Scripture Focus: Genesis 35.9-10
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
Reflection: From Pejorative to Promise
By John Tillman
The number of people with name changes in the Bible is long and many of the changes are significant.
Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah.
Ben-Oni is renamed Benjamin.
Naomi renames herself Mara.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
James and John are called Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder.
Simon is called Cephas or Peter, the rock.
Joseph is renamed Barnabas.
And, of course, Jacob’s name is changed by God to Israel.
All of the examples above, a changed name meant a changed identity. They said something about how they thought about themselves, how the world saw them, and about their God.
The name, Israel, doesn’t seem to stick the first time, so God comes to Jacob again, repeating the name change and the promise that goes with it. Jacob was a pejorative, meaning “heel grasper.” Israel is a blessing, meaning “contends with God” or perhaps a promise, “overcomes with God.”
Names still have power. We name ourselves and others. Twitter and Instagram handles, gamertags, and many other names function as self-description. The names we give ourselves can be encoded with inside jokes or vague pop culture references.
We also engage in damaging name-calling. Instead of validating a part of one’s humanity, name-calling strips it. Name-calling has been used heavily in politics of late, but its roots go much further back. Name-calling is an attack on the image of God in others and Jesus compared it to murder. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Dealing with a few famous name-callers would be bad enough. Some of us, however, are our own name-calling bullies. We bully ourselves with names like, Stupid, Fat, Worthless. These hurt us more than any other person’s name for us could.
The Bible tells us that Jesus has a name for us. (Revelation 2.17; 3.12) It is not a pejorative but a promise. When Jesus names us, he doesn’t badmouth us, he blesses us. Jesus, rather than call us names like “loser” or “deplorable,” give us new and good names.
He became a loser in our place when he died on the cross. He erased our deplorable sins, paying for them by his sacrificial death. He gives us new names of victory and holiness that only we may know. We can come to know his name for us by coming close, wrestling with him as Jacob did, holding on to him until he lovingly names us as his child.
Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1
Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
In Jacob’s preparation to fool his father he put on qualities that his father loved, covering his own unloved qualities.
Read more about Suffering for Our True Identity
It is not all right to be a Christian. And if we ask why, the answer is a sad one; Christians have given Christianity a bad name. — Madeleine L’Engle