It is a common question, isn’t it—What is your name? It is one of the first questions we ask or are asked when meeting someone for the first time. It is this little identifying label placed upon us by our parents when we were born.
At times, our names have specific significance, such as the shared name of a Senior and a Junior, or being named after a favorite relative, friend, or celebrity. But, more often, names are chosen simply for the sound or for their uniqueness in a sea of Ashleys, Ambers and Abbys. We don’t attach much significance to names or their meanings, these days. They are a label, yes, but unlike the label on a can of soup, it doesn’t describe the contents inside.
What’s in a Name?
When we read about names of people in the Bible, we often discover that names had meaning connected with the inner identity of the person, especially when God was involved in the selection of a person’s name. Mary and Joseph were both instructed to name Mary’s child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew), a very common name during those times. But the meaning had great significance. It means, “God our Savior.”
When God instructed Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses asked God how he should refer to him when the people asked. God answered, “Tell them, I AM has sent you, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” You will notice that his answer contained more than the label of his name; he defined himself further as the God of their ancestors. God knew that the Israelites would need more than a label to respond to Moses’s call. They would require credentials. The real question was—“Who are you?”
This is often the case when we ask for someone’s name, as well. In receiving their name, we hope to gain some clue into who the person is, beyond what we see. When we hear the name, our mind will instantly do a search through our catalogue of memories to try and find a connection. Have we heard the name before? Do we know someone with the same last name? Is there an emotional response to the name that is negative or positive?
Who Are You?
In Genesis 32, we have the story of Jacob wrestling with God. In verse 27, God asks Jacob, “What is your name?” Was he asking for the label, or was he asking the more probing question, “Who are you?” The meaning of the name Jacob was “one who overthrows” or even trickster. It was an indication of not only Jacob’s actions, but his character.
If God were to ask you this question—“Who are you?”—how would you answer? How would you describe yourself, knowing that he already knows the truth, anyway?
Many of us, like Jacob, might blush with embarrassment or shame at the exposure such a question might bring. But was that God’s intent—to make Jacob feel guilty or ashamed? As we read on in the story, we find that was not the case. As important as it was for Jacob to face the truth about his sinfulness, God did not shine the spotlight on his faults in order to put him down.
God is love. It is the essence of who he is and the motivation behind all that he does. When you want to demonstrate a big contrast, you put two pictures side-by-side. You have seen weight-loss pictures that do this. Without the before picture, you wouldn’t get the full impact of the change. It was important for Jacob to first recognize and acknowledge who he was before God presented him with the his new name, his new identity: Israel (contender with God.)
God was telling Jacob that he was receiving a new identity, one nothing like the one he had been living to that point. God was saying, “This is your true identity. This is how I see you. This is who I created you to be.”
How Does God See You?
At this point, I could quote several scriptures that tell you what God thinks of you, that you are his Beloved, the Apple of His Eye. But instead, I’m going to encourage you to take a bolder step, something someone asked me to do a couple years ago. I am going to ask you to get alone with God, like Jacob did that night. With no one else there and no interruptions, ask God what he thinks of you.
I mean this literally. Out loud. “God, how do you see me? Who am I? Who did you create me to be?” Then, listen. (And keep your box of tissues close by.) Listen to what the Holy Spirit whispers to your heart. Don’t be afraid. Our Heavenly Father is gentle and kind. He has a new identity for you to walk out, to live in. Receive it.
He will tell you that you are the Daughter of the King, his beloved child. Step out of the rags of guilt and shame. Put off the old and put on the new. Put on your royal robe and hold your head high, not in pride or presumption, but in honor of the one who has so graciously chosen you, knowing all your faults and failings, and adores you anyway.