But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel[b] because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. (Genesis 32:26b-29)
Through the Bible: Genesis 32-34
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God. Verse 24 describes the stranger as “a man,” but in verse 28, the man identifies Himself as God (Hebrew Elohim, the God of gods). After they wrestled all night he “did not prevail” over Jacob (which is a very strange thing to say about God, because God always prevails).
He dislocates Jacob’s hip, and demands Jacob to let Him. Jacob says no (which is a very, VERY strange thing to say to God). Then Jacob says “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.”
Same old Jacob. Still scheming to get the upper hand. Still trying to get a little something extra in the negotiations. Scheming Jacob, whose name means “He who Grasps the Heel” (Gen. 25:26), a name his brother Esau interprets as “Cheater” (Gen. 27:36). Persistent Jacob, who refuses to let go of God even though he will limp for the rest of his life from the encounter.
How does God respond to Jacob’s impertinence? He doesn’t call down fire from heaven to smite him. He doesn’t open up the ground and swallow him. He doesn’t squash him like a bug. Instead, he does what Jacob demands. He blesses Jacob.
Well, sort of. He asks for Jacob’s name, and Jacob tells him. In many ancient cultures, it was thought that if you knew an adversary’s name, you gained power over him. Perhaps Jacob is acknowledging his opponent’s superiority. And maybe saying his own name out loud is a confession of sorts. “I’m the Heel Grasper. I’m the Cheater. I’ve lived up (lived down?) to that name all my life.
So God gives him a new name: Israel, which sounds like the Hebrew for “he struggled with God.” Which at first doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade. From Heel Grasper to God Fighter. This is a blessing?
Then, perhaps in one last attempt to gain the upper hand, Jacob asks God to tell Jacob His name. God doesn’t respond. He merely says, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there” (v. 29).
And somehow, these three things are the blessing Jacob asked for: A lifelong limp. Permission to struggle with God. And the awesome, humbling, terrifying gift of seeing God face to face, yet his life being spared (v. 30).
AW Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” God honors the one who refuses to let go of Him without a blessing. He doesn’t reject us when we struggle with Him. Yet refusing to let go of God comes with a cost. You will learn your weakness. You will learn His absolute sovereignty. You will probably be hobbled for the rest of your life.
But you will see God face to face. And when He hobbles you, it may be so you will have no choice but to hold on to Him ever tighter.
When we demand God’s name, He is silent. When God reveals His name, we are blessed.