JACOB RENAMED ISRAEL
Jacob sent all he had ahead to appease Esau and is left alone. The following is often considered to be a theophany.
32:24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
32:25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
32:26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
32:27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
32:28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
32:29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
32:31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
It is here that Jacob is renamed Israel. He is supplanting no one. He is in no one else’s place as he wrestles with God. When asked his name he says Jacob! The Lord tells him he is no longer Jacob but Israel. He is not supplanting another, not pretending to be Esau getting the blessing from Isaac. He is no longer the un-favored son of Isaac. He is renamed in accordance with what his whole life, culminating in this event, has been. God has proclaimed this man’s victory as a prince having power with God and with men.
This blessing does not come because he overcame the sinful nature of a conman and trickster. It comes after a lifetime of living down a name and having little courage, living in such fear of Esau wiping out him and his entire family that he was left with nothing. If he could not obtain the blessing as the man he was, he would die in the attempt. He prevailed. His life of perseverance prevailed. Nowhere in Scripture does it show that he was after the quick, easy way. Nowhere does it say or show that he cheated anyone out of anything save one instance when he reluctantly obeyed his mother and got the blessing by false pretense.
A STEP BACK
A casual reading of the story of Jacob could lead one to take Jacob as a trickster, when all he did was obey his mother when she commanded him to deceive Isaac. Taking a step back, we have to recognize that Rebekah did not understand the prophecy. Why would Jacob have needed the blessing of Isaac when he had already been guaranteed the blessing of God?
Taking Esau’s heel when they were born could have reinforced the prophecy in Isaac’s mind: the elder shall serve the younger; this taken to mean that Jacob would become patriarch. Did he? If that understanding was true, then at some point Esau would have been in submission to him as if Jacob was in the place of Isaac. That never happened. Esau never served Jacob as if Jacob were the tribal elder. Esau became the founder of Edom, establishing his own nation.
This nation would eventually serve the nation Israel. Rebekah thought that Esau would be Jacob’s servant and the only way that could happen is for Jacob to become the Patriarch instead of Esau. The prophecy was fulfilled but not as Rebekah thought it would be.
A Scriptural character description of Jacob says:
A simple man dwelling in tents.
Obedient to his parents. Favorite of Rebekah.
Fell in love with Rachel at first sight.
Was willing to and gave 7 years labor for her hand.
Love was so strong that 7 years seemed to him only a few days.
When Laban gave him Leah he agreed to another 7 years for Rachel and Laban trusted him enough that he gave her to him on credit.
Even after Laban’s trickery he worked another 6 years for him to build his fortune for his family.
He was the object of the prophecy given to Rebekah as the one chosen by God to be the heir of the covenant promise. So? Was he a con-man who was so corrupt that it took 20 years of suffering to change him? A careful reading of the Scriptures does not bear out that his time with Laban was penance for his skullduggery in obtaining the birthright or the blessing. I do not see his initiative in the deception to obtain the blessing and he deceived no one in obtaining the birthright. I do not see Scripture portraying Jacob as a betrayer or deceiver out for personal gain.
The last six years he worked for Laban, God was giving him the increase, and he knew it. The word in Hebrew used by Esau and translated as supplant in the KJV (Strong’s 6117) does NOT have the connotation of deceit. Since Esau doesn’t even believe he was tricked out of his inheritance, why should we? Read carefully the way Jacob addressed Isaac when he took him the meal and compare it to the way Esau spoke to him. It leaves little room for doubt that Jacob did the bare minimum to make Rebekah’s plan work.
When he was being sent to Padanaram, he had already received the blessing which was the official transfer of power. He could have had Esau sent away or even killed for threatening him. He could have taken full advantage of his new position to exercise the power to which he was now entitled. Did he? No. He remained the obedient son and left for Padanaram to find a wife just as his parents asked and left with another blessing from Isaac!
Would anyone who lusted after wealth and power and had tricked, conned and cajoled his way into the position of power held by the Patriarch just walk off and leave it? Surely if he were as afraid of Esau as later passages show him to be even after twenty years, he would have not balked at using his newly acquired power to end that situation.
What is the theological purpose in painting Jacob as a deceiver in the way the prophecy was worked out? If the story of Jacob is used to show that change of heart can be wrought in us by situations forcing us to finally ask for forgiveness (foxhole religion)—repent, then we believe that it is up to us in the final analysis to seek God’s mercy and if we do not then it is our fault. God has made salvation possible and all and those who accept this free gift can boast of it (even though they really should not) and those who do not– well they deserve what they get and we can feel very sorry for them. If we believe that we must change before God will respond to us, then we believe that ultimately the last word in our salvation is our own acceptance or rejection of a free “offer” of salvation by God.
So building a theology based upon what man can or should do instead of upon what Scripture reveals God has done and will do, produces anthropomorphic theology—God, created in the image of man. This makes God very predictable and comfortable and familiar, less holy and foreboding. A theology based upon what man can do sells. People want to believe in themselves and their abilities. And when we look around we find great comfort in the fact that we can always find someone more depraved and evil than we are so that must mean there is hope after all, right?
The religions this theology produces have the form of Godliness but deny the power thereof. Change is not wrought in us by situations forcing us to change, but by the hand of God removing our heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. So it is “not of him who willeth nor of him who runneth, but of God who showeth mercy.”
The last word in salvation is that of Jesus Christ. He will either say well done, good and faithful servant, or, get thee away from Me, I NEVER KNEW THEE! His word decides our eternal destiny, and His alone. He is King.
Let the Word of GOD speak.
Hear what IT says.
Discern ITS meaning.
It really is okay that we might not understand how or why as long as we know WHO!