Jacob was the second born twin of Rebecca and Isaac. From the moment he was born, he wasn’t satisfied with being second or accepting second best. Even though he was his mother’s favorite, he wasn’t satisfied. He took his brother’s birthright and stole his father’s blessing. Even when he fled to his mother’s family he wasn’t happy with second best. He ended up working for fourteen years for his uncle Laban and marrying both his daughters to get the one he really loved. With two wives, a few children, and a prospering business, life should have been good.
If he were a man of this century we’d probably call him a shrewd business man. He knew what he wanted and he went after it. His methods weren’t godly. He certainly lacked contentment, but God had plans for him. He’d be the one whose name God’s people would choose. They may be the sons and daughters of Abraham but they were the people ‘Israel’. And I always wondered why him? Why the one who just couldn’t accept his lot in life? Why would he be the one to be renamed ‘Israel’ and bear the sons that became the fathers of the twelve tribes?
I believe God chose Jacob precisely because we wouldn’t. If you read carefully through scripture you will find God calls men out, not in their most devoted moments, but in His own timing. You see, Jacob was in the midst of running from his brother when exhausted he fell asleep. And in his dream, God gave him a vision of heaven. When Jacob woke it wasn’t his brother that was first on his mind but God. He named the place Bethel and set up a memorial stone and poured oil over it to signify its holiness.
God intervened, but it didn’t change the man Jacob was. He didn’t become some devout man of God, but Jacob couldn’t deny God’s hand in his prosperity either. He matured over the next two decades, but he was still a business man. Finally he became too successful for the likes of his wives’ kinsmen and once again he ran away. This time he was stuck between the fear of his brothers-in-law and the fear of his brother.
He had nowhere to run and God came down and wrestled with him. It seems that moment comes in every life where we have to wrestle with God. It is Peniel, the place where we see God face to face. It is where we stop living for ourselves and start living for Him. And He changes our name. Jacob became Israel. But we don’t sing ‘Oh God of Israel’, We sing ‘Oh God of Jacob’ and rightly so. Because we have to acknowledge our need for Him. We have to wrestle with Him until He breaks the strongest part of us.
Then our lives become vessels for Him. Then we start to do His will. We stop running and start reconciling. We stop fearing men and fear God. We don’t become perfect, but we become willing to be molded and shaped and used by God. Sometimes it costs us what we love the most. Jacob loses Rachel in childbirth at the gates of Bethlehem. He loses his favorite son Joseph, because of the jealousy of his brothers. He loses his country to famine. But in the end God uses it all to create the nation of Israel.
So next time you hear ‘the God of Jacob’ remember you are calling upon the God who calls us not because we earned His affection but because He loves us and has a plan for us.
What is your favorite name of God?