Identity Crisis

Exodus 12:10, “And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.”

As the band Jars of Clay sang, “Man, the trouble is we don’t know who we are instead.”   At it’s core, Pesach is about our identity.   The reason why this night contains the power to break every chain: addictions, unhealthy relationships, generational curses, misplaced fear, every restraint of our individual Pharaoh, is because we enter the door at sunset as one person, and leave the house at dawn a NEW person.  Redemption is an exchange–me for Him.   We eat the whole lamb, because we want this transformation to be complete.   When we embrace that reality, all of our problems and sins become His, and we are left only with His righteousness in return.   Pesach is like the start of a witness relocation program, and we are sadly the witnesses to our own crimes.

There’s a pre-Pesach narrative that serves as our guide to the process of acquiring our new ID’s.  It’s told thematically in the story of Jacob and Laban.  Genesis 30-33.   Here’s my paraphrase of the story:   Jacob, like Moses, is sent away from home to find a bride, and succeeds–one extra wife and two handmaidens too well, actually.   That blessing turns into a curse, as he becomes enslaved, and his boss won’t let him or his people go.   His people grow into a large family, and his flocks and herds also grow exponentially.   Jacob finally gets permission to leave, and that exodus is accompanied by Laban’s idols being shamed (just like the 10 plagues shamed Egypt’s gods).  He makes peace with Laban in Exodus 31:52, “I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm”.   Hint, hint.   Just before Jacob leaves his captivity for good–on that final night before his liberation–he has a supernatural identity crisis.  Here’s the language:

Genesis 32:24, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  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.  So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.”  

In verse 30 Jacob says, “My life has been delivered“.   This is the same language used in Exodus 12:27, describing Pesach, “It is the sacrifice of YHWH’s Pesach, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but delivered our houses.’  And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” 

(I reflect on who this YHWH-like man is here.)

Starting from “between the evenings”, when Pesach begins, to the following morning when the sun rises, we are expected to enter into our own wrestling match with YHWH.  The goal of this struggle is for us to leave changed, to move forward across the water with a new and improved name.   When Abraham and Sarah had their names changed, it was done by adding a single letter.  (In Sarah’s case, one letter was traded for another.)  When Joshua had his name changed, it was also done by adding a single letter.   However with Jacob, every letter was changed except the first letter–Yod, the letter that represents the hand of YHWH.   During our encounters with YHWH, sometimes He’ll add to us, sometimes He’ll trade with us, and sometimes He’ll transform us.  One way or another, our own names will certainly be improved.

Jacob’s new identity is now “Israel”, which implies “To Wrestle with Elohim”.   This process of becoming Israel is the struggle we embrace overnight on Pesach each year.   If we are willing and brave enough to engage in this struggle, YHWH offers this same transformational experience.   Although I disagree with the imprecision of this term, this entire experience is often described as being “born again.”  If you don’t become jaded and complacent, you can renew this same fresh spirit each and every year.   Like Jacob, we can leave Laban and Egypt behind with a new and improved name.  This new identity comes with new everything…a new perspective, a new thought-process, and new values.  If you are being held captive through enslaved relationships, this new ID even supplies a new family.   

Messiah says as much in Luke 8:20-21, “And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing OUTSIDE, desiring to see you.’  But he answered them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”  Of course this doesn’t eliminate every obligation to DNA parents and relatives, but it does free us from the family ties that bind us in a unhealthy way.   

Here are more hard words from Messiah about our new identities as Israel.  Matthew 10:34-38, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Other than your spouse (because a marriage covenant is Holy and is governed by higher standards and laws) all other relationships are potentially dissolvable through the sword wielded by YHWH the destroyer on Pesach night (Exodus 12:23, 29).  My personal testimony involves an audible voice (to me, anyway) from YHWH that simply said “I am your father.”   The rest of that sleepless night was a spirit-led chokehold that replaced all the incorrect assumptions I had about my Heavenly father which had been falsely superimposed by my personal experiences with my earthly father.  I finally let YHWH beat me in the wrestling match, and I was rewarded for His efforts.

Jacob experiences this needed familial freedom as well.  Immediately after his new ID is issued, he comes face-to-face with his brother, Esau.  Rather than being sucked into the repetitive drama of the family dynamic, they divorce peacefully and each goes their separate ways once and forever.   The last words we read in Genesis 33:16 are, “So Esau returned that day to Seir, but Jacob journeyed to Sukkoth, built himself a house and made Sukkah’s for his livestock.”   Seir means “goat”, a fitting place for Esau to go, while Jacob goes to Sukkot.  This splitting of polarized twins foreshadows the ritual of the Day of Atonement, where YHWH sorts out the goats from the sheep.  Esau, the hairy red brother, goes to Goat-land in the wilderness, but Jacob and the twelve tribes go to the Promised Land. 

The reality of this wrestling match and ID exchange can be much harder than it sounds.   Israel didn’t leave with a spring in his step–he left that morning with a permanent limp.  I suppose that limp could be a reminder of the conditions of his fleshly birth.   “Jacob” means “he takes by the heel”, referring back to his struggle with Esau, even during childbirth.   He began his life by grabbing a heel wrestling with flesh-and-blood, but ended being touched on the hip during his wrestling with the Spirit.   Perhaps this is similar to Messiah’s plea for us to cut off our own foot if it is causing us to sin.  (Mark 9:47)   Wrestling with YHWH is going to hurt–a lot.  Just like childbirth (from what I’m told) the pain is worth it.

The night before Pesach, Messiah had his own struggle with identity and destiny.  Luke 22:39, “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 

We learn more details in the Mark 14 version of the same night before Pesach, “And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”  And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.  And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 

Note the matching pattern of Judus greeting Yeshua with a kiss, and Esau greeting Jacob with a kiss.  Judus and Esau both part ways forever with their adversaries, after the all night prayer session strengthens the heroes.   Yeshua’s sprit was up to the task, but the flesh of our brothers Peter, James, and John was weak and succumbed to temptation.  I think they deserve extra grace, since they were still clueless about the crucifixion’s happy ending, but we don’t have the luxury of ignorance.  We have story after story of our spiritual ancestors rising to the challenge and going toe-to-toe with YHWH for the sake of His glory and our eventual perfection. 

In this regard, Jacob is certainly our model.  Prior to Jacob, other biblical heroes who had their name’s changed were always referred to by their new names from that point forward.   However, Jacob is referred to interchangeably as Israel (or is it Israel referred to as Jacob) for the rest of his life.   Here we are 4000 years later, and we still refer to YHWH as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   Apparently old names are really hard to shake.  This serves as a reminder that we aren’t yet at the part of His plan where we inherit all new flesh to accompany our new identities.   At the resurrection we finally get those bodies, and our new names are officially established to match.   

Revelation 2:17, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.'”       

Until then, only our intentional embrace of our new identity in Yeshua Messiah will result in a transformation in the here and now.  Until the Resurrection, we’ll be forced to contend with our own always imperfect, often sick and painful, and sometimes even sinful bodies.  Our own flesh constantly is testing us to see if we’ll just fall back into our Jacob, instead of allowing us to press on toward our Israel.  The wisdom, however, is not to fight with our flesh, but to turn and engage with the Spirit.  This is why Jacob didn’t fight Esau, but instead he said to YHWH, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Until our flesh is made perfect and incorruptible, YHWH invites us to a wresting bout each and every Pesach.  His intention is to remind us who we really are, and then to live like it.

Amen!

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