All Eyes on Israel
Chapter 1 - What is Your Name?
Page 4 - The Meaning of Jacob
(Go Back to Page 3 -
Abraham and Isaac)
The meaning of Jacob reflects how he acted towards his father. Let's review the story. It's interesting that Rebekah was also barren and for 20 years. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born and 75 when he left Ur of the Chaldees with his wife Sarai, so they waited at least 11 years, possibly longer - we can't know for sure. But Isaac may have waited even longer. Perhaps Abraham, having learned some lessons, was careful to instruct Isaac to be patient in this matter.
"And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, ... And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them." (Gen 25:20-26)
Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, the older son was named Esau which means "red" and the younger son was named Jacob, the meaning of Jacob being "supplanter" or "deceiver" or "one who grabs the heel." In Genesis 27, when Isaac was old he decided it was time to pass on his blessing:
"And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I." (Gen 27:1)
We know the story - how Isaac gave Esau some instructions that Rebekah overheard and she talked Jacob into a plot to get the blessing. Rebekah and Jacob soon had the deception ready:
"And he [Jacob] came unto his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I; who art thou, my son?" (Gen 27:18)
Notice that when Jacob goes in to Isaac he says the minimum - two words: "my father." He doesn't want to be found out so he says as little as he can.
Isaac is a little suspicious right away because he asks "who art thou, my son?" He calls him "my son" and does so again in verses 20 and 21. The question is not "Who are you? Are you my son?" Rather it is "My son, who are you?" He recognizes that he is a son but is just in doubt as to which one. Possibly their voices were similar. Isaac had only heard two words. The question "Who art thou?" really is ? "What is your name?" Would the correct answer be "Thy son"? No, Isaac recognizes that he is his son, he has called him that. The correct answer would be "Jacob." In the next couple of verses Jacob has to say more to explain himself.
Then, in v21 Isaac makes another inquiry. Again he calls him "my son" but there is doubt as to whether he is really Esau.
"And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not." (Gen 27:21)
He is calling him "my son" that is not the question. Again, the question is which son he is; essentially it is: "What is your name?" Knowing his name would answer the question in Isaac's mind.
In verse 24 he asks him the third time, very pointedly:
"... Art thou my very son Esau? And he said, I am." (Gen 27:24)
The question the third time is again, essentially "What is your name." Three times when asked in different ways "What is your name?" consistent with the meaning of Jacob, he lied and continued the deception.
After this episode of deceit to obtain the blessing, Jacob fled from his brother Esau and travelled to the home of his uncle Laban to seek a wife. As he travelled and had opportunity to reflect, what was likely going through his mind?
- Anger towards his mother who had ensnared him?
- Anger towards his brother who had threatened him?
- Anger towards himself and guilt for his act of deception?
Likely, some of each of these but what was probably going through his mind over and over, more than anything else was:
What is your name?
What is your name?
What is your name?
And things like: Why did I listen to my mother? Why didn't I tell the truth? Why didn't I tell him my name?
In summary, Jacob:
- grabbed Esau's heel at their birth:
Jacob = "one who grabs the heel"
- supplanted his brother:
Jacob = "supplanter"
- was ensnared by his mother's insistence:
Rebekah = "ensnarer"
- deceived his blind father:
Jacob = "deceiver"
Before we go on to look in more detail at how "Israel" is used other than as the new name for Jacob, let's look a little more closely at the meaning of Jacob and apply it to each of us. Remember that the meaning of Jacob is: "One who grabs the heel," "Supplanter," or "Deceiver."