The name Jacob means ‘Deceiver’ and eventually he has his name changed by God to Israel, which means ‘God Contended’. Until recently, I had not realized how important Jacob’s name, and the transformation of his name, are to the story. After teaching the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the LORD to our 3-4 year old class at church, here are some things I learned along the way.
1. Jacob feared himself, and the name he had earned
Jacob had just finished running away from his uncle Laban with all the things he had worked for – wives, children, servants, and livestock. Laban was so angry with Jacob’s sneaky departure that he pursued him, overtook him, and confronted him as a deceiver.
“What have you done, that you have tricked me? …Why did you flee secretly and trick me?” – Genesis 31:26-27
Indeed, Jacob (deceiver) is now being confronted by the reality of who he is, of what his name is. At this point though, Jacob is not focusing on his name, but his justification for taking what he had worked for away. Jacob was seeking justification through his own works, his own hands, and thought he would be in the clear.
Laban eventually agrees to let him go, to take the people and things he had worked for, and walks away. However, another enemy is in pursuit of Jacob, his brother Esau.
Jacob (deceiver) is so afraid of Esau that he separates his livestock into convoys of presents and divides his family in two groups so that, in his mind, one of them will survive. He then sends all of them across a river at night and spends the night alone. This is when…
2. Jacob encountered The Name (the LORD)
In the middle of the night, Jacob (deceiver) is awoken by a stranger in the night, and one that seems to seek his harm. The two end up wrestling…
All. Night. Long.
As I noticed earlier in Genesis 29, Jacob was an incredibly strong individual. He rolled a well-stone away, which normally takes 6-8 shepherd men, all by himself. This was the type of battle that Jacob was made for.
As daylight starts to come, Jacob appears to begin to get the upper hand in the battle. But Jacob’s impending victory, turned to a crushing defeat. His opponent reached out, touched his hip, and put it out of socket.
With one simplistic touch, Jacob realized that he was never in control of this fight, that he now had no chance of winning, and that he was encountering something much greater than himself – the angel of the LORD.
However, instead of giving up…
3. Jacob contended for The Name (the LORD)
Jacob refuses to quit. Realizing who he now has in his grasp, he won’t let go. The angel even asks him to stop.
“Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” Genesis 32:26
Jacob is determined to receive the blessing of the LORD, because he knows he needs it. He just ran from his uncle, and is presently running from his angry brother, whom he’d previously deceived.
Then the angel of the LORD asks him a chilling question…
“What is your name?”
Here is Jacob, face to face with the angel of the LORD, and he is confronted with the full reality of his name. Can you imagine the weight of his name coming from his mouth? The full force of its meaning coming crashing down on his present circumstances and request for blessing? He responds…
I’m sure, all Jacob could now think was, ‘why would anyone bless a deceiver?’ And why would they? At this point, it would make more sense for Jacob to be chastised for his past trickery of Isaac, Esau, and Laban.
And yet, God changes Jacob’s name from ‘Deceiver’ to ‘God Contended.’ Think about that. Jacob’s name, and his very life, was now forever known as Israel – being contended for by God.
What an amazing victory his persistence yielded!
4. Jacob is transformed by The Name (the LORD contends for His people)
Jacob encountered The Name, and ends up contending for it – do we? How am I contending for The Name with my family, at work, in prayer, in faith, for healing, for salvation? Am I willing to wrestle with the LORD in prayer all through the night?
Will I relentlessly pursue Him like a prize fighter does his foe around the ring; chasing Him into a corner and throwing volley after volley of earnest, faith-filled prayer until I get an answer? All for the glory of The Name? No matter the answer?
I should probably get down on my knees and find out.