Look Beyond the Bird Poop
Jacob developed a mindset early in life that became his modus operandi—it became the way in which he handled life. The mindset was this: Do unto others before they can do it to you. He believed you have got to out-trick the tricksters and out-hustle the hustlers. He came to believe that you make your place in life by pulling it over on others.
As a second-born twin, Jacob came out of the womb hanging onto the heel of his brother’s foot. At this, his parents gave him the name Jacob, which means, “One who takes by the heel,” or “One who supplants.”
That became Jacob’s life. He persuaded his brother to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. He deceived his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for his brother. He spent over a decade being hustled by and, in turn, out-hustling his uncle and father-in-law Laban.
As the years went on, Jacob became convinced that his approach to life had worked, that he had successfully out-tricked and out-hustled his brother, his father, his uncle, and even the laws of nature.
But there’s a problem: We come to see and understand only those things we are familiar with. If the only thing we are familiar with is manipulation, that’s the only thing we see.
In his book, Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey writes, “I once heard the missionary author Elisabeth Elliot tell of accompanying the Auca woman Dayuma from her jungle home in Ecuador to New York City. As they walked the streets, Elliot explained cars, fire hydrants, sidewalks and red lights. Dayuma’s eyes took in the scene, but she said nothing. Elliot next led her to the observation platform atop the Empire State Building, where she pointed out the tiny taxi cabs and people on the streets below. Again, Dayuma said nothing. Elliot could not help wondering what kind of impression modern civilization was making. Finally, Dayuma pointed to a large white spot on the concrete…and asked, ‘What bird did that?’ At last she had found something she could relate to.” (p.17)
Dayuma was thrust into a world of modern technological wonders, but the only thing she could make sense of, thus the only thing she could truly see, was a bit of bird poop.
Throughout his life, God had surrounded Jacob with unconditional love and blessings, but Jacob didn’t understand those things; all he could see and comprehend was the bird poop of manipulation.
So, in response to the first prayer of Jacob recorded in the Bible (Genesis 32:9-12), God reached out to Jacob in the only way Jacob understood: God grabbed hold of Jacob and wrestled with him (Genesis 32:22-30). Then God threw out Jacob’s hip so that Jacob clung to God and asked God for a blessing.
Interestingly, the blessing God gave to Jacob was a change in his name. no longer would he be known as Jacob, “Supplanter.” From now on he would be called Israel, which means “God strives with him.” (The footnotes in your Bible may tell you that Israel means “he struggles with God,” but I take exception to that interpretation. In all of Scripture, “El,” the word for “God,” is never the object, the One that something is done to. Always “El” is the subject, the One who takes the action.) It is not that Jacob strives with God it is that God strives with Jacob and for Jacob.
The new name is a message to him that the key to life is not in his own striving but in the striving God does on his behalf. The new name is a message to him that the real joy of life is not in what he gets as a result of his schemes, but in holding onto the One who holds onto him.