Overcomers of God

Pentecost 22 Friday

Genesis 32:27-28

“The Man said: What is your name? He replied: Jacob. He said: You are not longer to be called Jacob, but Israel. For you have fought against God and man and have prevailed.”

The fighter reveals himself when he says that Jacob fought against God and man; he gives him a new name on account of the fight. For the Hebrew word, El, means “God.” And all the fathers raised the question: What does this word, Israel, mean? Jerome makes modest complaints about how the great renown and learning of certain eloquent men almost overwhelmed him, as they said that this word means “a man who sees God.” Yet Jerome does add that he prefers to accept the interpretation of the angel or God according to its proper origin than to follow the interpretation of the others, even if they are the most eloquent men. The Hebrew verb, sarah, means “rule,” “prevail,” “be a prince,” as it says in Isaiah 9:6, Sar shalom, “prince of peace.”…Thus, Israel means “a fighter,” “a prince,” “a lord or lady” of God. Almost all interpreters have let this word become too difficult for them. For they thought it absurd that we should be called God’s lords and overcomers. And it is truly true if we were to judge the matter according to philosophy or reason; but in the spirit and according to theology it is properly and well said about God that he is overcome by us. To be sure, he is not overcome so as to become our subject, but his judgment or wrath and anger and everything that hinders us and separates us from him is overcome by our asking, seeking, and knocking, so that, out of an angry Judge as he was seen and regarded previously, he becomes a very dear and kind Father who says: “Woman, your faith is great,” Matthew 15:28. And: “Your faith has helped you. Let it be done to you according to your faith,” Matthew 9:22, 29. “Oh how I feel sorry for you with your cries.” Now, it is full of comfort when God exercises and exhorts us in this way that we should fight and he tells us that it is a sacrifice pleasing to him that he may be overcome by us. Yet we must not calculate this according to reason, as the same thinks about it when it dares to overcome God with its own powers and works. Rather, God is overcome when he surrenders and reveals himself to us in the Word, in the promise, in baptism. What is left for you is to overcome that which wants to take this God from you, and you do this by means of the truth of the promise and of faith. Or, when God acts as if were displeased and angry with you and as if he would not hear or help you–then you should say: “Dear Lord God, you have promised this in your Word; this is why you will not change your promise: I am baptized. I am absolved.” Now, when you keep going firmly in this way and always urge God, he will be overcome and say: “Let it be done to you as you wish; for you have the promise and the blessing. For when you are steadfast and always seek and diligently ask, you offer a sweet sacrifice that is pleasing to God. It is quite ingenious and lovely in theology that the Christians are called overcomers of God…For they fight against God and prevail.
Walch ed., 2:1164-1166.
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