Jacob to Israel

Pastor Josh  Combs 

“Then He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” Genesis 32:28

Jacob was a scoundrel, a con man, a liar, and a trickster. Sadly, he had learned all these skills at home and from family members. His mother had taught him how to lie (Genesis chapter 27) and his father-in-law, Laban, had run a 14-year con on him (Genesis chapter 29). In Genesis chapter 32, we find Jacob facing a reckoning from his twin brother, Esau. Jacob had conned his brother out of the birthright (Genesis chapter 25) and then later, out of a special blessing reserved for the oldest son. Jacob had masqueraded as Esau and deceived his elderly, nearly blind father, Isaac (Genesis chapter 27). Born with a serious amount of sibling rivalry, these twins are about to have a bit of a showdown. As the sun sets, on Jacob’s orders, his wives, children, and slaves are positioned between him and his presumably violent and vengeful brother. Jacob is preparing for a very unhappy reunion the following morning. A life filled with deception and trickery appears to be coming to a violent end. Esau is camped across a little stream with 400 men who comprise his own private militia and the Scripture simply says, “And Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24).

Jacob is desperate because he is facing the consequences of his scheming ways. His whole world seems to be crashing down. In the lonely, anxiety-filled darkness of that night, Jacob meets God.  A physical and spiritual wrestling match ensues. In desperation, Jacob holds onto God, crying out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob was looking for a way out, a solution, and a rescue from the impending judgment coming in the morning. So in the blackness of night, God asks him, “What is your name?” And Jacob, unwilling to relent, responds. God, in glorious, transforming fashion, says, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.” In an instant, Jacob, the con man, is transformed into Israel, meaning “God’s fighter.” The next morning, Jacob crosses the stream and is a completely different man. He is humble, truthful, and generous. Jacob is gone. Israel, a new man, is born.

Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” When we repent of our lies and deception, God, through the Holy Spirit, transforms us. We cease to be sneaky and conniving. We begin to live bold, truthful, and humble lives before the Lord and our fellow man.

“And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’” Genesis 35:10

Jacob had wrestled with God and held on for dear life (Genesis 32:24-32). The Lord had blessed him and transformed him from a deceitful con man into Israel, the namesake of a great nation. Yet, years later when Israel returns to the sacred place of Bethel, Jacob the deceiver, seems to have returned as well. As he and his family approached this sacred ground, this patriarch of the family begins instructing his household to “Put away the foreign gods that are among you…” (Genesis 35:2).

Bethel was the first place that God had revealed Himself to Jacob. God had confirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob, reminding him, “In you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:14).

As Israel and his household approached Bethel, where he planned to build an altar to the Lord, the Scripture simply says, “Jacob hid them,” referring to the idols of his household. The trickster has returned and, rather than destroying the idols, he has hidden them before arriving at Bethel. When God appears to him, He says for the second time, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Once again, the Lord reminded this patriarch not only of Bethel, but of the night God completely transformed his destiny and rescued him from the vengeance of Esau, his twin brother. Israel was the new man and Jacob was the old man. God simply says, stop being a Jacob; I’ve called you Israel.

In Galatians chapter 5, Paul writes, “Walk by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (verses 16-17). Inside each Christian are two natures: the old and the new. The Scripture calls them “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” We have a Jacob and an Israel. We have the sinful ways of thinking that refuse to relent, fulfilling the phrase, “Old habits die hard.” But Christ purchased victory for us on the cross of Calvary. We thank God for the victory that He has given us over the flesh, our old self, our Jacob. Today, walk in that victory, submitting and surrendering yourselves to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Bible Reading: Genesis 35:1-15; Genesis chapters 32-33

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