Biblical Principle #113: God Renamed Jacob to Israel

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God renamed Jacob to Israel.


When GOD called Abraham to follow Him, his name was Abram. In time, GOD renamed Abram to Abraham.

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am your God; be pleasing before Me and blameless. 2 I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your seed after you. 8 Also I will give you and your seed after you the land you are occupying as a sojourner, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Genesis 17:1-8 OSB

Abraham’s grandson was Jacob. Like his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham, Jacob walked with GOD.

GOD called Jacob from Haran to return to Canaan. On the way, GOD changed Jacob’s name as well.

21 So the present went on before [Jacob], but he himself lodged that night in the encampment.

22 And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them and crossed over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with Him. 26 Then He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”

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 prevailed with God and with men.”

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And he said, “Why do you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the name of that place, the Form of God: “For I saw God face to face, and my soul was saved.” 31 When the Form of God passed by, the sun rose on him, but he limped on his hip. 32 Therefore to this day, the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, in the muscle that shrank.

Genesis 32:21-32 OSB

Some Bible dictionaries say that the Hebrew word Israel means “God strives.”

However, Israel is the combination of two Hebrew words, “sarah” (to persist) and “el” (god or gods).

I believe it is more accurate to define Israel as “strive with God” and “strive with gods.”

Just as Abraham’s name (exalted father) has multiple meanings, so also does Israel.

  • Israel (collectively, as in Jacob’s descendants by physical birth) were a continuously stiff-necked people who were near-constantly rebelling against GOD.
  • Likewise, the physical Israelites intertwined themselves with the gods of the other nations.
  • Ultimately, thanks to GOD’s faithfulness and immense love, Israel (the spiritually faithful and repentant, including physical descendants and Gentiles grafted in through Jesus), prevailed against GOD’s wrath and just-ness through Jesus, the King.
  • Likewise, ultimately, spiritual Israel would succeed over the gods of the second world, inheriting the kingdom of heaven under King Jesus.

The Bible tells the story of the fulfillment of GOD’s promises to Abraham, which came through Isaac and Jacob—Israel.

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