Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. —Genesis 32:29
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” —Exodus 3:13-14
Maybe seminary is the right place for me to be, if these are the things that intrigue me: why does Moses get to hear God’s name, but Jacob doesn’t?
Looking at these passages together, it seems as if Moses’ indirection wins the day—that Moses is standing before God saying, I don’t need to know your name, because it’s clear to me who you are, in this moment and all moments hereafter. But, for those people who aren’t here and are merely staring at sheep-herding mortal me, what is my token that I’m who I claim to be? How shall I answer them beyond, “You know, the God of your ancestors…?” So Moses gets to carry the holy Name as the first of his badges of authority.
If that’s Moses’ stance, though, then why does Jacob, who has been wrestling this presence all night long, bother to ask for a name? Maybe that’s what sticks: Jacob already knows, in a concrete, physically intimate way, who he’s wrestling with. Knows muscle, balance points, joints. Knows weaknesses, strengths… the sound of breath, the concatenation of smells. When you know someone in your hands, and in your body, what more knowing do you need?
What would the name give you that you don’t already have?
It’s possible that, while Jacob has figured out he’s wrestling with divinity, he doesn’t know what sort. The text refers to “a man” the whole time. On the other hand, Jacob is certain enough to say “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30b).
What does it mean to us, personally, to know the name of God?
I’m going to think about this one some more.
ps: Did I tell you I finished writing my midterm?
Yeah, I thought I had.