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What is your name?

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"And Jacob remained alone; and a man struggled with him until the break of day. And when he saw he was not prevailing over him, he touched his hip joint; and Jacob's hip joint was dislocated, as he struggled with him. And he said, let me go for the dawn is approaching. And Jacob said, I will in no way let you go, without your having blessed me. And he said to him, What is your name? and he said, Jacob. And he said, No longer will you be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed. And Jacob asked and said, I beg you, tell me your name. And he said, Why do you ask my name? And he blessed him there in that place. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face and my soul has been delivered" (Genesis 32:22-30 Darby).

Jacob remained alone and a man that he recognised as being God struggled with him until the break of day. If this man asked Jacob his name, it wasn't because He did not know it, since this man was a theophany of Jesus, but He wanted Jacob to become aware of what he had become because of his inheritance: a liar, a defrauder, a cheat... when Jacob was an innocent, perfect man of integrity in his youth ('but Jacob was a gentle [the Hebrew word "tam" everywhere else translated as "innocent" "perfect", "honest"] man who remained in the tents (at home)' Genesis 25:27).

An Inheritance

Like his father, mother and grandfather, Jacob had recourse to lying several times in his life. Abraham lied to Pharaoh: "Why did you say, It is my sister? And so I have taken her for my wife" (Genesis 12:19). Isaac lied to Abimelech: "She is my sister; for he was afraid, by saying, My wife, that the people of that place would kill him, because Rebekah was beautiful of form" (Genesis 26:17). Rebekah mounted a whole plan so that Jacob may have the blessing of his father: "now, my son, listen to my voice with respect to do what I command you... " (Genesis 28:8) which obliged Jacob to lie to his father by stating, "I am Esau".

Already, at the time of his birth, his parents gave him the nickname "he who supplants and deceives": "Is it because he is called by the name Jacob that he has deceived me twice?" (Genesis 27:36). Why did Rebekah want to help God to accomplish plans that she knew already, "... and the Lord said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from your body: one of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the greater will be subject to the smaller"' (Genesis 25:23)? By wanting to help God, Rebekah made of her son a liar and a usurper; didn't God have a plan like the one He had announced, when Rebekah consulted Him?

It was in this way that Jacob was falsely accused by Esau of having stolen his birthright: "He has taken away my birthright" (Genesis 27:36), whereas the latter had sold this right for bread and lentil soup (Genesis 25:33). Therefore Rebekah did not need to resort to deception to obtain the blessing, for the fact of undervaluing the birthright at once took away the divine blessing that Isaac was to pronounce over the elder son. Therefore Rebekah's intervention had the effect of leading Esau to conceive hatred for his brother: "Esau conceived hatred against Jacob, because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said in his heart: 'the days of mourning for my father will draw near, and I will kill Jacob, my brother'" (Genesis 27:14). Because of Esau's behaviour, bitterness entered hearts: "They (the wives of Esau) were an object of bitterness for the hearts of Isaac and Rebekah" (Genesis 26:35).

Jacob's Solution

Jacob found safety in flight, his parents sent him to Paddam-Aram to the house of his uncle Laban. But before he left, Isaac prayed for him: "... that the Almighty God may bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply, so that you become a multitude of peoples. May He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your posterity with you, that you may possess the land where you live as a stranger, and that He has given to Abraham" (Genesis 28:3-4). Jacob stopped at Bethel to spend the night there. He had a dream in which God renewed with him the blessing that he had made to Abraham, then to Isaac (Genesis 28:13-15). After building an altar, Jacob then made a vow to God: "If God is with me and protects me during this journey that I am making, if he gives me bread to eat and garments to clothe me, and if I return in peace to the house of my father, then the Lord will be my God" (Genesis 28:20-21). The Lord would become the God of Jacob if the latter returned in peace to the house that he had just left.

Let us consider the vows we make! If God is faithful, are we?

Jacob's Strategy

After 20 years of service in his uncle's house, Jacob heard God say to him, "Return to the country of your fathers and to the place of your birth, and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3). One day the vows were accomplished, but it was God who chose the moment. However, Jacob had not changed: "Jacob deceived Laban, the Arameen, by not warning him of his flight" (Genesis 31:20) and his beloved wife stole the theraphim of her father. He also remembered that if he returned home, he would meet his brother Esau who was still full of anger. Then Jacob tried to send messengers to his brother, but these came back with bad news: "'We went to your brother Esau; and he is marching to meet you with 400 men'. Jacob was very afraid and gripped with anxiety" (Genesis 32:6-7). The anxiety therefore led him to establish a strategy to approach his brother: he would divide his family in two as well as his herds, he would make a present to appease Esau, and he would remain behind (at the back) to stop the march (Genesis 32:13-23). If that turned out badly, Jacob could always take flight with half of the family and the herd.

God's Strategy

So he had the whole of his tribe cross over the ford of Jabbok according to his plan, and again placed himself last. It was then that he remained alone, and it was the moment chosen by God to bring Jacob to the point of sorting out his life. "Jabbok" means "the one who empties himself" and God chose this place to confront Jacob: "Jacob remained alone, then a man struggled with him until daybreak" (Genesis 32:24-25). The man (Jesus) put His finger on the problem: "'What is your name?' And Jacob replied, 'I am Jacob, that is to say the liar, the defrauder, the cheat..."'. It was the identity inherited from his father, from his mother and his grandfather. So he found himself facing God as we find ourselves again facing the Word of God which acts like a mirror. The ford of Jabbok was a place of struggle for Jacob, he "emptied himself" of his bad nature by confessing who he was.

The fight was long, but he had the victory which led him to receive a new name from God: "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but you will be called Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and you were the victor" (Genesis 32:27-28). This struggle transformed him in two ways: his soul was saved from its evil nature (Genesis 32:30) and he received a name reflecting his new nature, Israel, meaning also "Prince of God" (Sar El). Jacob, the Prince of God, the head of the family emptied of himself and filled with the nature of God then took the lead of all his family to confront his brother.

Jacob struggled with God as we struggle with the Word. When Jesus addresses the church at Pergamum (height or elevation, citadel, fortified place), He is "the one with the sharp, two-edged sword" (Revelation 2:12). When we struggle with the Word of God with all our might or from within our fortified place, we face upto the two-edged sword capable of wounding us. But if we struggle to the end to have victory over our inner fortress, we will receive our reward: "... to him who overcomes, I will give him the hidden manna, and I will give him a small white stone; and on this small stone a new name is written, that no-one knows, if it is not the one who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). This new name confirms our change of identity.

The new Jacob

Jacob was no longer the same man: "He himself passed at the front of them; and prostrated himself on the ground 7 times until he was near his brother. Esau ran to meet him; he embraced him, threw himself around his neck, and kissed him. And they wept" (Genesis 33:3-4). He no longer needed to appease his brother, to confront him. He had become a new man capable of confronting the situation. He therefore took the risk of going to Esau respectfully, calling him "my lord" and throwing himself into his arms to be reconciled with him. Jacob's present, previously designed to appease his brother thus became an offering of great value. His transformation was his victory: "the return to his father's house in peace". Jacob found peace again and returned to the house of his father: "the same day, Esau took the road to Seir. Jacob left for Succoth. He built a house for himself and he made sheds for his herds. This is why the place is called by the name of Succoth" (Genesis 33:16-17). Even if there was a reconciliation, Esau returned into his land of Edom and Jacob left in his direction. He stopped at Succoth and there he built sheds for his herds and a house for himself and his family.

If Jacob did not return directly to the house of his father, it was because he had to build his family for himself, and take this authority and this responsibility which flowed from his new identity: "the man will leave his father and mother..."

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