Not a Nickname
We’ve been exploring Jacob’s name change to Israel. Last time we discovered the meaning of the name Jacob. According to The exhaustive dictionary of Bible names (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.
Jacob got his name mere minutes after being born as recorded in Genesis 25:26
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)
True to his name, Jacob as a minutes old baby is already trying to trip up his brother. The next time we see Jacob acting out the meaning of his name is in Genesis 25:29-34. Esau had been out hunting all day, while Jacob was home cooking. Esau comes back famished and asks his brother to share some of his delicious smelling stew. Jacob “trips him up” (from the range of meaning). He tells Esau the only way he can have some food is to sell his birthright to Jacob. What an expensive bowl of soup! In that single transaction Jacob “takes the place of” (from the range of meaning) Esau as heir to Isaac’s wealth and blessing.
The only problem with the sale of the birthright is Isaac their father must see the deal as valid if Jacob is to replace his brother as heir. Rebekah knows her husband well, she knows Isaac will never honor the agreement her sons have entered into concerning the birthright. The birthright belongs to the first born and that is Esau.
Genesis 27 records for us the “scheme” (from the range of meaning) Rebekah and Jacob execute. As a mother son duo they deceive Isaac into giving the birthright blessing to Jacob instead of the rightful heir Esau. Even though Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup he is enraged that Jacob actually took it. He is mad enough to kill Jacob. Jacob tricked his brother Esau and is now on the running for his life.
Genesis chapter 28 records for us the first significant encounter Jacob has with God. In verses 10 through 16 of chapter 28 God establishes a covenant with Jacob. This covenant was established in an environment of God’s grace. Jacob did not deserve this covenant, he just stole his brother’s birthright and was running for his life. However, the covenant was not based on the man Jacob. The covenant was specifically about what God would do to and through Jacob as we see in Genesis 28:15.
Genesis 28:15, 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 spoken to you.” (NKJV)
Jacob still had plenty to learn before God would ultimately perform a character change in Jacob, and give him a name that matched his new attributes.
I hope you will take the time to read Genesis 32 where you will get the whole account. Genesis 32:28 records for us God renaming Jacob to Israel.
Genesis 32:28, 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.” (NKJV)
Israel (iz’-ra-el) = He will be a prince with God; prince with God; contender of God; he strives with God; soldier of God; God will rule; God ruled man; ruling with God; one that prevails with God. (Smith, Stelman, and Judson Cornwall. The exhaustive dictionary of Bible names 1998 : 114. Print.)
This was more than one man getting a new name. This name change was essential before God’s word could be fulfilled to a nation. This whole story is about God in His sovereignty molding a man, and ultimately a nation into something that will glorify Him. Did you notice that whether it was Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob God made a promise before it seemed it could possibly come true? After making the promise God takes the man through a process to make him able to receive from His hand. God will manipulate individuals and situations to ensure His word will come to pass.
The nation of “Jacob” would have been a nation of dishonest supplanters but instead God caused them to become a nation of “princes with God”. Maybe you think the nation of Israel is not yet living up to its name. But remember, God isn’t done with Israel yet. God always has, and always will fulfill His word exactly as He has proclaimed it.
Just like encounters with God changed these men in the pages of the Old Testament, an encounter with Him will change you and me.
Philippians 1:6, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (NKJV)