27 And [the angel] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. (Genesis 32:27-29)
My undergrad degree is in English literature, so I was trained to be on the lookout for motifs and tropes that are common in literature and mythology. There’s a motif in literature about knowing someone’s true name. One scholar writes, “A true name describes something or someone’s essential nature. Knowing a true name gives one power over the owner of the name.”
Remember the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin? When the girl learned the true name of the imp, she gained power over him, and she was freed from her vow to him. You see it again in the movie Beetlejuice. Say his name three times, and you can escape him.
Which brings me to today’s reading. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God. When Jacob asks God for his name in their wrestling match (presumably to gain an advantage over his adversary), God doesn’t respond. He merely says, “Why do you ask my name?” (V 29)
The same thing happens in Judges 13:18. When the angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s parents to tell them about Samson’s birth, Manoah asks the name of the angel of the Lord, and He responds, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful for you.”
So here’s my lesson for today: I will never be able to call on God’s name to manipulate Him or bend Him to my will. God never tells His name to anyone that demands it of Him. We will never be able to use the name of God like a magic spell, to get what we want.
BUT… God in His mercy graciously REVEALS His name to His children! He wants to be known by us. He draws near to His servants, telling them His Name. Indeed, showing His many names through His loving character:
- He is El Elyon, the God Most High, to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20).
- He is El Roi, the God Who sees, to Hagar (Gen 16:13 Also see Day 017).
- He is El Shaddai, God Almighty, to Abraham (Gen. 17:1).
- He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord Who Provides, when He provides a substitutionary sacrifice in place of Isaac (Genesis 22).
- He is The Great I Am to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3).
When we demand God’s name, He is silent.
When God reveals His name, we are blessed.