What Is Your Name?

An ancient story is told in the Bible of a man called Jacob; Jacob had a twin brother named Esau, who was the first born. While Rebekah was carrying them, there was in her womb a struggle between them. She wondered why was she like that, when she decided to inquire of the Lord. He then revealed to her that two nations were in her womb, and the separation of two peoples had begun in her body…the elder shall serve the younger (Gen.25:22-23). At the birth of the twins, Jacob, the younger one came forth grasping his brother’s heel; so they named him Jacob, the supplanter (vs.26). Jacob lived to be just that. He started when his brother begged him to share his red lent stew, for he said, I am faint and famished! Jacob then used the circumstance of Esau’s need to make him sell his birthright. Esau said, See here I am at the point of death; what good can this birthright do me?  Jacob went a step further by saying, Swear to me today; and he swore to Jacob and sold him his birthright (Gen. 25: 29-33). Jacob’s life is measured by the meaning of his name-supplanter. Not a good meaning for a name to be represented through someone’s entire life. Supplanter, according to Webster’s dictionary means to take the place of through force, scheming or treachery. That’s how Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. The Bible tells us that Esau was a cunning and skilled hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a plain and quiet man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of Esau’s game; but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen. 25: 27-28).  So, it happened when Isaac, feeling old and expecting to die, he called Esau and asked him to prepare for him the appetizing meal, such as he loved, in preparation to bless him as his firstborn, before he dies.  Rebekah, cunning in her own way, and favoring Jacob, when she heard of Isaac’s plan, she instructed Jacob to prepare Isaac’s favorite meal to receive Esau’s blessing by pretense. Getting two kids from their own flock, Jacob acted faster than Esau, who had to go hunt for his game. Rebekah took Esau’s best clothes and put them on Jacob, and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck; and she gave the savory meat and the bread which she had prepared into the hand of Jacob. He took the meal to his father and his father blessed him after showing skepticism of the legitimacy of his doings. So, Jacob was blessed under the pretense of being his brother, and from that time on, he became a fugitive from his brother, who wanted to kill him (Genesis 27).

Although life was not easy for Jacob in his fugitive pursuit to save his life, God came to him and confirmed His promises He had made to his grand-father’s Abraham on a dream he had on his journey. In it, he saw a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. The Lord stood over and beside him and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; I will give to you and to your descendants the land on which you are lying. And your offspring shall be as the dust or sand of the ground, and you shall spread abroad to the west and the east and the north and the south; and by you and your Offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Gen.28:12-14). In Jacob, not Esau, God’s promises to Abraham was going to be fulfilled, but he had to go through hard experiences, harvesting the seeds he planted on the way. Arriving at his uncle Laban, Jacob found him a place to call home for a while, where he was given a job pasturing Laban’s flock. Jacob fell in love with the younger sister Rachel, for whom he worked seven years. But at the wedding day, he found himself in bed with the older sister. Disappointed, he said, What is this you have done to me? Did I not work for you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived and cheated and thrown me down like this? (Gen. 29:23-25). There is a say that fits well with Jacob’s experience at that moment: “What goes around, comes around.” It hadn’t been too many years since he stole his brother’s firstborn blessing. And now, he is deceived in the same manner in which he deceived his father. As a result, supplanter had to work seven more years to get the wife of his choice. On the way to his land after many years later, Jacob had an encounter with the angel of the Lord, Who brought him to the realization of his past represented by the meaning of his name-Jacob. He asked him, What is your name? And he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]!  Then the angel said to him, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, [contender with God]; for you have contended and have power with God and with men and have prevailed (Gen. 32:27-28).

Jacob was ninety-seven years old when he had an encounter with the angel of God, on his way to meet his brother, Esau. Many years had passed since they were separated due to Jacob’s trick to acquire Esau’s blessing, living to the fullest of the meaning of his name. However, as it is always the case, the time had come for Jacob to deal with his dark past. Seeing Esau from a short distance, he bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to this brother, who ran to embrace and kissed him and both wept (Gen. 33:3-4). Embrace, kisses and tears, common expressions of memories going through the mind. Brothers at last uniting as brothers in the commonality of family. God was pleased, Who before this meeting, had sent an angel to meet him with the question, “What is your name?” At Jacob’s answer, the angel of the Lord said, Your name shall be Israel. I am sure that the question, “What is your name?”  Echoed in his mind the ugly past when he lied to his father, by saying his name was Esau, in order to steal his blessing. Jacob’s lineage was chosen by God to send His Son to the world, so that encounter with the angel was an important one, to confirm to him the blessings promised to his forefather.

The Word of God says, A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold (Prov. 22:1); and a good name is better than precious perfume (Eccl. 7:1a). The reputation of a name is written in the pages of our life, echoing in the time of death. What do you want to be remembered for at one’s remembrance of you?  Will it be like a forever burning torch in dark places, leading others to salvation?  What will your name write in your story?


Author: Jacinta da Cruz Rodgers

I have been committed to teaching the truth of the Word of God beginning with Trans World Radio on Bonaire, N.A and Swaziland, Africa (1969-1980), then through churches in the United States in both English and Portuguese and then through ministry in Israel (2005-2006). This ministry continues through local Bible studies and outreach to the world via the internet. I have written a book about my life from that of an orphan in Brazil to missionary in 5 countries. You can find out more on the "Book" page of our blog site.

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