What’s Your Name?
Sermon preached by Rev. George Duncan from London, England in The Moody Church on March 16, 1958.
“Thy name shall be called no more Jacob.”—Genesis 32:28
I want to think out with you this fact—that there comes a time in God’s dealings with His own people when God says in effect, “It is time that we called a halt,” and that was what happened to Jacob that night. There had come a moment in his life when God said in effect, “Jacob, something has got to stop. We can’t go on any longer as we are,” and it may be that in the mind and counsel of God for you, my dear friends, and it may be even for this church—for God has His way of not only peculiarly blessing individuals but peculiarly blessing churches—that God is saying in effect, “My children, we have reached a stage here where something has got to stop. They name shall be no more Jacob.”
Let us break into this experience, which was to be such an unforgettable one, and see what constituted its essence so that we can detach it from the loneliness of a desert scene centuries ago and find that it is being re-enacted in the experience of individuals right here and now. I want to suggest to you that there were three things that constituted this hour to be an unforgettable one.
We begin with what I venture to call the solitude of a deserted place. We read, “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Notice first of all the silence that had fallen: Jacob was alone. The family, the herds, the servants, the herdsmen, they had all been sent before, and the noise of their company had died away into the distance. As Jacob remained by the brookside maybe he could see the distant glow of a fire, maybe hear the distant bleat of a sheep, the bark of a dog, but all around him there was silence. Above the bright star-spangled dome of the night sky, around the vast stillness of the sleeping desert, Jacob was alone.
I believe that is one of God’s biggest problems, don’t you? Just to get His servant, His child, alone with Him. “Be still,” says the psalmist, “and know that I am God.”
But it is not easy to get alone, is it? Our minds are filled with other voices, with other sounds than His voice. Oh, that God might do what He has done again and again down the centuries with His own people, and that is that God has somehow or other come down even in a great throng and individualized the spirit and soul.
Silence had fallen, yes, in the solitude of this deserted place, silence had fallen, and into that silence came God. Would you really like to meet God alone? Why had Jacob stayed back? Because he felt that he needed God. Jacob was on his way home after twenty years of absence, and he had heard that someone was on the road to meet him. It was Esau who had vowed to take his life. Jacob was terrified and frightened, and he stayed behind to do something that maybe he had not done for a long time, to seek God’s help. He wanted God to bless and help him, he also wanted God to deal with Esau, and into the silence God came. Jacob found that God was not interested in Esau at all; God wanted to deal with Jacob.
Are you a Christian? I wonder if God wants to deal with you.
“And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” It was a long struggle—a whole night long—but I know this if I know anything in my own heart and if I know anything of the hearts of the children of God, it is possible for us to wrestle with God for much longer than a night. It is possible for us to resist and wrestle with God, not for a night, not even for a week, not even for a month, but for a year, for years.
Have you been resisting God? Have you been struggling with God? Have you been trying to hold God off from your life, from your heart? And here you are again. The struggle has not ended yet, my friend. Right deep down in your heart, in your whole make-up, in your whole relationship to God, there is resistance, revolt and rebellion. Don’t tell me that every Christian here in this church tonight is living a life that is utterly yielded to the mind and will of God, for it is not true.
The solitude of a deserted place: I would like to think that somehow or other the deep hush of the desert in its utter loneliness might somehow or other fall upon your heart afresh, and that you might find yourself like Jacob—alone. Oh, that you might forget everything and everyone and be conscious only of the One you have been resisting, against Whom you have been in revolt. Seek somehow to get alone with God and ask Him to shut you in with Himself so that no one else is there, not even your nearest or dearest, just you alone.
And then comes the surrender of a defeated man. Two things mark that surrender. The first is that he was hurt. We read that “when God saw that he prevailed against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him.”
The first step in the surrender of Jacob was that God hurt him. Is there anybody here hurt? Sometimes God hurts us through others, sometimes God allows us to hurt ourselves.
Do you remember the story of Balaam—a man who was going in disobedience to the will of God to do something that he wanted to do and God had told him he was not to do? We read that as he rode, the angel of the Lord stood in the path, and when the ass saw the angel of the Lord she thrust herself unto the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall.
Anybody here with a crushed foot? Have you been hurt? Have you got a wound or a scar? Is there a place in your life, in your relationship that is tender to touch? Is there something in your life that has been held there that has been wrong, and you have held it for so long and you are hoping to God that the minister doesn’t refer to it? It is sensitive, that spot. Tell me, is there a place in your life where God has touched you, somebody else has touched you? Maybe you hurt yourself, and you are desperately unhappy as a Christian.
I remember a friend of mine telling how on one occasion he was way up in the Highlands of Scotland, and he came to a little shepherd’s cottage on the hillside, way up on the moor, and he noticed outside the shepherd’s cottage a sheep. It had got one leg in splints, and so he spoke to the shepherd who came out just then and said, “What is the matter with the sheep, is its leg broken?”
“Yes,” said the shepherd, “its leg is broken.”
“How did it happen?” said the man.
“I broke it,” said the shepherd.
“You broke it?”
“Yes, I broke it.”
