Not a Nickname – Part Two
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. In this series of articles we are considering the significance of that name change. I would venture to say that when we hear the name Israel, we immediately think of a tiny little nation with a population of roughly eight and a half million people, just barely bigger than New Jersey, in the middle east. Israel was however, the name of a man before it became the name of a nation. When we encounter the word Israel in the Bible we have the luxury of context indicating man or nation as we read.
Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian.
Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
And the LORD said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. (NKJV)
Isaac married a woman named Rebekah. She’s not physically capable of having children because she is as the Bible states it, “barren”. Isaac begs, or as the New King James Bible says, “pleads” with the Lord on Rebekah’s behalf and she becomes pregnant. Rebekah is thinking, if this is a normal pregnancy what is going on inside my body? She doesn’t know it yet, but the scriptures clue the reader, that she has twins in her womb, and they are “struggling together”!
Concerned about her pregnancy, this first time mother inquires of the Lord. Yahweh tells her that “you have two nations inside you”. I can imagine Rebekah responding, “sure feels like it! Oh, you mean twins? That’s a figure of speech Lord, right? After all I could not give birth to one whole nation let alone two!” Nope! Not a figure of speech. You are carrying two babies, who will become the fathers of two different nations. It seems to me God’s choice to refer to Rebekah’s twins as nations, is a way to underscore the immutable nature of this prophetic word. It isn’t that these two boys might father nations, they most definitely will.
Notice the contrast? Isaac asks God for a baby, God gives him two. Isaac is thinking baby, God is thinking nations.
I love verse twenty four, particularly the use of the word indeed. “So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. It is as if the author is saying, “God told Rebekah she was going to have twins. Huh, look at that, she did have twins!”
This passage in Genesis 25 is the first clearly recorded account of twins in the Bible. Some suggest that the first two babies in the history of mankind, Cain and Abel, were twins. They say since the Genesis 4:1-2 does not indicate how much time elapsed between the two birth accounts it is possible that they were twins.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.”
Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. (NKJV)
Whatever maybe true of Genesis 4:1-2, can you imagine the attention paid to Rebekah’s twins? The two nations are literally in their infancy and already drawing the world’s attention. Having twins was not the norm.
Look at Genesis 25:24-26.
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb.
And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau.
Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. (NKJV)
There are many significant observations packed into these three verses. For the sake of time, and an attempt to stay on course, let’s just consider the first sentence of verse twenty six.
When names in the Old Testament were assigned to a person they characterized something about the individual they identified. Sometimes the names seemed prophetic. I often find myself asking how could the parents know their babies would grow up to match the meaning of their name? Maybe God in His sovereignty influenced the naming of these important Bible characters.
Jacob however, was named based on his first action immediately after birth.
Here’s the meaning of the name Jacob according to The exhaustive dictionary of Bible names by Smith, Stelman, and Judson Cornwall. Jacob (ja’-cub) = He will supplant; he that supplants; he that follows after; a heeler; one who trips up; takes hold by the land; supplanter; a detainer.
According to dictionary.com supplant is defined, to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like.
Next time we will take a look at a few instances in the life of Jacob that demonstrates the accuracy of his name.