The Bible records only eight times when God reiterates someone’s name. At the very instant every fiber of his being strained to prove his absolute faith in God, Abraham heard the first double knock. God used it the next time on his grandson.
Jacob’s plight was also woven in the tapestry of trusting God. But whereas Abraham knew he was following God’s instructions to the letter on Mt. Moriah, Jacob needed confirmation the steps he was taking were God’s orders. He had come a long way from where he was when fleeing from his brother’s murderous rage.
When he reached Bethel, he had covered 48 miles of the 400-mile escape route. Resting his head on a stone pillow that night, Jacob dreamed of a heavenly stairway. From its top God spoke:
“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15 ESV).
As momentous as that divine message of promised protection and posterity was, God did not introduce it with a double knock. Nor did God use that twenty years later in another dream:
“Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see . . . for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred’” (Genesis 31:11-13 ESV).
The double knock did not come, either, the night Jacob tenaciously held on to God (Genesis 32:24-28) for a blessing. As important as it was, God’s blessing–changing Jacob’s name to Israel–was not preceded with a double knock.
Years had piled on top of years when God sent Jacob back to Bethel to erect an altar (Genesis 35:1). There, in the sanctity of worship, God confirmed Jacob’s name change and renewed the Abrahamic covenant with him (Genesis 35:10-15). But even this special occasion did not call forth the double knock.
Jacob’s ears tuned in to God’s double knock seventeen years short of his death. He heard it at Beersheba, the hometown he had fled for his life. That time he had run north to Haran. This time he was passing through Beersheba in Pharaoh’s wagon on his way to Egypt. Again Jacob found himself leaving his comfort zone to enter the unknown.
The first time he carried only his staff. This time he took with him children and children-in-law, grandchildren, livestock, and household goods. The first time was for survival. This time too. Both times he was shaking in his sandals, and both times God reassured him. This time, however, God invoked the double knock:
And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:2-4 ESV).
When speaking the double knock, God used the old name “Jacob,” not the upgraded “Israel” God had blessed him with at the end of their all-night wrestling event. Hearing his birth name used and doubled stirs Jacob to recall God’s presence in his life’s pilgrimage from the first Bethel experience onward.
In a twinkling Jacob reflects on who he had been without God and who he had become with God and knows he never wants to be without God. He is readied to listen intently to and obey whatever God says now.