Sermon Feb. 1 2015 “What Is Your Name?” Genesis 32:22-32

Genesis 32:22-32                                                                                           February 1, 2015

“What Is Your Name?” (God Wrestles with Jacob)           Sermon Series: “God’s Hope for Dysfunctional Families”

Pastor Louis Prontnicki                                   Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church

    Gen. 32:22-32  “That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.”

Hosea 12:3-4a “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor.”

Intro: I invite you to “take off your shoes” for we are standing on holy ground here. For much of this series on “Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families” we encounter problems between people. But here at the end of Genesis 32, we read of an encounter with God Himself, and so this is “holy ground,” as when God met Moses in the burning bush, or when the Lord reveals Himself to Isaiah in a vision, or when Peter realizes he is in the same fishing boat with the Lord of all creation!

So too, here, Jacob comes to realize that this man was God, and in the darkness, Jacob saw Him face to face. But what adds to this divine encounter is that God actually wrestled with Jacob! For perhaps a few hours, he was physically grappling with the Lord of the Universe! Jacob, who had struggled with men, was now grasping the form of the One who held him in His hands!

Therefore we must approach this passage with an expectancy of awe and mystery. We must let God grapple with our wills and our hearts. Are you ready? We are standing on holy ground.

Let’s try to get a handle on some of the important matters that this passage raises, by asking four questions:

1. Who is this man who wrestles with Jacob? v. 24 “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” Jacob is all alone, but all of a sudden there’s a man there, and this man is wrestling with Jacob. Five more times he is referred to simple as “the man.” It’s very shadowy and mysterious, and of course this is occurring during the night, so Jacob can’t see the man’s face; He can’t identify him, and most importantly, he doesn’t know his name.

It’s not until near the very end of the wrestling match that it dawns on Jacob that this man is really God Himself! (v. 30 “It is because I saw God face to face”)

Now, most of the time when God reveals Himself to a man, He makes it very clear Who He is. But perhaps this gradual and mysterious revealing of Himself to Jacob foreshadows the approach that the Son of God will use at the incarnation. Think of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, when even His own disciples did not recognize Him at first, such as in Luke 24, with the two disciples of the road to Emmaus. Consider Saul in Acts 9, when Jesus appears to him, and Saul asks, “Who are you, Lord?”

Application: Is Jesus revealing Himself to you, and you don’t see Him? Consider Matt. 25 “Lord, when did we see you…?” Many of us may be wrestling with the Lord, and we don’t know it. So when we you feel like you are wrestling with hard issues and circumstances in your life, perhaps you are actually wrestling with the Lord, and He’s trying to get your attention… and your heart! Let us ask in prayer, “Lord, is that you?”

 2. Since this man is God Almighty, why doesn’t He overpower Jacob immediately?

The reason that God doesn’t immediately overpower Jacob is that it appears that God has reduced himself to Jacob’s “size” and strength; He has lowered Himself and refuses to take an unfair advantage of a weaker opponent. It’s similar to what God the Son did when he lowered himself and became a man, at the incarnation. Think of how different that approach is when compared to Jacob’s usual methodology, of trying to gain the upper hand on his opponent, or how different God’s approach is to our normal practice of trying to appear stronger and smarter than we really are, when facing a foe or an unknown person coming toward us. (Like trying to make ourselves look big, when encountering a bear!)

Phil. 2:5-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

Two implications here:

(1) This should influence how we deal with those weaker and more vulnerable than ourselves. Think of husbands with their wives (see 1 Peter 3:7 – live with understanding with your wife, treating her as the ‘weaker partner,’ that is, the one who is called to submit to you. Also see Eph. 6:4, where fathers are not to exasperate their children.)

(20 This should remind us how the Lord deals with us: more often in gentleness and in coming alongside us, (The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside of us to help us), rather than overpowering us.


3. Why does God ask Jacob, “What is your name?” (Surely He knows it!)

Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias suggests a compelling answer. “In asking for the blessing from God, Jacob was compelled by God’s question, “What is your name?” to re-live the last time he has asked for a blessing, the one he had stolen from his brother. The last time Jacob was asked for his name, who had asked him that question? It was his earthly father, Isaac, right? And Jacob had lied to his father on that occasion and said, ‘My name is Esau,’ in order to steal the blessing.

But now Jacob finds himself, (after many wasted years of running through life looking over his shoulder), before his all-knowing, all-seeing heavenly Father, and he is once more seeking a blessing. So Jacob fully understood the reason (and the indictment) behind God’s question, and so he answered, “My name is Jacob.”

We can read between the lines here and imagine what God is thinking at this point. “Yes, Jacob, this time you have spoken the truth about what your name is. In fact, you know very well what your name signifies: Jacob, the supplanter, the deceiver, the one who grabs at things with your own craftiness. You have been a duplicitous man, deceiving everyone. But Jacob, now that you have acknowledged the real you, now that you have owned up to your real name and your real character, I can change you, and I will bless you, and I will make a great nation out of you.”

In other words, God had asked Jacob his name because He wanted to know if Jacob had truly been changed. Was Jacob finally ready to look at himself and see who he really was, before God? Or was he going to continue fighting the Lord and deceiving other people?

