This story about Jacob from Genesis betrays one of the most popular lies our culture has ever told. We've all been told it by our parents a thousand times. But even more painful, we've told it ourselves, hoping that it might be true. The lie is this: sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
Unfortunately, as much as we want this to be true, this statement is a lie, because the truth is, names do hurt us. Whether they are names we have been called by others or those we have called ourselves. They point out our inadequacies and celebrate our failures; they expose our weaknesses or constantly remind us of our bad decisions. Names like failure, greedy, irresponsible, unfaithful, or coward. We wear these names on our backs like thousand ton boulders, dragging them with us into each new day…So my question is for you today is; what is your name that hurts you?
Jacob, from our reading today had a name. You know what that name was? Loser? Jacob was a loser? His entire life, from the very beginning of it, he was a loser. No matter what He did in life, he was always outdone by someone else. This mostly came from his twin brother Esau who was born first and was given a inheritance from his father Isaac—something that made Jacob extremely jealous. You see, being a first born son was very important back in those days when people were mostly just surviving. The first born was given all the inheritance, property, livestock etc, to ensure that the family wealth would continue. If families would go around and divide up all of their wealth equally, the assurance of future stability would continue. Think about it, If you are just surviving on what you have, and then you divide it up equally among your say five sons, then you would have five sons with their families trying to survive on 1/5 the size of a whole that probably barley kept a family alive in the first place. Therefore to ensure that the family name had continued stability, all of the inheritance was given to the firstborn son. The others would have to find their own way in life. Jacob, just missed this inheritance being born first by only a second, he was born only a second after his twin Esau, actually holding onto Esau’s foot as they were born. Jacob from the very beginning was a loser.
Jacob lost out to Esau in other ways too. Although they were twins, Jacob was different than his brother Esau. You know how some people just seem like they have it all—they just live those dream lives. They have wealth and success and talents, and good looks and it seems as though they are loved and admired by everyone. Esau was that person. Esau was strong and attractive, and talented. One of the best hunters around. He was successful, he was going to have a great inheritance, and because of all these things, he was loved by his father Isaac so much more than Jacob was loved—he was the favorite son. By contrast, Jacob was weak, and slight of built, he didn’t do a lot of hunting, he was more comfortable hanging around the house with his mom. Jacob just didn’t measure up, He just wasn’t really blessed by God with all these things that we consider blessings.
Jacob, not being blessed with much, was the underdog, he thought he was going to have to do it himself to overcome his situation and make his dreams come true, to earn his blessing from God. And this is really a big mistake that Jacob makes and really the same mistake that many of us make as well. Many of us believe if we work really hard, blessings will come our way. But if we think about it, the best things in our lives are just given to us. They are nothing we have achieved. Think about it. What are the things in your life that you cherish? Your family, your spouse, your children, maybe it is your talents and abilities. They were nothing you earned, they were given to you, by God, and you are blessed to have them. You can’t achieve a blessing; all you can do is receive it. But that was Jacob’s problem you see, he didn’t understand this truth, he tries instead to earn his blessing from God, turning a blessing from God into a goal to be achieved, and this leads him down many wrong roads in life.
He cheats for his blessing first. He tries get it from his brother who is in a sort of a desperate position, famished with starvation after a long day of hunting, and Jacob instead of helping him, takes advantage of the situation by demanding Esau’s inheritance in exchange for some food that Jacob possesses. Esau fed up, frustrated with his brother, and hungry says “well if you want it so bad, just take it and give me some food” Esau exchanges his future inheritance for one small meal of lentils…and Jacob becomes a cheat. Jacob also tries to become something he is not. He tries to dress the part of attractive, successful Esau, by dressing up like him to fool his old and blind father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Which works, Isaac thinks Jacob is his brother Esau, and gives Jacob Esau’s, birthright blessing as head of the family in the future. Jacob trying to earn what he cannot earn, earns him a few names …conniving, cheating, loser.
