Genesis 32:27-28 – “And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
Time and perspective have a tendency to romanticize things, don’t they? For instance, each generation tends to look back on their youth and remember it as “the good ol’ days.” The truth is, “the good ol’ days” have never really existed. In actuality, mundane activity, difficult times, and harsh reality kept the present from being very exciting. But time erases all of those things and leaves only exciting activity, lessons we learned from difficulty, and a magical nostalgia on our memory. Thus, “the good ol’ days.” This phenomenon happens with Bible stories, as well. How many sermons have you heard praising the lives of men like Abraham, Job, and Peter? All of those men have moments in their life where their obedience or faith in God is an extraordinary example to us as Christians. And yet, it’s easy to forget that those men were…well…just men. Abraham lied twice and got ahead of God’s plan. Job questioned God and was reprimanded for it. Peter denied Christ, utterly failing a test he was warned was coming. But time has a tendency to elevate the positive and eliminate the negative. The truth is, I’m convinced that if we were to meet most of the men and women in the Bible whom we consider “heros,” we might actually consider them “losers.” Think with me about a man named Jacob. How many sermons have you heard on Jacob, and how many people do you know who have named their son Jacob? Probably quite a few. Yet Jacob was a deceiver. His name literally means “supplanter” according to Strong’s. He tricked Esau out of the birthright, he obeyed his mom’s biased orders to connive Esau out of a blessing, he served God for what he could get out of it, he manipulated his father in law Laban, and he even used his least favorite wife as a shield when he feared for his life against Esau. What a loser! But you know who DIDN’T think Jacob was a loser? God. Because in Genesis 32, God shows up in Jacob’s camp and tells him, “Your name isn’t Jacob anymore. It’s Israel.” You know why? Because God doesn’t demand perfection FROM us in order to continue working ON us. Every step of the way, God was working on Jacob – not accepting his sin, but accepting him in spite of his sin. And God never gave up on Jacob, even when after the name change Jacob still reverted to his sinful tendencies.
I’ve heard so many sermons trying to guilt trip people into perfect behavior. “God won’t use you if you’re dirty.” And certainly this principle can be found throughout the Bible – God’s blessing follows the righteous (Proverbs 11), and God wants to use a clean vessel (II Timothy 2:20-21). But Jacob sure was dirty, and God used him for something pretty big (continuing His chosen nation to be exact). Guilt is not what God uses to motivate us, goodness and conviction are (Romans 2:4). If you have a hard heart that is indifferent to God’s desires for your actions, then beware! God may do something drastic to get your attention. But if you have a desire to do right, yet find yourself often failing – don’t allow guilt and shame to defeat you. Get up and ask God for the strength to live for Him His way because He hasn’t given up on you. He has promised to consistently work on us to accomplish His purpose, no matter how dirty we are.
Philippians 1:6 – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”