Name Giving: Israel


22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27 So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28 Then the man[b] said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,[ for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 

’ (Genesis 32:22-28)”

The name Israel that we associate with a country can be traced back to the grandson of Abraham.  Abraham bore Isaac and Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau.  They were fraternal twins with different looks and likes.  Esau was an outdoors guy whom his father favored and Jacob was more an indoors guys whom his mother, Rebecca, favored.  The twins fought and Rebecca sent Jacob back to her family to find a wife.  There are many beloved stories but eventually Jacob has 11 sons and a daughter by his two wives and their two maids.  Definitely family dynamics plagued this family that God had promised to bless.  Years later, Jacob decided to return home and face his twin brother and started a journey.  The day before facing his brother, Jacob divided his wives and children into groups with groups of animals and sent them ahead as he stayed by a river and wrestled with a man, possibly an angel, all night.  The angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel that meant he had wrestled with God and people and had not been overcome.

            This scene is very touching.  I think many of us feel like we have wrestled with God about some situation in our life.  We know the hours of prayer for a wayward child or grandchild.  Some of us have watched loved ones decline ever so slowly from disease and we know God has the power and the love to intervene but he does not.  Others have struggled in prayer about a relationship that seemed so right but then the other makes destructive decisions.  Wrestling with God is ok and something the “angel” initiated!  Wrestling changes us and scars us.  Wrestling left Jacob with a displaced hip and limping.  It also changed his name, changed his identity and how he understood himself and his relationship with God.

            As the year ends, we reflect on our blessings but we also ponder the issues we are still wrestling with and which we know will challenge our faith in the New Year.  Being able to name those arenas where we wrestle with God and committing them in prayer, can be helpful.  Getting the issue out of the back of our mind into a journal sometimes helps as it is a way of “parking” the wrestle.  In any case, we wrestle with God, it changes our name and it is OK.  Blessings.   

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