A Name Change Part 1

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

4-7-03


Title: A Name Change

Text: “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome’” (Gen. 32:28, NIV).

Scripture Reading: Genesis 32:22-32

Occasionally, people become dissatisfied with the names their parents have given them.
Many years ago, the country singer Johnny Cash recorded a popular song called, “A Boy Named Sue.”
You could not blame a boy named Sue for wanting to change his name.
I worked in a plant in Iowa where everyone was given a nickname that would be expressive of some physical characteristic.
I was told that I had a nickname, but I never found out what it was.
I am probably better off, not knowing.
But in high school, I was called mouse, because I had a unique talent; I could wiggle my nose.
We named our daughter after her grandmothers; Mary for Sierra’s mom, and Alice for my mom.
That pleased them both.
However, for the most part, names don’t mean much today; they are chosen because the parents like the way they sound, and many names are picked out of books that list every conceivable name.
But that’s not how it was in the Old Testament.
Names were significant in the Old Testament.
Often they describe a person’s character.
The name Jacob, for example, meant “deceiver” or “supplanter.”
He definitely needed a name change!
The story of Jacob is about a person taking on a new nature and then taking on a new name to describe that new nature.
Genesis 32:28 says, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Let’s examine the insights into Jacob’s story of change, beginning with a wrestling match that he was involved in; it’s recorded in Genesis 32:22-32.
22 And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok.
23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had.
24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.
25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.
26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
27 So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.”
28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.
First, let me say, “All of us need a name change.”
The story of every human being is one of rebellion against God.
Therefore, everyone needs a name change.
The life story of Jacob is the story of a man who had a sinful nature.
Jacob’s character is first reflected in his name.
Throughout his life, the meaning of his name matched his reputation as a trickster.
He cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright.
Then he tricked his father, Isaac, into blessing him rather than Esau.
When Isaac and Esau realized they had been tricked, Jacob had to flee to his Uncle Laban in Haran.
But living with his uncle didn’t change him; Jacob continued to be a man of deception.
So far, nothing good can be said about this man; but unfortunately, Jacob’s sinful nature represents every human being’s nature.
A French writer once said, “I never examined the heart of a wicked man. I once became acquainted with the heart of a good man: I was shocked.”
Even the best of us sin, and it doesn’t stop when we are saved because we still have our old nature.
The new nature that God gives to us must always contend with that old nature, and sometimes the old nature emerges and leads us to sin.
Confronting our sinful nature causes us to conclude, “All have sinned.”
We desperately need a new nature.
But I have some good news, and the good news is, all of us can have a new nature.
The theme of the Bible is that every human being can have a new nature.
No one needs to remain trapped in sin.
Our character can be changed.
In the case of Jacob, when his name was changed it required submission on his part.
Jacob was led to submission in an unusual manner.
On his return to Canaan from Laban’s home in Haran, he came to a stream called the Jabbok.
He knew that he would encounter Esau, so he made preparations to appease his brother by sending flocks ahead as gifts.
Having sent his flocks, servants, and family ahead, he spent the night alone beside the Jabbok.
That was a very desolate place, right down between two hills, in a very mountainous and very rugged country.
Here is where he spent the night.
He is not a happy man, and he is filled with fear and doubts.
You see, chickens are coming home to roost.
He had mistreated Esau.
God had never told him to get the birthright or the blessing the way he did it.
God would have gotten it for him.
That night Jacob sends all that he has across the Brook Jabbok, but he stays on the other side so that, if his brother Esau comes, he might kill Jacob but spare his family.
And so Jacob is left alone.
There are several things I would like to get straight about this wrestling match, which we are about to read about.
I have heard it said that Jacob did the wrestling.
Actually, Jacob didn’t want to wrestle anybody.
He has Uncle Laban in back of him who doesn’t mean good at all, and he has his brother Esau ahead of him.
Jacob is no match for either one.
He is caught now between a rock and a hard place, and he doesn’t know which way to turn.
Do you think he wanted to take on a third opponent that night?
Years ago Time magazine, reporting in the sports section concerning the votes for the greatest wrestler of all time, said that not a vote went to the most famous athlete in history, wrestling Jacob.
Low and behold, the magazine received a letter from someone who wrote asking them to tell something more about this wrestler Jacob.
The writer of the letter had never heard of him before!
And evidently, he had never read his Bible at all.
Jacob is no wrestler let's make that very clear here at the beginning.
That night he was alone because he wanted to be alone, and he wasn’t looking for a fight.
During the night he experienced a turning point in his life.
Verse 24 says, “…Jacob was left alone, and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.”
Old Jacob was not going to give up easily; he is not that kind of man and so he struggled against Him.
Finally, the one who wrestled with him crippled him.
Then the thought came to Jacob that his real antagonist was not Esau or Laban, but it was the Lord.
Look at what happens now?
Jacob is just holding on; he is not wrestling.
He is just holding on to this One, who is wrestling with him.
He found out that you don’t get anywhere with God by struggling and wrestling.
The only way you are going to get anywhere with Him is by yielding, and just holding on to Him.
Abraham had learned that, and that is why he said Amen to God.
He believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham reached the end of his rope and put his arms around God.
When you get to that condition, then you trust God.
When you are willing to hold on, He is there ready to help you.
The Lord wrestled with Jacob until Jacob yielded in submission.
When Jacob met God, he got a new nature and a new name.
Jacob’s story portrays what can happen to every human being.

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