I want to read a story from Genesis that I believe speaks to the issue of our struggle for our true identity.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a [b]Man [came and] wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the Man saw that He had not prevailed against Jacob, He touched his hip joint; and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with Him. 26 Then He said, “Let Me go, for day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You declare a blessing on me.” 27 So He asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but [c]Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked Him, “Please tell me Your name.” But He said, “Why is it that you ask My name?” And He declared a blessing [of the covenant promises] on Jacob there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel (the face of God), saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life has not been snatched away.”
This is an interesting story of the faith struggle for a change of Identity.
A bit of back story: Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins and Esau came first but Jacob grabbed his ankle and Rebekah named him Jacob which means supplanter. To supplant means to take the place of another as through force, scheming or a similar strategy. According to Jewish custom Esau would inherit all that was Issac’s, his father, including his blessing. When Jacob was a young man, Rebekah, who favored Jacob, helped him obtain the first born’s blessing. He took advantage of Esau’s hunger and offered Esau a bowl of stew when he came in famished for his birthright. Later Jacob deceived Isaac in order to obtain his blessing by disguising himself as Esau. His mother sent him away to preserve his life and he lived and served Laban for the next 20 years. Then God tells him to return home and He will prosper him. Jacob sends messengers ahead to tell Esau he is returning with plenty and the word comes back that Esau in on his way to meet him with 400 men. This does not sound like a welcome party but rather an army and the news clearly pushes Jacob into a place of fear. So Jacob prays and again God confirms that he will bless him. So Jacob sent abundant gifts ahead to Esau and after splitting up his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation Jacob intends to spend the night alone — no doubt in desperate prayer.
This is where it became so interesting to me.
Last week I shared about fear and as I read this story again I saw how powerful that emotion is even in the presence of the promises of God that have spoken over us. I also realized just how powerful what we have been called or named can be. Even though Jacob had been incredibly blessed by God his name remained the same until he wrestled with God. Our wrestling may often be against fear but we too may wrestle with the knowledge of who we believe we are. Do we wrestle with who we have been told we are? Have we been “named” less than, weak, bad or worthless?
Our identity may be made up of who we were told we were by our parents, siblings, friends or teachers. Some of us may have heard that we just did not measure up, or we weren’t smart or pretty or funny or maybe even loved. External voices and images make a profound effect on our self-image. The lack of positive declarations of our worth all feed into a lie that we are simply not good enough regardless of how much we may have accomplished. In our hearts we may see ourselves as not measuring up regardless of how hard we try. We wish and hope for something more. We yearn for unconditional love and someone to see our true beauty. Our fight is for transformation.
This was the wrestling that Jacob did. Once he realized he was wrestling with God he held on until God would bless him. But God had already blessed him! What he really wanted was a new identity and that is exactly what God gave him. Jacob cries out for a blessing and God asks him what his name is. The Lord knew this was the real issue. His name was what was spoken over him by his mother and then reinforced by his actions of deception. So God renames him Israel. There are many definitions that I found for the name but the one I liked: Israel means He Retains God, or slightly more elaborate: He Has Become A Receptacle In Which God Can Be Received And Retained
Jacob was no longer to be known as one who received his blessing by deception. This time he received God’s blessing by prevailing with God through faith.
I think this story has many ramifications but the one that struck me was that we must contend for our new identity. It is a fight to say no to the lies spoken over us. We must work at replacing lies we have believed and perhaps shaped our behavior and grab hold, perhaps by force, at the truth God speaks over us. We like Jacob:
Isaiah 43 1 and 4b
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine….Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you;” (NKJ)
Like Jacob have been redeemed, loved and blessed!
We are the called “the apple of His eye” Zechariah 2:8.
As I meditated on that scripture I realized that the apple of the eye was probably the pupil, where reflections appear. Sure enough, ” A more literal translation of the Hebrew is actually “little man of his eye,” which probably refers to the reflection of oneself that one sees in the eye of another person.
When we are looking at Jesus we will literally begin to see ourselves as He sees us. As Jacob was face to face with God his new reflection changed him entirely. As we seek intimacy with the father we will see ourselves as He sees us, through His word and His love.