God had this pattern of changing people’s names throughout the Bible.
It’s a little funny when you think about it. Imagine meeting someone who refuses to call you by the name everyone else knows you by, the name you actually respond to, and insists, instead, on calling you by a brand new name.
There’s a lot of significance in the names we adopt over our lives. In Bible times, your name pointed to something deeper, something that identified you and set you apart from everyone else. Within the name was a little piece of your story.
It’s why God insisted on changing Jacob’s name to Israel.
Jacob means “Supplanter.”
It’s a word that speaks of overthrowing the rightful place of another in order to obtain it for yourself. Think aggressive businessman willing to do whatever it takes to climb the ladder and position himself at the top. The name fit Jacob, the man who cheated his older brother out of an inheritance and stole his family blessing.
Israel, on the other hand, means “Contender with God.”
Imagine someone with an agenda suddenly realizing they’ve been contending with the wrong person to get the position they’ve always wanted. They assumed the guy at the top had all the authority but the curtain is pulled back to reveal there’s someone even higher than them who’s been pulling the strings the whole time.
This is exactly what happened to Jacob. He had his eyes on what he wanted in life and did everything he knew to obtain it. But the closer he tried to get, the further it seemed to move away from him until he’s left desperate for a miracle.
Take a look at how his encounter with God unfolded in Genesis 32:24-28.
And Jacob was left alone, and a Man wrestled with him until daybreak.
Before we go any further, you have to understand this wasn’t just any man. This was God Himself wrestling with Jacob. It becomes obvious later on but at this moment, Jacob seemed unaware of who he was wrestling with. All he knew is the Man was standing between him and where he wanted to go. So naturally, he picked a fight with him.
And when the Man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with Him.
A little too late, Jacob figured out the impossible position he’d got himself in. He could not receive God’s blessing and resist Him at the same time.
When someone is drowning, they will often fight the person who comes to rescue them out of sheer desperation to find safety. The rescuer has to force the victim to stop thrashing and submit to being rescued in order to pull him out of the water.
It looks like that’s what happened here and God caused an injury to Jacob so that He could actually save him.
Then He said, Let Me go, for day is breaking. But Jacob said, I will not let You go unless You declare a blessing upon me.
I think this is the point where Jacob realized he wasn’t fighting with another human being but wrestling with God Himself. There was no way for him to win the fight. Jacob wasn’t even competition. If God wanted to, He could’ve continued pulling apart his joints, one by one.
In this moment, Jacob came face to face with what he wanted and his inability to obtain it by his usual methods of conniving and manipulation.
The blessing of God isn’t something you can obtain by clawing your way to the top, getting the right people to pay attention, or cheating the system. It’s found on a broken road, in a place of humility and surrender.
The Man asked him, What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]!
And He said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob [supplanter], but Israel [contender with God]; for you have contended and have power with God and with men and have prevailed.
Everything Jacob had been fighting for his whole life had been at his fingertips the entire time. Imagine what it must have felt like for him to awaken to an understanding that God wanted to give him what he’d been trying so hard to obtain for himself.
I can picture the blurriness fading from his eyesight as he saw things clearly for the very first time. It wasn’t his brother he was wrestling. Not his parents or the customs of his people. The whole time, it had been God’s attention and favor he needed to obtain…not anyone else’s.
In talking about this scene in the book of Hosea, it says that Jacob wept and sought God’s favor.
The world looked different from this vantage point. This changed everything, including Jacob’s name, his story, and the way he went about life.
I believe God is still in the business of changing names today.
God sees the conflict taking place inside of you.
You’re fighting for success or love or respect or security. And you think you’re in a wrestling match with your boss, spouse, the culture at large, or the system you find yourself in.
Can I tell you something?
Behind that curtain, it’s God you’re actually wrestling with.
He’s the one with all the authority. It’s Him who makes a way where there is no way. He carves paths right through the wilderness, moves mountains if He needs to, and opens doors no man can shut. If God is for you, no one can be against you.
His favor is worth everything.
It’s worth laying down your pride, giving up your ambition, surrendering your way of doing things. The blessing of God is worth changing your name and becoming known for Who He is instead of who you’ve been.
I think it’s time to surrender and let God rescue you.