Friday, July 9, 2021

Jacob or Israel?

 Our patriarch Jacob was given the name Israel in a very dramatic occasion, but in spite of the pronouncement, “your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel…” (Gen. 32:28), unlike Abraham and Sarah whose name change remained consistent, Jacob’s was not. At times he is called Israel, and at other times it is back to Jacob. What’s more, his progeny, while many times called “Israel”, at other, numerous times, is also referred to as “Jacob”. Is there a significance to the usage of each of these names/titles, respectively? Or are they just used randomly?

Let’s start with “Jacob”.  We know that this name is tied to one of the two children in the womb of Rebecca their mother.  When Elohim called him and his brother “goyim” (plural for two nations), He announced that Jacob would be His “called” or “chosen” goy/nation from the (natural) seed of his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob had twelve sons and all of them form the nation/goy as a whole. Thus, I always read “Jacob” as a reference to all the sons/tribes (except, of course, when the context is clear that it is Jacob the man, who is being spoken of).  Jacob received his new name, Israel, after wrestling with “a Man”. The new name that he was given refers to a spiritual connection to Elohim, and also to his eventual calling to become the Israel of Elohim (see below).  However, no matter how many nations or people groups in the world are from that linage today, the name “Jacob” still refers to the one nation, including all of its thirteen tribes. So when I read the scriptures, and Jacob is mentioned or is being addressed, I think of all his natural progeny, as that goy/nation from Rebecca’s womb.

But what about the name “Israel”?  Its first usage, as mentioned, is in Genesis 32:28 with the explanation given for “Israel” -“for you have striven with Elohim and with men and have prevailed’".  Why did YHVH choose this particular name, or should I say this “identity title” for this man Jacob cum-nation?  If seen as a title does it distinguish Jacob from all the other nations? The answer is “yes”, as YHVH places this nation into a status of belonging to Him. Over and over He declares in Exodus that the Hebrews are to be “MY PEOPLE”.  “And YHVH said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings’” (Exodus 3:7).  YHVH can make that claim because of their forefathers’ status as a “firstborn” in the family of Adam, Noah and Shem.   

If we examine the etymology of “Israel” we find it to be in future tense for “a prince who will rule with Elohim”, or “Elohim will rule” in or through Jacob.  Thus Jacob, from the natural linage of Abraham and Isaac, is destined, as a nation, to be a prince, and is also defined as ruler or leader. "And YHVH shall make you the head and not the tail, and you only shall be above, and you shall not be underneath” (Deuteronomy 28:13).  However, as is written, these promises, would only come to fruition after YHVH would send to the family/nation a kinsman redeemer.  This is why, as far as the nation is concerned, it would have to wait until this kinsman redeemer would come and set up the everlasting kingdom in the house of Jacob, uniting the two houses of Israel and restoring the “falling succah of David” (Amos 9:11 literal translation). 

But the question still remains, when the Word of Elohim uses Jacob and then, at other times, Israel, is there a significant difference between the two? Before we can answer this question let us do a short historical review.

Although not named “Israel” themselves, in Genesis whenever their father is mentioned (in relationship to them), Jacob’s sons are called the “sons of Israel”.  However, when Israel laid his hands on Ephraim and Menashe, “he blessed Joseph, and said, ‘the Messenger before whom my father’s Abraham and Isaac walked, the Elohim who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the messenger who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them” (Genesis 48:15-16 emphasis added).  In other words, Israel just anointed Joseph and his two sons with the name, “Israel”.  In so doing he conferred upon them a firstborn princely office or leadership position, making them heirs to the promise in the family/nation.  Later Ephraim would forfeit his leadership to Judah, because of unfaithfulness.  “Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph” (1 Chronicles 5:2). Now that Judah was given this princely role in the nation, he also could hold the title “Israel”.  The scriptures confirm this in Isaiah 8:14: "Then He (YHVH) shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem”.  With the disappearance of the northern house of Israel, it was Judah who mainly carried on with the known Israelite identity. 

The prophetic destiny of the house of Joseph is seen in two parts, under the blessing to Menashe (meaning forgetfulness) the nation would forget their identity, but in Ephraim (doubly fruitful), YHVH would multiply them in the nations until a certain fullness. Then the Father would send His “seed/son”, Yeshua, (see Galatians 4:4) to His natural chosen family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to redeem and restore them, so that they could receive the promise of the Spirit, that is the Kingdom.  This is why the angel who appeared to Yeshua’s mother, Miriam, said:  "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Yeshua.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the YHVH Elohim will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:31-33 emphasis added).  

In this most auspicious promise, which speaks of YHVH’s kingdom being established on earth, with His Son Yeshua as the reigning King, the nation/house He is to rule over is called… Jacob. But why not Israel?

In the thousands of references to both Jacob and Israel, there are numerous times when they are mentioned in one breath, without there being a specific qualitative distinction made between the two. The “seed of Jacob” and the “seed of Israel” (literal translation) are mentioned, for example, in Psalm 22:24, where the “seed of Jacob” is exhorted to “glorify” YHVH, while the “seed of Israel” is to “fear” Him.

In David’s “last words” (2nd Samuel 23:1), “the anointed of the Elohim of Jacob”, as he refers to himself, in the same breath calls himself “the sweet psalmist of Israel”.

Elohim of Jacob, Elohim of Israel is constantly mentioned together, just as are the people of Jacob and/or of Israel. “YHVH has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure” (Psalm 135:4).

As we know, most of Jacob’s life is a testimony of a very ‘earthy’ person. Even his very name attests to his character of ‘supplanting’, Ya’acov does not only mean “following” or “holding on to the heel” (of his brother in the womb), it is also connected to the condition of the heart, as stated by Jeremiah: “the heart is deceitful above all things” (17:9). “Deceitful” is what most translations render for the Hebrew “akov”, which is crooked and twisted, and forms the root for “ya’akov”. Jacob simply typifies human nature bound by sin, like all the rest of humanity. The name/title Israel, which as mentioned above, connects him to Elohim and defines his calling, in and of itself was not able to enact the needed transformation in the heart of that man, nor of any other. But being a prophetic pronouncement, it gives hope to all who are ‘enrolled’ in the same people group, with each being no different than their ancestor Jacob cum Israel.

By the alternate and synonymous usage of both names, we are reminded that we too are “sons of man” and “sons of Elohim”, though “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [or HOW we shall be as ISRAEL], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1st John 3:2). “As He is…” - YISRA’EL (see Is. 49:3, where the Messiah also identifies Himself as Israel). The consonants without the vowels (which are appended externally to the letters/consonants) can also be read as: Yashar-El, that is, El is upright. When we will see Him as HE IS – we too will be like Him, that is YESHURUN - the one who has been straightened out into uprightness.  


  1. Toda rabba Ephraim and Rimona. Thank you for this thoroughly researched, well written and explained article.

  2. Thank you so very much! You brought understanding to a long held question. So well written. By jove, I think I've got it!!! :-)