Monday, July 2, 2018

A Nickname You’ll Never Forget

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”  – Genesis 32:28

I enjoy a good nickname. My first car was an emerald green 1973 Super Beetle. It went from 0 to 60 MPH…eventually. I nicknamed her La Maquina Verde, which translates: The Green Machine. In more recent years, my wife and I have used different nicknames for each other: Pookie, Sweetheart and Honey. We’ve nicknamed our four kids Kicker, Jet, Kid and Care Bear. And our dog has the strangest nicknames of all: Fuzzy Lips and Snout Head. Yes, I really enjoy a good nickname.

And in Genesis 32, God gives Abraham’s grandson Jacob a nickname for the ages. It’s actually much more than a nickname; it’s a brand new name that he and his descendents would bear for all time to come. After a long night of wrestling, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

It had been a nerve-racking few days for Jacob. He had learned that his older brother Esau was on his way to meet him, and that fact had Jacob worried. You see, years earlier Jacob had tricked his brother out of his birthright and stolen his brother’s firstborn blessing. In other words, he had cheated his brother out of what was rightfully his. And as a result, Esau had threatened to kill Jacob. So, Jacob ran for his life.

Fast forward about fifteen years, and these two estranged brothers were just hours away from a hair-raising rendezvous. The night before the anticipated meeting, Jacob was alone on the side of a stream. He cried out to God for protection, and in response, God sent an angel to wrestle with Jacob until sunrise. Scripture seems to indicate that it was no ordinary angel but was God Himself in the form of a man. As sunrise approached, the wrestling match ended in a draw. But as the Lord was about to leave Jacob, Jacob refused to let him go. He exclaimed, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

In response, God did just that: He blessed Jacob. But before blessing him, He gave Jacob a new name: Israel. It was a powerful name that would commemorate for all time the fact that Jacob has successfully wrestled with God. Consider this: Jacob’s given name means “he grasps the heel.” But Jacob’s name figuratively means “deceiver.” And it turns out that Jacob’s name was an apt description of his character later in life. At one time or another, he had deceived his brother, his father, his uncle and even his own wife. Jacob was not a very upstanding guy. He was a philanderer, a deceiver, a real snake in the grass.

Jacob had spent years living up to his name: Deceiver. But in one brief moment at the closing ceremonies of the strangest wrestling match of all time, God told Jacob bluntly, “Your name will no longer be Jacob.” God basically said, “You will no longer be known as a deceiver. From now on you will be known as a struggler with God.” That’s what the name Israel means—struggler or wrestler with God.

And as Jacob’s twelve sons gave rise to twelve tribes, they would not be known as the twelve tribes of Jacob. They would be called the twelve tribes of Israel. The nation comprised of Jacob’s descendents would not be a nation of deceivers; they would be a nation of God-strugglers. And the Jewish people still bear that illustrious name today. It’s amazing to realize that God transformed the life of a sneaky, conniving deceiver in just a few moments. Jacob began the night as a heel-grabbing deceiver but finished the night with a badge of honor. Jacob had wrestled with God and had walked away with God’s great blessing—a blessing that would be passed on from generation to generation for all time.

Recently, I shared Jacob’s story with our congregation. After doing so, I encouraged them to answer a couple questions based on this amazing chapter (Genesis 32). QUESTION #1: DO YOU FEEL ALONE? As Jacob sat on the side of a stream by himself, he felt scared, worried and helpless. Yet by the end of the night he had come to realize that he was never alone. God was with him and had blessed him. My friend, you are not alone either. If you are humbly following Jesus Christ and obeying His word, God is with you and will bless you too.

QUESTION #2: WHAT’S YOUR NEW GOD-GIVEN NAME THAT IS SHAPING YOUR LEGACY? Before I was born, my mom chose to name me Dane, which means “brook” or “from Denmark.” For years I’ve teased her, claiming that she got my name off of a semi truck’s mud flap: “Great Dane.” But honestly, she just liked the sound of my name.

And now I wonder: If God desired to give me a new name, what would my new name be? I would love for God to call me Faithful or Compassionate or Christlike. But honestly, I’m not sure what God’s name for me is. Perhaps you could join me in asking Him, “Lord, have you given me a new name? If so, what is it?” Like Israel, your new God-given name could help shape your destiny. It could reveal what God sees in you and what He has called you to become.

     Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit  and join us for our worship service Sundays at 10 a.m.

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