For today’s devotion, we look at the significance of God changing Jacob’s name to Israel. Our devotional reading comes from Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament.
Jacob’s name change indicates an act of mercy and redemption by Yahweh. Formerly, he had the name Jacob, which means he deceives. Now his name is he struggles with God, but it can also be used later by Moses and Isaiah to imply a pun on this name: God has made righteous. The deceiver stands forgiven and blessed to be an instrument of the promise. It is significant that this act of reconciliation between Yahweh and Jacob accompanies the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau.
Jacob receives the name Israel a second time. “God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; you will be Israel’” (Gen 35:10). The text then includes repetition of the promises of divine favor that he made to Abraham and Isaac: God promises to make his descendants abundant. A great nation and kings will come from him. Yahweh will grant them the Promised Land. In such a context the definition of Israel as God has made righteous fits well and compliments the strong faith implied in the name which means he struggles with God.
After Jacob, Yahweh then carries on the partial fulfillment of the promises of a land, a great nation and many descendants not in one person but in the sons of Israel and their descendants, who also have the designation tribes or children of Israel. The ultimate fulfillment, however, will come in Christ. Although initially there is a correlation between the name Israel and the bloodline of Jacob, the term Israel is not inherently an ethnic designation, and belonging to Israel does not require a certain heritage. Rather, the name is a gift available to anyone. This becomes evident not only by the covenant attached to the name but also by the fact that foreigners can become a part of Israel. Essentially, Israel, then, is the name for the OT people of God and his NT people, the church.
Lord, help me understand that apostles, prophets, and witnesses of all days are people like me. With my burdens and imperfections, may I, like them, be transformed by Your Spirit and enabled by Your love to live for You. Amen.
Devotional reading is adapted from Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament, pages 64–65. Text © 2014 R. Reed Lessing and Andrew E. Steinmann. Published by Concordia Publishing House.
Prayer is from Time to Pray: Daily Prayers for Youth, page 106, © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.