Abraham and Sarah struggled with their inability to conceive and bear children. Isaac and Rachel did too. Isaac was forty-years-old when he took Rebekah as his bride (Genesis 25:20) and he was sixty-years-old when Esau and Jacob were born. For twenty years “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord was receptive to his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived” (Genesis 25:21).
While the boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, the Lord supernaturally revealed His plan to her. “Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. When her time came to give birth, there were indeed twins in her womb. The first one came out red-looking, covered with hair like a fur coat, and they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out grasping Esau’s heel with his hand. So he was named Jacob” (Genesis 25:23–26).
Imagine this: Isaac takes his tiny first-born child in his arms for the first time. He looks at this six-pound wonder that is covered with hair and exclaims, “Let’s call him Harry!” ... in Hebrew, “Esau!” Esau was born first, and “after this, his brother came out grasping Esau’s heel with his hand. So he was named Jacob” (Genesis 25:26). Jacob can mean; he that grabs the heel or trips up, or he that deceives or supplants. Jacob lived up to his name as he deceived his brother and his father in order to steal the birthright and blessing.
Isaac’s home was fraught with strife, bitterness, and deception! Isaac loved Esau while Rebekah loved Jacob. The conflict between the brothers was toxic. “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart, ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’ ” (Genesis 27:41). This drove Jacob to run for his life and spend the next twenty years separated from his family.
When he finally returned to Canaan, he came to Bethel where his grandfather, Abraham, had built an altar. There the Lord revealed Himself to Jacob. “ ‘Your name is Jacob; you will no longer be named Jacob, but your name will be Israel.’ So he named him Israel. God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you. I will give to you the land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac. And I will give the land to your future descendants’ ” (Genesis 35:10–12). Israel means God will rule, one that prevails with God, or prince with God.
God gave Jacob, the deceiver, a new identity, a new name. “You will be the man who prevails with God. Your life will give evidence that your God rules. You will be royalty, a prince with God!” No longer Jacob. Now Israel.
Many years later, when God revealed Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush, God said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). That’s both comforting and encouraging. The Magnificent, All-mighty, Holy God is known as the God of Jacob. He’s the God of imperfect people. He welcomes the defective and damaged, the flawed and faulty, the broken and blemished.
And to those who serve Him, He gives a new identity, a new name!
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.