“Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel.”
Genesis 35:9-10 NASB
As I read this this morning, I was a bit confused. Why is God re-re-naming Jacob as Israel? Didn’t He do that already? (He did, three chapters earlier.) And I was already a bit disoriented, as the whole of Genesis 34 is some kind of tragic, bizarre unfolding that is entirely unbecoming of God’s people and calling (fittingly entitled in my Bible, “The Treachery of Jacob’s Sons” - more on that later).
What struck me about God’s re-re-naming visit was, despite the fact that God had already renamed Jacob as Israel, yet Jacob’s own identity — the way he thought of himself, and what he was taken up with — didn’t change. Even though God had called him Israel (“he who strives with God”), yet he still called himself, and thought of himself, as Jacob (“deceiver”).
And it made me think about how that can be the same with me. To become a Christian is to make Jesus Christ the Lord, Pattern, and Love of my life (Colossians 2:6, 1 John 2:6) — absolute Sovereign, supreme Example, highest Affection. Yet how often there are parts of my old identity that can creep back in. If not “sinner,” or “good for nothing,” then it could still be “rule follower,” or “bookworm,” or “clever guy,” etc.
The point is, when I come to Christ, I am called to lay down my life and my identity, and take up His life as my life, His identity as my identity, His nearness as my greatest good.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Matthew 16:24 NASB
“For to me, to live is Christ...”
Philippians 1:21 NASB
“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin ...(in) simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 11:2-3 NASB
Just like it was with Jacob, God’s desire is to give me a new identity, now in Jesus Christ. But just like it was with Jacob, I too can persist in my old identities.
IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY
When God appeared to Jacob, and renamed him Israel (Genesis 32:28), His desire was to affect an immediate change in identity. Yet he is referred to as “Jacob” 18 times between God’s first renaming and his second.
How different it was with Abraham. When God appeared to Abram at 99 years of age, and changed his name to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-5), Abraham was never referred to as Abram even once for the remainder of his life.
There are real consequences to persisting in an identity which God has wanted to change. Just look at chapter 34 (it’s worthwhile to briefly read this shocking chapter)! What a tragic event in the history of the people of God - so much that Jacob himself declared, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious...”
Genesis 34:30 NASB
It’s clear that his sons partook of that same deceiver mentality, and delighted in it. But the problem is, Jacob shouldn't have had any sons!! Jacob should have been no more, his sons now sons of Israel! I believe this event was recorded for our benefit, as a warning against persisting in some other loves, or being identified by any other interest, rather than being completely taken up with Jesus Christ. Like the full day of the son, the starlight of all other loves (even perfectly permissible interests!) must grow completely dim in the light of His glory.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
What will I be known for? What is my passion? What’s the interest I'm known for? If it’s anything other than Jesus Christ, I’m in danger! And not only that, but my kids are, too! I want to take this story as a warning to be careful that I don’t pass any passion to my kids besides a supreme devotion to Jesus Christ.
Whatever my previous identities, all must be forsaken to follow Jesus Christ.
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,”
Philippians 3:7-8 NASB
Was I previously known as a music lover? Loss!
Book worm? Loss!
Clever, smart? Loss!
Athletic, sporty? Loss!
Cultured, refined? Loss!
Informed on current events? Loss!
What about “good guy”? Loss!
“I count all things as rubbish so that I might gain Christ” needs to be my testimony as well. It must be!!
It’s not to say that our personalities change when we come to Christ -- or that we all become some bland, indistinguishable group of distinctive-less people -- but our fundamental identities must. We are Christ’s. “Dead to the world and its applause, its customs, fashions and laws.”
What do I want for my children? My own hopes and identity will “seep into the water table,” so to speak. What the story of “The Treachery of Jacob’s Sons” teaches us is a supreme warning: if I refuse to become entirely conformed to Jesus Christ, in devotion, in affection, in passion, in absorption, I will not fulfill God’s purpose for my life. All that will be left is a wake of trouble, which will be "odious" to God.
But His purpose is for the aroma of Christ to rise up from my life (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)!! The same scent He got from Jesus Christ Himself while He was on the earth — of love for His Father, of the fear of God, of a spirit of humility and emptiness, of utter and complete surrender to Him — is the scent He desires to waft into heaven from my life now!
THE HAPPY REVELATION
I mentioned Jacob continued to be known by his old name for some time after God had renamed him. Perhaps he would have continued that way forever - and he probably would have, had not God in His mercy, intervened. But God had no intention to allow Israel to remain as Jacob; had no intention of allowing His promise to come through (to be fulfilled by) deception. And so what did God do, for this one who had persisted in an identity which God intended to bury? He sought him out, and renamed him again.
What’s encouraging is, if my old identity has not been crucified, or isn’t being continually crucified by me, God is willing to humble Himself, meet with me again, and re-re-name me.
What an incredibly loving and gracious Father, to seek out the one whose mind hasn’t changed about himself, and to give him another chance to be completely dead to the past, and to be alive in Christ alone.
“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 6:11 NASB