Becoming Who We Are Meant-to-Be


Most of us know that we are living far short of what we are meant-to-be. If our approach to this problem is to try harder, using self-restraint to ride out each trying situation, we are sentencing ourself to a temporary fix that has no long-term benefit. We will live and die never having become who we were meant-to-be.

No matter how tightly we “girdle” our flesh, it remains useless to God, because the flesh is simply incapable of receiving the right-being God wants to give us.  As long as we remain in our easily offended, overly sensitive, combative flesh —  we’re going to feel agitated and discontent — losing face, losing ground and losing what God wants to do and be through us.

The solution does not lie in whipping our old man into shape, to make him better. The answer is to put him off like a filthy set of old clothes, and step into the new.

Very early in the narrative of Redemption, God lays a foundation for this mystery in Jacob’s story , hinting of our translation out of the wrong-being of our old man into the right-being of the new man. At Peniel,  God gives him a new name to mark this translation into the man he is meant-to-be.

From Peniel on, every moment holds THE POTENTIAL for him to walk as either Jacob in the flesh or as Israel in the spirit.

Two Potentials

The ethereal arch illustrates God’s enabling power coming to Jacob in grace. The green line represents Jacob walking in the flesh. The gold line symbolizes Israel walking as a new man — experiencing an entirely new state of right-being within.

What we soon learn from Jacob’s story is that his challenge was the same as ours . . . how to walk as Israel, when the overwhelming tendency is to default to the familiarity of our fleshly carnal ways. God layers a revelation into Jacob’s story, to show us how we are translated out of the old into the new. The old man isn’t shaped into the new, he is put off to make way for the new. Translation is instantaneous: we are either operating out of the old or out of the new.  But getting to the place where we are ready to be translated can be laborious and painful.


The crash of Reality on Jacob’s soul at Peniel.

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.   When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.   Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”   So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”   Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  . . .  And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”   The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Gen 32:22-32, NRSV

Three things prepare Jacob for the moment of his translation into Israel; these three will mark our translation out of our flesh into our new man as well.

1. God contends with Jacob, through the consequences he has brought upon himself. Jacob feels like he is battling for his life — not only with his inner turmoil at the prospect of facing his brother Esau, but aggravated by God Himself — Who comes like an enemy Who would keep him from the land of promise. [1] The prophet Hosea (12:4) describes Jacob wrestling with weeping and prayer. God is forcing him to vigorous spiritual wrestling . . . Why?

At any moment God could take him out, but doesn’t.  Why? God is allowing Jacob’s soul to prevail, forcing him to draw on the strength he can only get from God.  God is contending with Jacob to summon Israel, calling forth the new man who has the capacity to draw on Him.

God engages us in nights of harrowing struggle SO THAT

He can draw out of us the very power He is trying to put into us.


2. God touches Jacob, crippling him.  Sometimes a shepherd’s only way to keep a stubborn sheep from constantly running away is to break its leg. . . it is a severe mercy done out of love, to protect the sheep. The shepherd then carries that sheep on his shoulders, until its leg has healed.  During that time the sheep learns to love and trust his master, bonding inseparably with him.

With a single touch the “man” shrinks the sinew of Jacob’s thigh, throwing his leg out of joint — making it clear that Jacob’s former manner of walking is not going to serve him as it has before.  The crippling of our Jacob ways may not keep us from reverting to them, but it ensures that we will limp as long as we do. 

There is a breaking that marks every breakthrough

we are ever going to have with God.


3. God challenges Jacob’s beliefs about Himself.  From his fathers Jacob has learned that God is good, God is able and God is to be trusted. From his experience of grace at Bethel, Jacob has believed God is for him.  In the years since, this has been challenged many times, with his uncle’s cheating betrayals. But God has validated Jacob’s belief in Him, despite his uncle.  But at Peniel, God’s crippling blow challenges this. It seems like God is against him. Yet in his duress, Jacob clings to his belief in God refusing to let go until he gets the blessing . . . and he does . . . his new name.

Our grasp of God has to be sure enough to keep us hanging on in duress, so that we don’t give up and turn away too soon, aborting the moment of translation . . . when Jacob becomes Israel.


The result

What does contending, crippling and challenge achieve in Jacob’s soul?  It brings him to the moment of his translation from Jacob to Israel. When God asks him, “What is your name?” . . . in shock of realization, he answers, “Jacob — supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler! “ (Gen 32:27, Amplified Bible ) 

The crash of reality on Jacob’s soul brings him to repentance.

Repentance is the moment of our translation from old man to new.


The mystery of repentance —  how we are brought to the place where God thrusts the truth about ourselves in front of us, and our response — reveals how we become (or don’t become) who we are meant-to-be.  There are many Jacobs, but few Israels

Denying the truthbecause we drop out when contention, crippling and challenge come. We blame our Esau for what troubles us — not realizing that God is using our Esau difficulties to show us the truth about ourselves. We’ve many Jacobs, but few Israels, because we’ve turned away in denial of the truth, aborting the moment of repentance, when God would have translated us out of the old into the new  . . .

Agreement with the truthIf we surrender to the process, agreeing with what God wants us to see . . . calling ourself what we are. . . “Jacob, schemer, deceiver, liar, cheater” we instantaneously become not Jacob but Israel. Paradoxically, the full revelation of our wretchedness becomes the same moment we behold the face of God — our Peniel.

Jacob’s translation into Israel at Peniel ends with the sun rising on him.  The night is over. It is the dawning of a new day, confirming his ability to receive God’s power into his life.