The first step for that sheep to learn to love the shepherd was when the shepherd broke its leg so that it might be near to him, and God hurt the man He was about to bless. Has God ever touched you that way, my friend?
He was a hurt man, and he was a humbled man. We know that from his attitude. Jacob was just tired out and he had almost come to the end of his strength. He had no more strength to resist. He only had strength to hold on desperately, and not to hold off any longer. Here was a change indeed. “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
Sometimes you know God has to bring us right to the very end of ourselves before He can help us. We have not allowed Him to help us until then. We have been holding Him off, and so the circumstances of life become strangely difficult. We find that we are bruised, wounded and hurt; we find that it is terribly difficult to go on, and God is bringing us absolutely to the very end of ourselves in order that we might no longer hold Him off, but hold on.
His attitude was different. But the thing that finally proved his humility was not his attitude. It was his admission. When Jacob came to the place where he was desperately holding on to God for help and mercy, God finally spoke to him and said, “What is your name?”
My friend, I want to ask you, or rather God wants to ask you, “What is your name? What is it?” You know what a name is—the name speaks of the character. What is your name? You say, “I am a Christian.”
My friends, if you and I were really honest, you know where God would bring us—to the place that He finds it very difficult to bring a child of His—to the place of confession. What is your name? A Christian who knows almost nothing of the meaning of prayer. Is that your name? A Christian who really very seldom makes any effort to win any others to Christ. Is that your name? A Christian who is always putting others off because I am so difficult to get on with. Is that your name? A Christian who is deliberately tampering with something he knows to be wrong, utterly wrong. Is that your name?
Jacob said, “I am a rotter. I am a cad, I am a cheat. I am a supplanter, that is my name, sir.” Here we see the surrender of a defeated man, hurt and humbled. God save us for we are not humble. We think we are all right because we have been converted. We read our Bibles, say our prayers sometimes, but what is your name? Give God your name. What kind of a Christian are you?
Poor old Jacob, he thought that God would deal with Esau. That is why he stayed by the brook and sent the others on, but it was not Esau who was God’s problem at all. It was Jacob. Listen, friend. Do you want God to deal with someone else in your life? Has God brought you here because God wants to deal with you? Get alone with God, and ask Him somehow or other now to shut you in by yourself with Himself. Listen, ask God to get you along by His Spirit and you will find that God is not interested at the moment in anybody else but you. What is your name? You say, “I hold office in the church.” What is your name? “I’m a Sunday school teacher.” What is your name? “We are a Christian husband and wife.” What is your name?
The solitude of a deserted place. The surrender of a defeated man, and the third, the splendor of a different name.
“Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and men, and has prevailed.” The splendor of a different name: No more cheat, but prince.
Notice the purpose on which God’s heart was set. Those two words ring out a terrible challenge to me: “No more.” After twenty years, Jacob, you are going back to the land of promise, and you are going back the same kind of man you were when you left. Jacob, that is not good enough, it just won’t do, Jacob, it must stop. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob.”
Is it not about time that some of us stopped living the kind of Christian lives we are living? I believe with all my heart that God’s heart is set on this purpose, that for some of us our names should be changed and that something should end. God cannot afford to have things going on as they are in that office, in that home, in that hospital, in this church.
The purpose on which God’s heart was set, and the place to which God’s servant was raised. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.” Jacob, cad, rotter, liar, cheat, supplanter, Jacob. “Jacob, that name is finished now. Your name is going to be Israel. That is a royal name and now you are going to be a prince, having power with God and power with men. Jacob you have been living in the gutter, in the dirt, and now you are going to live royally.”
I read of One who has made us kings and priests unto God. How much royalty is there about your living?
With the new name God gave the new nature. He blessed him and right there God changed the cheat into the prince. It was going to mean for Jacob a new intimacy with God. How near to the king, to the throne, the prince lives! How near to God we are to live! We are to have power with God first. The intimacy he would enjoy and the influence he would exercise—to have power with God and with men. What an amazing transformation!
We could have called this the Gospel of the Dawn, the dawn of a new day, the ending of night, the ending of conflict, the ending of Jacob, the beginning of Israel. “He blessed him there.”
I wonder whether some of us here need the blessing of God more than we ever thought. Why? Just because of the Christians we have been, and God is sick and tired of it, and so is the world. The only person who has not been tired of it has been you, maybe, until this moment. May it be true that we too have known something of the solitude of a deserted place, that in your life too there has been the surrender of a defeated heart, and that in your life too there is the splendor of a different name. You are not meant to be the kind of Christian you are, you are meant to live Christ. Would you ask Him to bless you, and tell Him that you want to be no more Jacob, but Israel? Would you be willing to turn your back upon what you have been, upon what you are, and pray, “Oh, God, may the dawn of a new day come, may the sun rise!”
Jacob limped as he walked, but the limping prince was a new man, even as he limped into the dawn. I would love to think that some Christians here might become new men and new women in Christ as Christ takes control of the heart that is utterly surrendered to His mind and His will. “Thy name.” What is your name? “Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel,…a prince.”
May God bless you there and give you a new name now.