June 11th 2009

“A New Name”

“Since, then, we do not have any excuse of ignorance, everything-and I do mean everything-connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life-a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you”
Ephesians 4:22-24 (MSG)

Jacob was a wily character. Ever since his birth he had been a wheeler and dealer, a deceiver. We find the account of his birth in Genesis 25:24-26, along with his twin brother Esau. Esau is born first and named for the hair that covered him; as he comes to birth they discover the other baby is holding on to his heel and name him Jacob, meaning, “Supplanter” or “He deceives.”

This individual, Jacob the supplanter, the self reliant, the self-seeking one, is full of self sufficiency, dealing with Esau for his birthright (verses 27-34). Plotting with his mother for the blessing (chapter 27).

Overcoming his uncle Laban with his own weapons (chapter 30), he took the most prudent measures to secure a welcome home from his brother, Esau, on his return from Padan Aram, (chapter 32).

Jacob did rely on God at times, but the most prominent feature of his character was a strong reliance on himself; in fact we might say that his life mirrored in many ways the Frank Sinatra song, “My Way!”

Then God takes a hand in his life and wrestles with him! (Genesis 32:23-32).
They wrestle all night and, as dawn breaks, the Divine wrestler puts Jacob’s hip out of joint just by touching it. The thigh is the very source of a wrestler’s power and the hip joint is the seat of that power which gives physical victory to the one who overcomes his opponent. So the very source of Jacob’s strength has been taken from him.

His Adversary then asks to be let go but, despite the agony he is suffering and true to form, Jacob refuses and holds on, asking for a blessing. Then God asks a strange question, “What is your name?” Thus reminding Jacob, the supplanter the deceiver, of his former self reliance. But now he is disabled, dependant on another and seeking a blessing. The prophet Hosea informs us in chapter 12 and verse 4 that Jacob “wept and sought favour from Him.” So, apparently as Jacob wrestled he cried and made supplication, quite a different Jacob here from the one who began this confrontation.

Finally God renames him, Israel, “A Prince of God, in God, with God.” The new name reflects the new nature that now has come to perfection in Jacob. That is also reflected in the next thing he does. Just as he has received a new name so he gives a new name to this special place. It was called the ford of Jabbok but he renames it Peniel, which doesn’t mean “Here I wrestled with God and prevailed” but “Here I saw the face of God and He spared my life!”
Here he celebrates not the honour of his courage or his victory but only the honour of God’s great mercy!

Verse 32 here is very poetic: “The sun rose above Peniel and he was limping because of his hip.” Quite a different person limps away from this special place. Some commentators reckon that he limped for the remainder of his life, a permanent reminder that God had overcome his self will and changed him from a “Supplanter to a Prince!” 

Prayer
Our gentle tender Father, thank you that you love us just the way we are. But you love us too much to allow us to stay that way. Rather you want us to be transformed by your Spirit that we may reflect your character and your nature in our lives and glorify you.
Amen

Study by Cliff Neill 

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