Well, as you can imagine, all of this kind of hurts his relationship with his brother Esau. Esau, enraged, basically says to his brother Jacob, “Once dad dies…You're dead." So Jacob runs away, and now you can add another list of names that he has earned, you can add coward. But He can’t run forever. Some time goes by and Jacob receives word that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with an army of four hundred men. And one night, sitting there waiting for his brother to come kill him, all alone, worrying that the sins of the past are about to catch up with him, Jacob has nowhere left to run. And it is at this moment that he is confronted by God. You see, you can cheat Esau, you can fool Isaac, you can be something you are not, and you can run, but you can’t fool or run from God. God knows your real name.
The story says that Jacob begins to wrestle with a man we come to know as God. All night long the two are in this struggle. Jacob with nowhere left to run, has nothing left to do but fight with God. He is fighting with God because of all that he thinks he deserves. He is lashing out at God because he is angry, he is jealous, he has tried so hard to receive a blessing. As daylight approaches, God dislocates Jacob’s hip, but Jacob hangs on and demands from God a blessing, “Bless me” he cries out. To which God, responds, “Tell me your name.” what the Lord is saying to Jacob is “Confess to me who you really are”. Now Jacob’s name means to take or supplant, or, more loosely, cheat. How appropriate a name it is, for all of his life Jacob has devoted his energy to take what belongs to others. Jacob is nothing more than a fraud. And deep down, you see, Jacob knows this. When faced with who he really is, in the past, what does Jacob do? He runs. But this time he doesn’t run, he clings to God tighter and confesses his name Jacob. "I am Jacob. I am a cheat. I am a fraud. I am a loser. And all of that has got me nothing but pain, those names hurt, and I can’t do anything about it, but reach out, and hold onto you”.
Once Jacob cries out in confession to who he really is, clinging to God in the process, God doesn’t punish Jacob, instead God blesses Jacob with a new name. He calls him Israel, the one who has wrestled with God. Israel, the people of God are those who wrestle with God. Jacob limps away carrying a new name and character, living life as a new person. For not only will Jacob and Esau be reconciled in the chapters to come, but Jacob will also be the father of a nation, from his twelve sons come the nation of descendants that still bear his name even to this day, and from whom the savior of the world Jesus Christ is a decedent...not a loser anymore.
You know the truth is, we are complex people. There are times when we display great faith and there are times when we hardly believe at all. There are times when we have great courage in the face of this struggle, and times when we whimper away in despair. There are also times when we are full of integrity and love for each-other, and times when we hurt each other and do things that we know we shouldn’t do. Those times when we screw up, they stick with us and they haunt us, and from them are the names we tend to call ourselves. What is your name? What is that name that you are ashamed of, but that you feel you are or have been in your life? Is it cheat, or phony like Jacob, is it unworthy, irresponsible, unfaithful? Coward or bully? Unloved , weak, loser? What is your name?
But we need to know, that to be blessed, to prevail in this life, is not to be perfect, but it is to confess who we really are to God—to bear our souls before God and confess to Him our real name… and then hang on. To cling to God, through all of it, through thick and thin, good and bad, ups and downs, fears, and doubts wrestling with God through it all.
Do you know what name God calls you? In the pages of the New Testament you are called Son, daughter, beloved, mine, and the awesome one, heirs in Christ. Unlike Jacob, You are blessed with an inheritance. Your name is Christian, because you are heirs of the family of Christ. Those other names, they can hurt us and have power over us and you need to lay them down at God’s feet, confessing them honestly, and then leave them behind, as you hear God’s name for you—a name that can heal you and bless you... “You are mine, you are my son, you are my daughter. You are my beloved, the one I chose and redeemed at great cost, the one to whom I am committed and to whom I promise to protect and care for all the days of your life. For you are my child. You are Christians, those who bear the name of Christ and who trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac...and Jacob...the God of Israel…that is your true name, and you are blessed because of it.