Jacob The Patriarch and His Fight With God
Jacob’s Fight with God
What’s in your name?
by Fr Peter C Sanders

Part One

There are parts of us that still need the fullness of redemption in Christ. The story of Jacob the Patriarch can give you important clues for walking daily in the fullness of Christ’s purpose for your life and ministry.

What’s in a name?
There is nothing that irks people like getting their names wrong. Embarrassment,
frustration, even anger are the emotions that often flow through an awkward
situation. It is important and empowering when you realize that your name has a
literal meaning – as most names do. We often identify with the meaning of our
names. Beyond whether or not folks get it right, could your name be a critical
revelation about your relationship with God? The Patriarch Jacob found out the hard way.

In the Bible names are crucial, and describe the purpose for which God calls people. He often changes their names to mark the transformation that takes place as one surrenders to God’s plan. Such is the example of Abram, who became Abraham, Simon who became Peter (Rock), or Saul who God named Paul. The moment that God changes the name, there is an eternal purpose and promise that is engaged. Most have not had their name changed since their parents gave it. I’m an exception having had mine changed from “Charles Richard” to “Peter Charles.” The women in my family since I was an infant always have called me “Beaver.” Whether you have had a name-change or not, the reality is that God has a special identity reserved for you – one that corresponds to what He has purposed for you life.

Such is the case with the name “Jacob.” His name occurs in the Old Testament over 362 times, marking him as a very important person in God’s revelation. Outside the book of Genesis, where his personal story is told, his name appears 180 times. It is usually in reference either to the way God addresses his people (the descendants or house of Jacob) or the way people address God in prayer or worship. Jacob’s name is a key reference point to God’s revelation of who He is and who we are. And that makes the name of Jacob a critical issue of who God is for you and who you are for Him!

Jacob, the “heel-catcher”

What’s in a name? “Jacob” literally means “heel-catcher” or supplanter – a person who “lies in wait” for a situation to develop, in order to take advantage of it. He started early – at his own birth coming forth from the womb. Jacob was born grasping his twin brother Esau’s heel (Gen. 25:26). As the sibling rivalry developed,
“lying in wait” comes to refer to what he did deceitfully to supplant Esau’s right to the inheritance. We could say that “Jacob” is an apt name for any person who has formed ways of thinking, attitudes and behavior which hold that person in a vice of ungodliness. In short, Jacob was a man who struggled with strongholds of jealousy, conniving, manipulation and deceit. Yet he was a devout man, deeply devoted to Yahweh, the God of his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. He knew what the blessing was, and what it meant, yet because of his strongholds his knowledge of who God really is was blocked, and his obedience to the covenant misdirected.

Jacob’s wrestling match with God.

Before Jacob could enter into a fullness of redemption and blessing in his life, he had to take on the issues of his strongholds. Genesis 32: 22-33 describes a mysterious fight that he has with a “man” who turns out to be God Himself. Jacob was so perversely tenacious about forcing a blessing that God had to strike him on the hip, wounding him by dislocating the socket. After the battle, Jacob is left limping. Through the night-long wrestling match, Jacob seemed to prevail, but it was God who really prevailed over him and his character. As a result, God changed his name and his destiny: he was subsequently to be called
“Israel”, a name that means “he will rule (as) God.” God started Jacob’s deliverance from strongholds by wounding him. That wound would keep his strongholds down! Attending to the issue of his character and destiny, he is able to flow in the fullness of the purpose that God had for his life. For the rest of his life, he would have to explain that he was limping because of the wound he received at the hands of the Lord. That’s humiliating, but it works!

From that time, God variously calls him both Jacob and Israel.

It is as if God can’t make up His mind! As Jacob, he is the broken one, subject to his strongholds. When he is called “Jacob” it is God’s way of reminding him, as if to say, “Know where you’ve been. Know where your brokenness and strongholds are, humble yourself and walk trusting in my grace, redemption and healing. Attend to the character I call you to.” As “Israel” he is the father of those children of his own offspring. From these sons the nation of Israel as the people of God would begin to take shape.

Being called “Israel” bespeaks the prophetic purpose of his life.

