My church is working through the life of Jacob on Sunday mornings and I’m loving it. It is full of the background info. that help frames the account in better context and helps us understand who Jacob was and what his choices might mean, not only for him but for us, today. Through this teaching, it has given me a chance to linger on the name Jacob. The meaning of the Hebrew name Jacob has a negative connotation to it since it means “grabbing the heel; supplanter; deceiver”. What parent wants to name their child a name that means “supplanter or deceiver”?! Well, that would be Chris and I! We named our youngest Jacob proudly and boldly…but not because of we hoped he’d grow up to live out the meaning of the name but because we hoped he would grow up to have the tenacious and bold personality that opted to wrestle with God for a blessing! For a man that God would claim as his own and to whom God would hear when he wept. We wanted Jake to have a fighting personality that overcomes adversity (even self-created) and overcomes the struggles of life in order to hang in there with God to receive a blessing from Him!
The meaning of the Hebrew name Jacob has a negative connotation to it since it means “grabbing the heel; supplanter; deceiver”. What parent wants to name their child a name that means “supplanter or deceiver”?! Well, that would be Chris and I! We named our youngest Jacob proudly and boldly…but not because of we hoped he’d grow up to live out the meaning of the name but because we hoped he would grow up to have the tenacious and bold personality that opted to wrestle with God for a blessing!
Due to the auto-immune state that my body has stewed in since I was 16 years old, my body has just not been a welcoming environment for pregnancies. My body worked hard to rid itself of my firstborn and worked even harder to rid itself of my second child – Jacob. With my second pregnancy, came more concerns than ever before. Jake did not have enough amniotic fluid which, according to the high-risk pregnancy doctors on our team, meant three things: 1) He had a deformity in his stomach that wouldn’t allow him to regulate the amount of fluid he needed (as babies actually process the amount of fluid in the sac), 2) Jake had a chromosome abnormality that would leave him impaired for however long he lived on this earth, or 3) it was, by some miracle, a fluke that he had so little amniotic fluid. The doctors were highly doubtful of the 3rd option.
Because of our faith, we were not devastated, very sad and surprised, but not devastated for we knew that God was in control. Our genetics doctor insisted on an amniocentesis to determine what was going on and if we’d like to terminate the pregnancy. We politely declined at first but with more conversations, we became more firm with until finally stating that we were having this boy regardless and the test would be unnecessary.
I went into labor 3 months early and was put on strict bedrest. Twice a week beginning at 22 weeks into the pregnancy, Chris and I went to Sutter Memorial to have an anti-stress test done on Jake. The nurses were wonderful and became close friends since we’d be there for hours each visit but the reality was that they were checking to see if Jake had become stillborn as my body, at this point, had gone into overdrive in trying to rid it of the baby. They were also testing to see if Jake could withstand the strain of contractions that my body was already undergoing.
We had our Bible study, friends, family…everyone.. praying that whatever was going on with Jake was a fluke; that it was the last option the doctor gave us… hope against hope, a miracle that he’d be born alive and healthy.
At 37 weeks exactly, on one of these anti-stress test visits, they discovered that Jacob wasn’t doing well with the natural contractions my body was already going through. His heart rate would drop with each contraction and he was in danger. I was admitted to the hospital and they induced 3 weeks early… thrilled to get us this close and in the “safe” zone of delivery times but concerned for what might lie ahead.
What does all of this have to do with a name?? Well, a lot actually. We knew pretty early on that Jacob was in trouble in my belly. It was painful to feel so helpless and unable to fix the situation. All we could do was lean hard into God and pray! Pray for the “fluke”; pray for our hearts to accept whatever outcome lay ahead; pray for our hearts to embrace whatever health challenges Jacob would be born with. We prayed as a form of preparation…still hoping and praying for a miracle, too, but laying down our desire and our will and being willing to accept whatever God brought our way.
Jacob had to fight to stay alive inside me. Jacob had to persist and struggle against the less than ideal environment in my womb.. with my cells attacking him and a dangerously low amount of amniotic fluid, his 9 months of development was anything but cushy and easy. It was already filled with adversity. Because of the wildly difficult circumstances this child was already battling against, we wanted a strong personality to represent the persistence our son would need to arrive in this world.. and that is when we were reading through Jacob’s story in the Bible. Jacob was imperfect.. like us all. He made poor choices.. like we all do. Jacob deceived and stole. Jacob was selfish and jealous. Like most of the people listed in the Bible, he was an imperfect human. Yet, when he sought out God to repent and to change, he wrestled with God for a blessing. He wrestled all night, in fact. We needed our baby boy to be one that would persist and struggle for the blessing. Not just in surviving his birth but throughout his life.
Our Jacob arrived on February 23, 2002, and he had no physical abnormalities! We praised and thanked God for the “fluke”.. the miracle that He had granted. Yet, Jacob continued to struggle. Our baby had no muscle tone, meaning he couldn’t support himself, hold his own head up, or hit any milestones. He had to undergo intensive physical and occupational therapy for several years in order to learn to walk and he wore special braces on his feet and ankles that were specially made to support him as he walked for the first 3 years or so of his life. Even when he began to walk, both neurologists and therapists stated repeatedly that hypotonia (poor muscle tone) didn’t occur in a vacuum; something always causes it but it may not show up for several years. They were anxious to re-test Jake again when he hit the age of 5,6,7ish because often Cerebral Palsy and other muscular/neurological issues will reveal itself then, just as a child becomes very active. They prepared us to begin seeing a regression in his skills – clumsiness, weakness, etc. developing once again. So, we prayed and we waited and we hoped that our Jacob would have the personality to wrestle with this and overcome it.
Once again, with a smile on his face and exuding happiness, Jake went in for lots of neurological and muscular testing in 2010 to see if what the doctors had originally feared had come true. I wrote about all the raw emotions of that time on my blog as we prepared to take Jake in for his testing in November 2010.
We named our son Jacob because it was while he (the original Jacob) was so named that he wrestled with God until he received a blessing, then God changed his name to Israel “because he struggled with God and man and prevailed”. We wanted (and still do) our son to be bold and persistent in pursuing God and not be afraid to wrestle with doubts, fears or anything else life throws at him! We want him to stick with God and boldly wrestle for the blessing! Always! And even more so, we want our Jacob to claim God as his own and make his faith his own because it was only after the original Jacob’s wrestle with God that he (now Israel) stated “the God of Israel” or the “God of Jacob” when he’d pray. He finally saw God not only as the God of his patriarchs but a God for himself as well! Prior to his wrestling match, Jacob only prayed to “the God of Abraham” or “the God of Isaac”.
We didn’t name our son for the name’s meaning; we named our son for the bold, tenacious persistence that it takes to wrestle with our faith, with our God and to stick it out for a blessing.
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,[a] 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,[b] 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,[c] 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.