And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. (Genesis 35:10-15)

How did your parents name you? Did you have a say in it? Of course not! Unless your mom named you “One who pokes me in the ribs.” I somehow doubt it, though.

Jacob is a good name, right? A great name, actually. According to much of the United States population, Jacob has long been the number one baby name. So why does it matter that God gave Jacob a new name? With God it’s all about what He does, not what we do. God had a promise to give, and loving kindness to share.

See, Jacob had a past. He was a liar, a deceiver, a heel-grabbing opportunistic schemer, a bit self-centered and kind of greedy. He had a bit of a reputation for all these negatives, at least with many of his family members. What about you? Do you have anything you regret? Ever spoken hot words too quickly? Ever put your own needs before those you love? Do you have a reputation, or part of your reputation, that you wish you could shake? You can probably relate to Jacob, if even just a little bit.

God doesn’t come down and smite Jacob’s enemies (although that may have occasionally been on Jacob’s wish list). God doesn’t squish Jacob himself like a bug, either. Instead, God does what God is in the business of doing–He redeems. (God did, however, put Jacob’s hip out of joint, which surely must have resulted in a limp. It was a not so gentle reminder to Jacob that the One he wrestled to the ground could have crushed him like a bug.)

Jacob, like ourselves, is guilty, and was guilty from birth. He was coated in original sin, and had his own sin to deal with. But God gives Jacob a new name–Israel, which means, “He wrestles with God.” In Baptism, God gives us a new name–His Child. God didn’t stop with the new name, although that redemption and forgiveness is surely enough. He gave Jacob the promise of every tomorrow. Through Israel (Jacob), kings would be born. David, Solomon, Hezekiah, those guys. More importantly, the King with a capital K–King Jesus. In our lives, God doesn’t just forgive. He restores; He heals. He does wonderful things with your life, both in real time each day, and spiritually in relationship with Him.

Jacob made an altar and poured precious oil over it in thankfulness of who God was, in praise for His forgiveness, His love and His promises. He was thankful God gave Him a new name. What can we do to thank God? Nothing really. Even the altars made by Noah, Abraham and Jacob were made of stone…provided by God. But God meets with us, talks with us and receives our thankfulness all the same. He loves hearing from us.

We are thankful we have a new name!

Questions for contemplation:

  • Confess before God your sins. Praise Him for His forgiveness.
  • How has God been faithful to forgive your sins in the past?
  • What’s your middle name? Middle names were originally given at baptism, in recognition that God renames us and makes us His own in baptism. When you think of your middle name, stop, and thank God for His
    forgiveness and His love.