The Jewish people as Jacob
After the death of Jacob-Israel, a nation had been born from the loins of his 12 sons. It is an extraordinary thing that the whole nation would be referred to alternately – like their father – as Jacob and Israel. Couldn’t God make up his mind about what to call them? But everything is in the name. Like the man Jacob himself, the people had revelation to deal with, and issues to attend to, and their God to call upon.

in the process, two patterns emerge:

1. When the nation addresses God in prayer and worship, it is variably the “God
of Jacob” or the “God of Israel.” Here is an example of worship: “Such is the
generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Ps
2. When, in the realm of the prophetic God addresses His people, He alternately
calls out to “Jacob” or “Israel.” Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little
Israel, for I myself will help you," declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the
Holy One of Israel (Is 41:14)..

Go on to part two!
Part Two
The Church of Jesus Christ as Jacob

One of the titles of the Church of Jesus Christ is the “New Israel,” having been
grafted on the vine of the People of God. As a Church we need to be reminded that
institutions can become – and often are – the subject of strongholds that prevent
people from knowing, loving and obeying Christ. The Church itself can become an
obstacle. That is the Church in “Jacob form,” and will require wrestling with God
about issues that he cannot tolerate if we are to walk in his character as a Church.
One example among many is the terrible judgment that has befallen the Catholic
Church not only with individual priests and other leaders who have shamelessly
abused children, but with an institutional system that in many places at worst
tolerated it and at best covered this sin up with pride and institutional arrogance.

Another example of the “Jacob form” is when the Church sanctions devotions and
practices at variance with the word of God. Taking the focus of spiritual life away
from the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives gives occasion to people
slipping into idolatrous practices. Promising this or that blessing for money or for the
mechanical performance of religious practices over authentic Christian faith will
surely draw the Church and its leaders into a time of contention with God over this.
On the other hand, when the Church is fulfilling its mission, setting the captives free,
healing the broken-hearted and extending the Kingdom of God, it is walking in its
purpose in the true form of “Israel.” Such a time of fulfillment we have seen the
pontificate of John Paul II. He always brought us back to focus on Christ and
surrender to Him because Jesus was the center of his own life, teaching and prayer.
Our Story, Our Name.

Each one of us as members of Christ’s Body are variously Jacob and Israel as well.
St Paul writes, “You were to put aside your old self, which belongs to your old way of
life and is corrupted by deceitful lusts. Your mind was to be spiritually renewed so
that you could put on the New Man that has been created in God’s likeness, in the
uprightness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4 22-24).
We are like Jacob when we connive with sin and iniquity thus acting according to our
strongholds. We manipulate, falsify even holy things and “lie in wait” for egotistical
and vain purposes. I suspect that many of our struggles or trials are not with the
devil at all. God himself stepped in and will contend as far as he needs to in order to
change us.

Think about the one humiliation or contradiction in your life that just will not go
away. Could it be that God has wounded you so as to bring about deliverance from
your strongholds? It is a character issue, after all. The wounding by God is a lasting
testament of where we have been and our dependence on Him, lest we go back to
the ways of the old self and raise up again the old strongholds. The wounding is
really your healing. As Jesus said to Saul-Paul when he asked for deliverance from
the thorn in his side, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is at full stretch in
weakness” (2Cor 12:9). Yes, God can turn this around.

Here are a few suggestions:

· Stop being defensive about your own strongholds and face them head on and
· Look for and renounce the way you have connived with sin and iniquity; What
are you “lying in wait” for in order to achieve you own ego-centric designs?
· Think and pray about the one or two humiliations or contradictions in your
life. Surrender them to God by declaring them a conduit of grace;
· What aspect of Christ’s character would he have you work on in the next
season of your life? Whether it be honesty, integrity, graciousness, prudence,
temperance, agape love or any of the godly virtues, engage God about this
and give Him your consent to have Him deal with you in whatever way He

· What “word” concerning your identity in Christ have you had the most difficult
time assimilating? Oblige yourself to speak it out every day, thanking God for
His purpose in your life. You are like Israel when you realize and act in the destiny of the character of Christ. You are a person of the promise – God’s promise for a purpose that in his plan would spring forth from your spiritual loins. Here is the promise: “The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the
mouth of the LORD will bestow” (Is 62:2).

I invite you to pray with me:

Father, you are sovereign over my life. I want to have the attitudes and actions of
your Son Jesus as the norm of my life. Through the Holy Spirit, I surrender to you
and your plan for my life. Help me to look honestly at my life – interiorly and
exteriorly – with out the defensiveness that I have had in the past. Show me what I need to repent of; show me what I need to acquire as Jesus’ own way of thinking, feeling and acting. I embrace the words that you have spoken through the scriptures or through others, that have the power to change me into your image. I believe that you will give me the grace to be transformed as your servant Jacob was transformed into Israel. In Jesus name, Amen
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