So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:27-28)
I don’t think it’s likely that the man/angel didn’t know who He was struggling with, and so, why did He ask him about his name? Frankly, I don’t think it was so much a question as it was a provocation to get Jacob to admit something about himself that was revealed in his name. Scripturally, a name is more than just a label; it reveals something about that person, and so, the angel was pointing out something concerning Jacob by asking, “What’s your name?”
The name Jacob (יעקב Ya’akov) means “a hand on a heel.” This is what occurred when he was born — he had placed his hand on the heel of his brother Esau as they were being born. For months prior to this, these two infants had been contending with one another inside their mother’s womb. As they emerged from the womb, Esau’s heel was positioned to come down upon the head of Jacob, perhaps severely injuring him, and so it has long been my belief that Jacob protected his head by using his hand. Thus began a life of struggling with those who sought to abuse and oppress him.
So when the man asked him about his name, Jacob had to confess that he was guy who was always on the defense from those who wanted to kill him. He had to use his hands and his wits — that which was within his own power and might — to protect himself from his enemies. However, as he prepared to meet Esau and his 400 men, Jacob was faced with the reality that some things are out of his hands – some things required God’s assistance which is why he had called upon the Almighty to deliver him.
Thus, the distinctive walk we spoke of yesterday was accompanied by a new name. The Man says, “You will no longer be called “a hand on a heel” but Israel. The implication is that he was no longer the one who has to shield his head from the heel of his enemy; as Israel, he would place his heel upon their head. Likewise, you and I — when we are walking in the way that we have been commanded — have the authority and empowerment to prevail over our enemies. We don’t have to live life perpetually on the defense but are to be those who overcome the enemy and place him on the defense. When we follow in the heel prints of our Messiah, we have the authority to trample on serpents and keep our enemy under our heel. So then, let us not walk as “Jacob” but as Israel.
Blessings and Shalom,