Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Lesson from a Question (1)

In Genesis 32:24-30, we read about Jacob wrestling with God. The text says, "Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' The man asked him, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he answered. 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.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'"

Jacob had been praying "in great fear and distress" (v7-12) over his upcoming meeting with Esau - the first since the day Jacob deceived Isaac to win the fatherly blessing. Having sent his family on ahead, Jacob stayed and wrestled with "a man," presumably not realizing that the "man" was God Himself until after the subsequent blessing.

We read that the "man" effectively paralyzed Jacob, but Jacob held on. He told Jacob to let him go; but Jacob refused - holding out for a blessing. By this point in the match, Jacob must have known he was dealing with a supernatural being. What happens next is rather strange. The "man" asks Jacob a question: "What is your name?" At first glance, that's odd; but recall the previous time that Jacob was asked about his identity.

In Genesis 27:18-19, Jacob "went to his father and said, 'My father.' 'Yes, my son,' he answered. 'Who is it?' Jacob said to his father, 'I am Esau your firstborn.' Jacob, whose name figuratively means, "He deceives," deceived his father and received the paternal blessing. "What's in a name?" takes on a whole new meaning now. Jacob lied about his name and proved his character as deceptive back then. But now, the "man" wrestling with Jacob asks, "What is your name?" And Jacob replies, "Jacob." Jacob is saying, "I'm a deceiver, a fraud, a sinner." And the "man" authoritatively replies, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

So the lesson from the question is this: Be honest - with God and with men. Tell Him who you are - a sinner, a deceiver, a Jacob. By coming clean with God, He will bless you. By living a life of integrity with men, you will be trustworthy and bring glory to God.

Jacob's response is also revealing. After having his name changed to Israel, literally "He struggles with God," Jacob must know that this "man" is more than a mere man. He says to the "man," "Please tell me your name." It's as if he's saying, "If you have the authority to change my name to 'He wrestles with God," then that would make you none other than God Himself!" But the "man" does not give his name; instead he blesses Jacob. And then Jacob knew. He had wrestled with God, seen Him face to face, and lived.

Be honest with God. Wrestle with Him; struggle with Him. Tell him that you are a Jacob, a sinner, ask Him for a blessing, and He will make you an Israel, one who struggles with God and prevails, one of His very own children, whom He loves to bless.

2 week vacation

Wow. I didn't realize it had been nearly 2 weeks since my last post. I've been quite busy on most days, and the others, well, I just needed a break. But I'm back at it now. I'll begin by noting that after posting last regarding Dallas Willard's book, The Divine Conspiracy, I read a little further. He makes the same comments I made about prayer being more than mere requests. I've continued in the book and plan to finish it by this weekend. It's a strong push toward Christian discipleship and a recommended read for all who would like Jesus to be their teacher.