Dec 06 2012

Disciple Dojo - JMSmith.org: Thayer Thursdays – Nicknames

Original post at http://jmsmith.org/blog/thayer-thursdays-nicknames/

Hi Dojo readers!

Yesterday I introduced you to my friend Chris Thayer. Today is the first of what I hope will be many weekly installments of “Thayer Thursdays”, where Chris gives some reflections on a passage recently preached on at our church along with a link to the corresponding sermon audio.

I hope readers enjoy these weekly reflections!


Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.


Our names in 21st century Western culture don’t usually mean all that much. When we hear the words “John, Jane, Wendy, or Fred,” they don’t carry any meaning in themselves. Only when we picture somebody in association with that name does the word have any true significance. However, during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it was just the opposite.

People didn’t define their names, their names defined them.

The best way I can think to describe this phenomenon is our use of nicknames.

I’ve had many nicknames throughout my life. Some of them I hated, others didn’t bother me, but all of them meant something. They all said something about my personality, physical characteristics, or what I did.

One such nickname I received in my freshman year of high school. I wasn’t good at many things growing up, but one thing I could do well was kick a ball. Since I could kick a ball well, and enjoyed running, soccer was a natural sport for me to pursue. I loved playing soccer. I wasn’t always the most accurate, but I could kick a soccer ball extremely hard and far.

However, as good as I was at kicking a ball, I was socially awkward and didn’t have many friends. When I got into high school, they didn’t yet have a soccer team. So, because I wanted to make more friends and thought cool kids played football, I went out for the football team. I wasn’t good at tackling people, BUT I could kick a ball well. So naturally, I told my coach I wanted to be the placekicker.

Little did I know at that time in my life that football kickers got made fun of quite a lot.

Almost immediately after capturing the position of placekicker for the football team I was given the nickname of “kicker.” It originally started as a term of derision, as in “oh great, here comes kicker,” but after hitting game winning field-goals and people seeing that I was good at what I did, it became a term of endearment. I began to wear the title proudly – “kicker.”

It’s who I was; who I had become. I lived into the title given to me.

Today’s passage of scripture is about a man who lived into the name given to him. In Genesis 32:22-32, we read of Jacob wrestling with God. Unless we understand the importance of names, we miss the significance of this section.

Jacob means “heal grabber” or (less idiomatically) “deceiver.” Jacob had stolen his older brother’s blessing from his father as his father was on his deathbed. Because of this deceit, his brother wanted to kill him. So, he ran away from him.

Genesis 32:22-34 takes place right before the two brothers are once again reunited. When Jacob wrestles with the mysterious man in Genesis 32, Jacob says that he won’t release him until he blesses him.

Jacob hadn’t changed. He was still trying to force people to bless him.

Right after this, the mysterious man asks Jacob his name. Not because he didn’t know it, but because he was asking Jacob if he would admit to who he was. Would Jacob finally be honest and admit that he was at his core “deceiver,” that he had lived into the title given to him?

Jacob gave the man his name, signifying that he was admitting who he was. Then, the man (who we find out shortly after is none other than God Himself) tells Jacob that his identity is no longer “Jacob,” no longer “deceiver” – but “Israel,” “one who wrestles with God.”

Who are you?

At your core, what is your real name?

Admit it to God and allow Him to give you a new name, a new identity through the work of His son Jesus on the cross.

Sermon audio link: “Bumps in the Road” (click on the media player at the bottom of the page to listen or download)

Chris Thayer
Director of Discipleship,
Good Shepherd Church


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