Genesis 32:27-28

27 So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” 28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Romans 9:20

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?

God gives Jacob a new name, Israel. Israel becomes not just the name of the patriarch but of the nation of God's chosen people.

The meaning of the name Israel can be translated as struggles with God.

The “struggles with God” meaning of Israel can be contrasted with the meaning of Islam, “submission to the will of God.”

A general question – what is the significance of the name Israel? Does God allow us to struggle or merely submit?

More specifically, how is God's encounter with Jacob in Genesis 32 addressed within the framework of monergism vs. synergism?

Even more specifically, how do Genesis 32:28 and Romans 9:20 square with each other?

Is Paul's question only rhetorical, who are you to question God? Is not the answer within the name of Israel itself? God chose this people knowing full well they are stiff-necked.

To present a crude analogy-- are we God's children or God's pets? For children, part of earning responsibility is the sum of our choices. Even with a dog, it might be docile or spirited.

God appears to appreciate believers with a bit of spirit. Maybe it is by wrestling with God that our ultimate love, fear, and worship of God are most sincere.

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First let's define some things:

Monergism: God alone saves, us, God is the only thing necessary, linked with Calvinism.

Synergism: God "works together" with us to save us, i.e., unless we do something, God cannot save us. Associated with Arminianism, and Catholicism.

First of all, 32:38 says "prevailed" not "won". God allowed him to survive despite his misgivings about God. Everyone has misgivings. But that doesn't mean that Jacob won against God. Not even synergists, such as myself, believe that's possible.

Synergism means: "the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects."

You work with God to become compatible with Him. You cannot earn or save yourself but if you actively work against God, then you cannot be saved. Thus, neither Genesis 32:28 nor Romans 9:20 are synergistic nor monergistic.

Next: "How do Genesis 32:28 and Romans 9:20 square with each other?"


Paul is asking a rhetorical question. You cannot possibly compare to God's wisdom: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God." (1 Cor 3:18). By questioning God, you are questioning His wisdom. He is omniscient and outside time, thus, He cannot make mistakes. Questioning Him is pure foolishness. Jacob questioned God, but was not correct, but he made a mistake in doing so, as we all do. He did not change God's mind nor bring up a valid point for Him to consider.

I have saved the best for last: "Does God allow us to struggle or merely submit?"

God does not have allow us to struggle. He is outside of time, He knows everything that or could happen. (I am not advocating predestination, mind, but rather that He knows what the consequences of His choices are immediately.) Thus, by creating a spiritual creature at all, He gives it the ability to struggle against Him. (CCC 412, Romans ___). But ultimately, we have no choice to submit or suffer for all eternity. This is how salvation works: by submitting and recognizing we cannot help ourselves, we enter into His sacrifice (Heb 10:10). We can't be in Heaven if we don't, for God does not dwell with sinners (Psalm 5:4-7).

We are His children. A child can yell and scream, but his toys are still taken.

  "[I]n Christ Jesus you are all children of God[.]"

(Galatians 3:26)


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