God אֵל ‘El’ intertwined in their names, referring to a ‘set-apart’ calling to prophetic service, like Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, Elisha, Ezekiel etc.
So, names have great symbolic importance in Scripture. But sometimes, there comes a time for re-naming.
When God asked Jacob his name, He certainly wasn’t demonstrating ignorance. This question served as a powerful catalyst to get Jacob thinking, to drive him to repentance and essentially, to the ‘crucifixion’ of self and the stripping of the title. Some names given in Scripture have a negative connotation that needs to be rid of; a name that was given by broken people, difficult situations, unfair decisions – names are for that matter, given to us. However, the responsibility remains with us whether we wear them. God wills for us to hand over to Him even what people have labeled and hung over our necks. When Jacob responds, he does not simply say, ‘I am [Jacob,]’ but ‘I am [he who deceives.]’ How precious then, is it not, that God responds, ‘You will no longer be [Deceiver,] but ‘[one who prevails/reigns with God],’ not against Him.
Jacob knew this confrontation was coming (as did Elijah when he left his slave behind before venturing into the desert, or Jesus as He wandered deeper into Gethsemane after leaving His disciples to wait and pray). There comes a moment of isolated ‘God-I’ confrontation, where a decision must be made.
After an evening of intense struggle between these two natures – the fallen name he had received and the new name he wanted to become – Jacob had a profound change in his body and soul. He walked away with a broken-in, crippled nature covered over with a seal of promise – the [one who prevails]!
God has always been in the business of changing people and a change of name is but an outward sign of the inward change. What would you say if God asked you your name? Do you only see fears, worries and weaknesses? God is in the business of changing names and lives. We should learn to see who we are through the second birth – the re-naming phase – which is indeed the most important!
“To the one who prevails, … I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on it that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17, ESV [emphasis added])
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV [Emphasis added])
Jesus, thank You for defeating my flesh and re-naming me. Thank You that You have called me Your own and branded me as a bond-servant. Help me to live in this truth daily and when the enemy holds up his hand against me, that I can hold up your cross and say to him, ‘It is finished.’
Hartropp, J. 2016. Why Names are so important in the Bible. [Online]. Available at: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/why-names-are-so-important-in-the-bible-and-so-is-yours/101095.htm [2019/10/24].
Wilkerson, D. 1999. The Jabbok – A place of Total Surrender. [Online]. Available at: http://www.tscpulpitseries.org/english/undated/tsjabbok.html [2019/10/23].