God gave Jacob a new name: “Israel” which means, “God prevails”

When we become believers in Jesus Christ, God changes His name for us. He re-names us “sons and daughters” instead of sinners and rebels; “friends” instead of enemies; friends instead of enemies. Praise the Lord for these wonderful “name changes”!

   As for Jacob, this can be a key moment in our lives as well. It is the moment when we stop trusting in ourselves, our strength, and our skills, which are, in reality, weak props on the false stage we create. It is the moment we realize we need God, and that we must cling to Him for our hope, our life, our salvation, and our strength. Have you come to that moment in your life?


4. What does all this mean? It may mean that Jacob has been struggling against God all His life, and this wrestling match symbolizes that resistance. Jacob had been kicking against a God who is determined to bless him and to help him! “Up to this crisis his life has been a long endeavor to resist God’s goodness.”

Like many of us, Jacob wanted God’s blessings but he did not want God’s rule over him. He wanted God to save and protect him, but Jacob did not want to submit to God in his daily life.

Often a crisis, a “wrestling match” that leaves us drained and weary, will open our eyes to see that our greatest need is not for deliverance from our circumstances, but rather deliverance from ourselves.

I had such a wrestling match 45 years ago today, Feb. 1, 1970. I was a senior in high school, and after another weekend getting drunk and wasting away my weekends, I cried out to God, at mass, in St. Philip the Apostle Church, in Clifton, N.J. I prayed, “God, please straighten out my life!” And God mercifully heard me, and He sent a man to “wrestle” with me on a basketball court, as through this man, and others, God challenged me to surrender my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Praise His Holy Name for His mercy!

John White writes in Daring to Draw Near, a great book on prayer, that: “Jacob struggled half his life to gain for himself the very things God has planned to give him anyway. In the end he gained exactly what God had promised…Tragically he had missed, in the struggle, the peace and fellowship with God he might have otherwise have enjoyed. God wanted him to have the inheritance plus peace and fellowship with Himself. Instead Jacob had 21 years of anxiety.”

   Jacob was always trying to win by human effort what God had intended to give him all along.

White continues: “Picture the wrestling as God seeking to help Jacob understand something. Picture Him as urging upon Jacob truths that Jacob was unwilling to see. Picture Him trying to convince Jacob that His intentions were not malicious but merciful. (Like a lifeguard wrestling with a drowning swimmer; like EMT people wrestling with a delirious, thrashing patient, to help him.)

But Jacob is afraid. All his life he has learned that it is safe to trust no one. He thinks that he must fight his own battles. So he wrestles on, terrified by the thought of yielding. Then, suddenly – there is incredible pain and a useless leg. At that point, all Jacob can do is hold on to his opponent for dear life. He must cling to him, or he will fall and hurt himself.”

And at some point here, it dawns on Jacob that he has been wrestling with God, not a man, and this God could slay him with a glance. And for once, Jacob’s tenacity is turned in the right direction: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

These are the words that God has waited over forty years to hear. He would have preferred that Jacob recognize his helplessness and cast himself on the mercy of his God long before. He did not wish to give him a life-long limp, but Jacob left Him little choice.

Jacob was conquered by his helpless dependency upon the Lord.

So…is God wrestling with you? If so, what makes you resist? Greed? Fear? Control?

Remember: You are often trying to win by your own effort what God intends to give you all along, by His grace!

    As we approach the Lord’s Supper, please look at the insert in your bulletin. You will see the words to a hymn written by Charles Wesley that are based on Genesis 32:22-32.

May the Lord use them to stir our hearts and minds as we approach God’s Throne of Grace in the rich symbolism of the bread and the cup.


by Charles Wesley

COME, O Thou Traveller unknown,

Whom still I hold, but cannot see,

My company before is gone,

And I am left alone with Thee.

With Thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle till the break of day.


I need not tell Thee who I am,

My misery, or sin declare,

Thyself hast call’d me by my name,

Look on thy hands, and read it there,

But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?

Tell me thy name, and tell me now.


In vain Thou strugglest to get free,

I never will unloose my hold:

Art Thou the Man that died for me?

The secret of thy love unfold;

Wrestling I will not let Thee go,

Till I thy name, thy nature know.


‘Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue,

Or touch the hollow of my thigh:

Though every sinew be unstrung,

Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;

Wrestling I will not let Thee go,

Till I thy name, thy nature know.


My strength is gone, my nature dies,

I sink beneath thy weighty hand,

Faint to revive, and fall to rise;

I fall, and yet by faith I stand,

I stand, and will not let Thee go,

Till I thy name, thy nature know.


Yield to me now–for I am weak;

But confident in self-despair:

Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,

Be conquer’d by my instant prayer,

Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,

And tell me, if thy name is LOVE.


‘Tis Love, ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me,

I hear thy whisper in my heart.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee:


To me, to all, thy bowels move,

Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.


Contented now upon my thigh

I halt, till life’s short journey end;

All helplessness, all weakness I,

On Thee alone for strength depend,

Nor have I power, from Thee, to move;

Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.


Lame as I am, I take the prey,

Hell, earth, and sin with ease o’ercome;

I leap for joy, pursue my way,

And as a bounding hart fly home,

Thro’ all eternity to prove

Thy nature, and thy name is LOVE.