Genesis 32:28 Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God.
Israel means He struggles with God, and is meant in a positive way. God is not an easy person to follow, understand, or even like sometimes. The godless put him out of their minds, but the godly are willing to struggle with him.
In our best moments we love God deeply; in our worst, we might even hate him. But at least we take God seriously. What God detests is to be taken lightly, as though he is not an important person. The struggle of relating to God is more than many will bear, so they put God out of their minds.
But Jacob struggled with God, and God changed his name to Israel. God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and Sarai’s name to Sarah (Genesis 17:15). God shows his authority over us by changing our names whenever he likes. Likewise, Jesus showed his authority over Simon by changing his name to Peter. You are Simon son of John. You will be called . . . Peter (John 1:42), he said. Surprisingly, Peter went along with it.
Not everyone in the Bible got a new name, but we learn from the Bible that God knows our names (John 10:3). I went to a large high school and was surprised to discover the principle knew my name—though not for a good reason. But Jesus knows our names because he loves us, and he will give us a new name too. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17), he said.
Some people have pet names for each other that no one else knows. They are not meant to be public names, but private ones that create a special bond. When my daughter was growing up I called her Bunkerdoodles. Imagine a God who is so affectionate toward you that he gives you a name known only to you and him.
Genesis 33:1 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men.
Clearly Jacob was not in control. He had prayed, of course, but there was Esau marching in his direction with a personal army. Jacob likely trembled since he did not know if he would live or die. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept (Genesis 33:4). Twenty years of estrangement dissolved in a puddle of tears.
Jesus drew on this scene to describe what happens whenever a wayward child comes home to God. The father ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20), wrote Luke. The reconciliation of Jacob and Esau reflects what happens whenever God and sinners are reconciled. The Father’s arms are always open wide to those who want to come home.
Genesis 33:19-20 [Jacob bought] the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.
Esau went back to Seir (Genesis 33:16), and Jacob went to the Promised Land. There he built an altar to commemorate his return. Altars were places of sacrifice, where meals were eaten in fellowship with God. Jacob’s altar points forward to the altar at the temple, where sacrificial lambs were offered. That altar points forward to the cross of Christ, where the Lamb of God was offered (John 1:29, 19:18).
This is discussed in the book of Hebrews which says, We have an altar . . . (Hebrews 13:10). This is an allusion to the cross of Christ, and to the table of the Lord’s Supper. That sacrifice was not made by man, however, but by God—when he gave his Son to die on a cross for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). We have table fellowship with God as we feast on his Son through faith.
Genesis 34:1 Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.
After many years away, Jacob and his family were finally in the Promised Land. Everyone was new to the region except for Jacob. Jacob’s daughter Dinah set out to meet some local women, with or without her parents’ permission. Unfortunately, she caught the attention of Shechem, the son of a local ruler.
Shechem was attracted to Dinah, but instead of making polite advances, he raped her. It is not clear if he suffered remorse, but he loved Dinah, spoke tenderly to her (Genesis 34:3), and wanted to marry her. When Jacob learned that his daughter had been raped, he did nothing at first.
That evening, Shechem and his father came by and tried to make amends. Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife (Genesis 34:11-12), said Shechem.
But Jacob’s sons wanted revenge, so they agreed to give their sister to Shechem, on the condition that every male in his clan be circumcised. Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.
The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses (Genesis 34:25-29). When Jacob learned what his sons had done he was very upset. But they replied, Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute? (Genesis 34:31).
The revenge of Jacob’s sons was far worse than the crime deserved. Murdering innocent men, and carrying off their families, was completely unjustified. It felt good to release their rage, but they would bear the shame for the rest of their lives. They had become murderers.
Whenever someone we love is hurt, we naturally want revenge. The impulse is not wrong because the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18), wrote Isaiah. But we do not have to take revenge ourselves. God will do it for us.
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies (Nahum 1:2), wrote Nahum. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay (Romans 12:19), wrote Paul.
Since God has promised revenge, we can leave it to him. Then we can obey Christ who said, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). This is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross (Luke 23:34), and he is the model for us all. His words free us from hate, so that we can live in love again.
Reflection and Review
Why is it good to struggle with God?
How does Jacob’s altar remind us of the Lord’s Supper?
How should Dinah’s brothers have responded to her rape?