What’s Your Name?

sunrise-invitation-1431868-mAlmost every Christian on the planet can rattle off, “I’m saved by grace through faith.”

Almost every Christian on the planet gets up each day with fresh resolutions—and a better arsenal of excuses.

A familiar Old Testament character can empathize with you. He was full of excuses, little white lies and a few big, old whoppers. Ashamed of who he was, Jacob tried to make himself sound better, feel better, look better than he actually was. Follow his story with me:

Jacob had tried to come out first. As Rachel gave her last anguished push, he thrust forward his tiny pink hand. But just before he could claim the birthright, Esau, big and red, shouldered his way out first. Jacob was shortly behind him, gripping Esau’s heel with all his might.

Their young years were rife with tension. Sure, there were good days when the boys enjoyed camaraderie, but their parents’ divided loyalties kept them both on edge. Ruddy Esau was Isaac’s choice, but Rachel favored Jacob. Maybe she felt sorry for him, the underdog, the sweet little boy who wanted desperately to make his mark on the world.

At birth, Jacob had been labeled, “deceiver,” or, “crafty one,” (the meaning of his Hebrew name) in recollection of his attempt to claim the honor of first born. Living up to his name, twice the Bible tells specific stories of him deceiving his family members in order to claim blessings that were not his. Then, one final, colossal mistake left him running for his life—Jacob lied about his name.

He told his blind father, Isaac, that he was Esau. He convinced Isaac to bless him with the honors of a firstborn. “I am Esau.” Three little words.

There is oh, so much more to the story! But let’s move forward, the privilege of a Bible scholar, to survey the entire landscape of Scripture and consider each story in context and in its minutia.

Years later, Jacob lay restless on the ground trying to sleep. For days, his family had been traveling, a monster caravan of livestock, servants, women and children. As they neared their destination, Jacob’s home in Canaan, word came that Esau had learned of their arrival and was coming to meet them. In fear, Jacob sent gifts ahead of him to pacify his brother. That night, in a fitful sleep, he had a visitor.

Initially, the Bible only tells us that a man wrestled with Jacob all night long. Later, we come to understand that this was a pre-incarnate Christ, a theophany. As day broke, Jacob lost the match but still clung fiercely to the stranger. “I will not let you go until you bless me!” he said.

Then, God asked Jacob a most ordinary, and ironic question: “What is your name?”

Did God not know? Did the Creator who knit this man together in his mother’ womb, not also know his name? Why do you think God asked?

God wanted Jacob to admit who he really was. Long ago, when Jacob claimed to be Esau, he pretended to be someone he was not. He pretended to be worthy of his father’s blessing; he pretended to be the rightful heir. Jacob believed he need to be better, older, more worthy in his father’s eyes to receive the blessing.

The last time Jacob had been asked to give his name, he lied, “I am Esau.” In other words, “Father, I am who you want me to be.”

Now, God asked Jacob not to redeem himself, not to prove his worth for the blessing, but instead to admit who he was—a liar, a cheat, a deceiver.

Humbled, Jacob told the truth, “I am Deceiver.” And in the wake of his truthfulness, God, Himself, redeemed Jacob.

“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’ … Then he blessed him there.”
Genesis 32:28-29b

What do you have to do receive the blessing of Christ’s righteousness, the favor of God for salvation?

God does not ask you to become someone you are not. It is vain to cover your flaws, change your name, mask your scars, hide your weaknesses and sins. Your salvation is in admitting who you are—all failures and mistakes included. In the wake of your confession, when you understand your need for the Savior, God Himself will change you, redeem you, clothe you in righteousness and bless you.

Isaiah 61:10
Isaiah 30:15
Isaiah 43:1

Names Have Been Changed to Identify the Righteous

“I love everything about her life!”

The barista’s comment startled me as I left Starbucks. I knew she was talking about me. We had just been giggling together, discussing our dogs and exchanging first names.

I almost turned around said, “No you don’t! You don’t know anything about my life!” But instead, I just smiled to myself and walked into the sunshine. I think I know what she loves about my life, it’s what she can see. I pray she can see that God has blessed me with joy and a peace beyond understanding.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to spot a girl across the room and wish to trade her places. I used to pray each night that God would just kill me because I didn’t want to do my life anymore. In the midst of a 15 year battle with anorexia and a troubled marriage, it seemed as if my life couldn’t get any worse. I even feared that my loved ones had given up on me after pouring thousands of dollars into my treatment, only to still see a starving, depressed woman.

Looking into my heart, I hated what I saw. I perceived my identity as intrinsically linked to my long list of failures.

Maybe Jacob did, too. The Biblical character of Genesis lived up to his given name, “Deceiver”. In fact, when God asked him in chapter 32, “What is your name?” Jacob was forced to reply, “I am Deceiver.”

At that point in Jacob’s life, he believed the end was near. In mere hours, he would be face-to-face with a man who once wanted to kill him. Already, Jacob had a long list of mistakes to feel guilty for. I wonder if Jacob hated who he had become.

But God is in the business of changing identities. Over and over throughout the Bible, when God did a massive work in someone’s life, He also changed their name, giving them a new identity, a new way to refer to themselves, a new way to see themselves and a new way to present themselves to the world.

For Jacob, God told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.”

Another definition of the name Israel is, “Prince of God”.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, our identity changes too, when we accept Jesus as our salvation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Isaiah 62 tells us that God changes our name to reflect the new identity that we receive when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for us and the gift of His righteousness to us.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

As I sank into a chair on the patio at Starbucks, the sun’s afternoon rays painted my feet a soft yellow, then shadows encroached and swept me into the early evening hours. I smiled again. I love who I am. I love the one who gave me His identity in Christ, and I dearly love the name, Jesus.