Series: The Questions God Asks Us
“Why Is It that You Ask My Name?” – Genesis 32:29
ESV Genesis 32:29-30: Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (meaning “face of God”), saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.
Jacob was a sinner who was chosen by God to be a recipient of His love and promises through the Gospel. Jacob was a man that reveals to us that even the dearest of God’s people have lots of struggles in their lives; struggles with self, with others, and struggles also with God. At a difficult and challenging time of Jacob’s life, he prayed to God and asked Him to show grace and mercy to him in his time of need; and God answered his prayer (Gen. 32:9-12)! This prayer revealed that Jacob is growing in grace and spiritual knowledge in his life. Be encouraged: God continues the work that He begins in us!
While alone one night apparently thinking through his situation in solitude a “man” appears to Jacob, who only progressively is revealed as the Living God Himself (Gen. 32:24ff). Jacob wrestles with this “man” throughout the night and was permanently marked by this conflict (Gen. 32:25-32).
Jacob’s life with God is revealed in his struggle: a trust in God, but mixed with apprehension; dependence upon God, yet mixed with his own independence; boldness before God, yet often arrogance too; righteousness from God, yet mixed with sin. These are typical descriptions of all who are called by God and given grace to live (Romans 7:14ff). Isn’t Jacob a bit like you and me?!
And by His grace and power, God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel” because He was a man who wrestled with God and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). We learn here that Jacob (and all of God’s people) will always have success through humility and prayer, not through our own power or ingenuity; we are all needy before God. Jacob names the place “Peniel” because he knows he had seen God’s holy face, and yet he lived to tell about it (Gen. 32:30). Jacob has been humbled before God who is stronger, and is now more completely His strong tower and Savior.
Lots of naming going on in this passage in Genesis that we should recognize in the larger context: Jacob’s name is changed; Jacob names the place; God asks Jacob’s name; Jacob asks God’s name. And this is where we must stop and ponder. God has willingly revealed Himself to Jacob. God has revealed Himself to Jacob in many uncertain situations, particularly has He revealed Himself as a good and covenant-keeping God of promise. But especially God has revealed Himself in His loving acts toward Jacob.
God asked Jacob his name to humble him and to remind him that he is the “supplanter” or “deceiver”. God sovereignly puts Jacob “in His place” (but mercifully!). Jacob will no longer be identified by flesh, but by the Spirit and will be known from now on as “Israel” or “one who prevails”; this is real spiritual transformation by God’s grace and power.
It is one thing for Jacob to answer God’s question to humbly admit the guilt of who his name reveals that he is. To ask Jacob for his name is God’s prerogative; for us to ask for God’s name, that is another matter completely. I think what we should notice is that Jacob desires to attempt to control God by asking His Name and to lead in the revelation relationship between them. At this point, God is revealing Himself graciously to Jacob in His acts of mercy, but it seems because of Jacob’s remaining pride and control, He is not noticing the revelation of God as He should.
God chooses to come close to His people in redemptive-history, but He does not reveal everything about Himself. Even when God does reveal Himself in His names and attributes it is progressively throughout Scripture. There is still a mystery to God that only He knows, and is unwilling to fully reveal to us. And when God does choose to reveal Himself, it is in His own good and perfect timing. God reveals Himself to His people clearly by His grace, but not completely. God chooses to “keep His holy distance” and not to be controlled by sinful man.
To know a name, and to know it intimately, was a way of having possession or ownership of someone or something in the ancient world; it could be a revelation of authority, or of controlling another. It was right for Adam and Eve to be given by God as His vice-regents in creation the authority to name the animals. God has a right to change our names (and this is a blessing of His showing His authority over us, and the blessing of the New Creation, Isaiah 62:2; Rev. 2:17; 3:12). But for us to know the intimate details of God’s Name, His holy character in entirety, His fullness of glory and deity, is not for us to ask on our terms. This grace of revelation is a mystery that is God’s alone to reveal- -and in His good time, if at all.
There is a similar incident of God’s people asking for God’s name in Manoah, Samson’s father in Judges 13:17-18. And God asks the same question he does here to Jacob: “Why do you ask my name?”: “And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”
Both of these biblical passages seem to teach that on the one hand God will reveal Himself on His own terms and in His own time (God does indeed teach us that He is ‘Jehovah Jireh’; ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu’; ‘El Olam’; ‘I Am that Am’, etc. and we can truly know Him through His names and attributes). These Scriptures also seem to reveal that we are to reflect on our encounters with God- –particularly God’s gracious acts toward us.
Both Jacob and Manoah are encouraged by God to ponder what they already know about the character of God through His acts of promise, power and grace. Our encounters with God should bring humility before Him as we receive the revelation He chooses to make know to us about Himself.
These incidents seem to be a quiet invitation into humbly mediating upon God’s acts and the gracious and merciful character of God that is revealed clearly to us in His acts for us!
These incidents foreshadow the incarnation. In the Old Covenant, God veils His name sometimes, and denies a full revelation of Himself to Jacob (and Manoah). Later, when God would enflesh Himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her very human substance, God veils the full revelation of Himself, that is His glory (Phil. 2:6-8). Yet He reveals His name as JESUS, the Savior of sinners, which is everything we truly need to know about God! God’s full glory and full disclosure of His face are kept until later (and even then as creatures we cannot know God as God knows Himself, as He is in Himself!).
God’s name is “Wonderful”; His Name is “JESUS” the name above every name; His full God-ness and glory are veiled and not fully revealed, but what do we behold?
We behold God coming near to us in Jesus Christ, revealing Himself in the fullness of the times in His Almighty power and grace in His mighty acts of power and grace to sinners. We see the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18); we don’t behold His glory as the “naked deity” (or “God in Himself” or “God in His essence”) but as the God who makes Himself and His Name known to us in Jesus Christ.
God reveals all that we need to know about Him- -He has given His people a Savior- -there is salvation from sin! Matthew (1:21) teaches us: [The Virgin Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.“
God reveals Himself in the flesh (John 1:14), and this God wants us to ponder his character revealed through Jesus’ acts for us: What has God done for us? How are we to be saved? What is our hope for the future? These questions are answered sufficiently in Jesus Christ and we can encounter Jesus every day through his Word and by His Holy Spirit. The LORD redeems us from the slavery of sin and death so that we can truly know Him as He has revealed Himself in JESUS. Isn’t God wonderful?
For every question of God that you may have, for every time you feel your questions go unanswered and you seek to delve into the mysteries of God’s revelation He has not fully revealed to you, stop yourself, and go to Jesus Christ. There you will find the answer to God’s mystery (Eph. 3:9-10), the very embodiment of God’s mystery and plan for the ages (Eph. 1:9ff), salvation from sin, and every thought of God’s love that He has been pleased to reveal to you in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ!
There are some things in our lives that God will not reveal to us. We may be tempted to control God because we want to stay in control and lead in our relationship with Him. But we must understand, that God alone is the Sovereign King, let Him alone reveal Himself, and let God speak, and let us listen.
Like Jacob, let our encounters with God by His Spirit through His Word transform us into humble, receptive, children who know that we will prevail through God’s power and persevering prayer. Let us leave our old identities behind, and let us find our new names in Jesus!
And let that draw us into the worship of God through the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – ESV Acts 4:12
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – ESV Philippians 2:9-11
God reveals Himself sufficiently and fully to us in Jesus Christ. Let us go to Christ to find all the answers we need for our lives and for growing in godly, Christ-likeness.
In Christ’s love,