I have a long name, in my opinion. As a kid I was quite embarrassed by my name and wondered “Why in the world would my parents do such a thing?” As a kid I couldn’t wait to turn 18 to change my name and make it simple and easy.
William Shakespeare once penned, “What’s in a name?” This is Juliet’s line when she is telling Romeo that a name is nothing but a name — a convention with no meaning behind it. I agreed with Juliet until my high school days, when I learned the nature and background of the name chosen for me by my parents.
In today’s passage, the visitor asks Jacob an essential question upon which his blessing is predicated: “What is your name?”
Jacob finally surrendered to the uncomfortable truth: “I am Jacob. The heel grabber. The deceiver. The schemer. The trickster. I am the man who lied to my father, cheated my brother, manipulated my father-in-law and abandoned every disaster I created. I am Jacob.”
I love how Debie Thomas exegetes this passage: “It’s only when we name the worst that we can relinquish it. It’s only when we confess the ugliness within and around us that God begins the holy work of transformation. ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, you shall be called Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ A new name that essentially guarantees him a lifetime of holy struggle. ‘You shall be called Israel.’ Meaning: you shall spend the rest of your limping life wrestling with God. Battling with God. Contending with God.” At first glance, this seems like an awful blessing to obtain.
For the rest of my life, I will keep on wrestling with God. The fact is, when we don’t care, we are not engaged. Another way to look at this is, for the rest of his life he will be engaged with God, and God will be constantly engaged in his very being.
Wrestling with God is not some heresy, but it is permission to stay involved and engaged with our God. Whether this engagement looks like deconstruction, wonder of call or soul-gripping questions, “wrestling keeps God relevant in our lives — it keeps God personal and a force to reckon with, rather than a dusty relic we stick on a shelf.”
— Timothy Peoples