March 11, 2021
by: Gabriel Tseng

After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So 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 humans 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.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

-Genesis 33:23-32

Names are so important. In an age where our names may have lost their importance, implicit in them is a part of our identity, something given to us, not chosen by ourselves, but imprinted onto us. The way it is said, whether correctly, or wrongly, implies and communicates to our hearts, our very selves. If said in a dour tone, or a whimsical one, our names carry meaning that has been imprinted and baked into us from the very beginning. Who calls our name or speaks to us can also imply our posture toward one another as well. If you say my full name, depending on how you say it, I may have an instant reaction of being in trouble or a sly smile. If said during a different time of day, I may tell you to leave me alone, or to have some tea with me. Our names carry great weight, in communicating who we are to others, and in how we are seen by others. We are given names in part, because they distinguish us within a community. Names are inherently diverse and for relating with one another. 

I love when Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. There is implied meaning that is made clear, but yet is made clearer as Israel walks away from the wrestling site. Emblematic of our own wrestle with God, against ourselves, and of the struggles we face, God’s intent is at times to wound us for His sake and ours. Jacob’s name is changed as his whole life has changed. From being a runner, to now being a cripple and from a wrestler with God, to now being at peace. Our encounters with God change us, in our hardening or in our hearts becoming tender towards Him. 

So strange that it is often when we are alone, like Jacob, in the quiet where God finds us. Sometimes by our own doing, and sometimes by miraculous circumstance, we find that God finds us, even if we are reluctant to be found. In our wrestle, we find our striving has been against ourselves, against the world, and at times, against God. Struggle and suffering can push us onward. Anger, rage, and drivenness can get us very far in life, but it is all striving after the wind if not rooted on the Rock of Ages. Peace and contentment in the presence of the Lord are what truly satisfies. When we lay down our struggles, maybe in our exhaustion and surrender, we find a peace we never expected in ways we never imagined. Jacob can no longer run, so he returns, like the prodigal back and makes peace with his brother. Expecting turmoil, he rehearses his lines, only to find that his brother is not what he expected. Even as the gift of being crippled by God, Israel can no longer run and comes to the end of himself. Perhaps it is a combination of his own strength waning, wrong expectations, or the gift of a broken hip that has allowed Jacob to no longer deceive. Whatever the case may be, the wrestle and the struggle are baked into his new name, Israel, partly still carrying some of the old man with him, but wholly transformed by his encounter with God, who has pursued him his whole life, and reminds him with a gift, He will always be with him. 

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