That power is immediately demonstrated by how God works in Esau’s heart.  It is a difficult dangerous time for both brothers, and Esau has come with a contingency of armed men, not knowing what will happen. But when Esau sees Jacob, he is moved to run to his brother, falling on his neck, kissing him. . .

And how does Jacob/Israel respond?  Which man does he determine to walk in? He reverts to Jacob.  Even with this proof of God’s presence and power guarding him, he defaults to his Jacob ways.

Defaulting to carnal ways proves fatal 

Trying to buy forgiveness instead of asking for it. Jacob has an open door to express sorrow for what he has done in the past, straightening things out. But instead of confessing his sins, Jacob presses Esau to accept his gifts . . . using inordinate flattery in his attempt to manipulate Esau’s heart. (“To see your face is like seeing the face of God”)  (v. 10).  The prince with God is gone; the wheeler-dealer has come back strong.

Deceiving instead of daring to try for true reconciliation. Esau does the gracious thing  by offering to accompany his brother south to his home in Mount Seir, but Jacob has no desire to spend more time with Esau than is necessary. He seeks a truce but not the redemption of true reconciliation.  Deceiving Esau into thinking he will follow him South to Mount Seir, no sooner does Esau depart, Jacob purposely heads northwest to Succoth instead, and then on to Shechem.

Promising instead of performing. There’s no record that Jacob ever visited his brother in Mount Seir. It’s likely that after they met at their father’s funeral, they never saw each other again.   [2]

Delaying instead of doing what God has told him (Gen 33:17 b-34:31)  God tells Jacob to return to Bethel (31:13) and then to his home where Isaac still lives at Hebron. Instead, Jacob hangs out at Succoth and then settles near Shechem, purchasing property, becoming a “resident alien” settling down in the land.

Substituting a careless witness for careful obedience. Jacob erects an altar giving public witness of his faith in God, but this is no substitute for obedience (1 Sam 15:22). He names the altar (“God, the God of Israel”) claiming his new name, but not walking in what his name implies. [3] By tarrying in Shechem, Jacob is careless in his obedience to what God has called him to. And his family grows careless as well.

The result

One day Jacob’s granddaughter Dinah unwisely wanders off unsupervised and is raped. Then two of his sons take ruthless vengeance.  Deceiving the men of Shechem, they proceeded to murder them all.  It is evil, and when Jacob hears about it, he is angry and frightened. Wrong being proliferates among them all.

What good is Jacob’s altar to The One True God, if his family’s wrong being proves more treacherous than his pagan neighbors ?  And in keeping with his carnal nature — Jacob’s greatest concern isn’t justice or his witness, but his own safety. [4] Had he gone to Bethel, where he belongs, none of this would have come-to-be.  But carnal Jacob, filled with wrong being, has been running the show. . . instead of Israel.

Significantly, the name of the Lord is barely mentioned; His wisdom, presence, and power are missing as well.  God’s power is always missing, when we are operating out of our flesh.

Defaulting to our natural, carnal man proves fatal to THE POTENTIAL of all the good that God wants to do and be through us.

The crash of Reality on Jacob’s soul

Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male.  They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth.  Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. . .  and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”

Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”  So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.

 As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.  So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him . . .  Then God appeared to Jacob again . . .  and He blessed him.  God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel.

Gen 34:25-35:10, NASU


1.    God contends with Jacob through the consequences he has brought upon himself. Jacob feels once more like he is battling for his life . . . “my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.”

2.    God touches him at the point of his careless disobedience, crippling his ability to continue as he has. He has become odious to the inhabitants of the land and he needs to clear out.

3.    God challenges what Jacob believes about Him. Up until this point, Jacob has not understood that God means business.  He confuses God’s patience for laxity in regard to his disobedience. Having received God’s promises, God’s provision, God’s intimate presence giving him his new name, and apparent freedom to go where he wants: he has missed God’s intent . . . redemption . . . which is not being demonstrated in his life.

Rapidly bringing him to the moment of repentance, God freshly commands him to go to Bethel, and Jacob sees his disobedience. He has known for a long time that he is supposed to be in Bethel, and now he sees the cost of his disobedience. Many have paid more dearly than he for is failure to obey.

Two PotentialsThe carnage of Schechem is a horrific picture of the destruction Jacob’s sin has wrought upon those around him. Two potentials lie before him, will he surrender in agreement with the truth or turn away in denial, refusing to repent?  The crash of reality on Jacob’s soul drives him to long overdue repentance.  Summoning his household, he takes command of the situation, declaring what God has said. They are to get rid of their idols; they are to purify themselves and change their clothes. (Gen 35:2). Washing their bodies and changing their clothes symbolize a new beginning . . . putting off what is defiled to put on what is clean represents putting off one’s old nature to put on the new.  THEN God says to him,

 “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.”  Thus He called him Israel.

 Jacob has become Israel again.

Those who are quick to repent are not better, but they understand the mystery better. They know that when God comes to contend, to cripple and to challenge — He has come to bring THE POTENTIAL of our translation into who we are meant-to-be. 



[1] The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe.

[2] ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

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  1. DD Cardwell says:

    “God engages us in nights of harrowing struggle SO THAT He can draw out of us the very power He is trying to put into us.” Wow!
    I know you know this through experience. And thus this Blog was born, and we are richer for it :>) Thank you for your tenacity.
    Love you,

    • DD Cardwell says:

      Wow! I know you know about “nights of harrowing struggle” up close & personal, and thus this Blog was born. And we are richer for it :>) Thank you for your tanicity.
      Love you, DD

  2. Sue webster says:


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