Genesis 35:10 – And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel.
What is this text saying?
The younger grandson of Abraham and son of Issac was given the name Jacob at birth, a name which means ‘he takes by the heel’. But many years later God bestowed upon him the name Israel, which means ‘one who strives with God’ (also translated ‘prince of God’).
Why is it important?
Jacob received his unflattering name because he was born with his hand firmly clamped on his older twin brother Esau’s foot. This name Jacob suggested he would deliberately cause others to stumble. It was not a desirable name but it turned out to be a prophetic one. Jacob eventually managed to trick Esau out of the birthright and blessing that rightly belonged to him as the firstborn son.
But God had no intention of leaving Jacob in the role of trickster. Through the experiences of his life (including being on the receiving end of someone trying to take him by the heel, yet being blessed by God’s providence; see Genesis 29:1-29 and Genesis 30:25-31:55) God shaped Jacob’s character. This journey culminated in a wrestling match with an angelic being many believe to be a manifestation of God Himself (Genesis 32:22-32). Jacob refused to release this being until He blessed him, so He gave Jacob a new name. A name which described his new God-given character, earned through struggle and hard-earned lessons of obedience. Jacob, who once made others stumble, would now be called Israel, a prince who struggled with God and prevailed because of God’s strength. This name would be bestowed upon the great nation God promised He would make of Abraham’s decedents in Genesis 15:1-6.
How can I apply this?
As you can see from this illustration, names were extremely important in ancient times, often reflecting a person’s past, and signaling what could be expected from them in the future. You could say a person’s reputation was wrapped up in their name.
Things are not really all that different now. Think of the people you know. As soon as they cross your mind don’t familiar habits and behaviours come to mind? Experience has taught you what to expect, what is ‘in character’ for them, whether it be good or not-so-good. What do people think when they hear your name? What do they expect of you? What do you expect of yourself based on the opinions of others? There is a reputation, a set of expectations, associated with your name.
But this text demonstrates that what others think of us, and what we think of ourselves, is no where near as important as what God thinks of us. No matter what your reputation might be, God has a plan and the power to help you become what He created you to be. He has a new name for you, and a new set of behaviours and expectations to go along with it. Will you submit to His leading in your life? If you do, God has great things in store for you, a life in which you can strive alongside God and have victory because of His strength.