It seems fairly evident from scripture that there isn’t a particular rhyme or reason concerning which name Jacob/Israel goes by after his official name-change. God says to Jacob in Gen. 35:10: “’Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel.” Yet, as soon as God and Israel part ways, verse 14 starts out with “So Jacob…” and verse 15 repeats “And Jacob…” It seems God wasn’t following His own protocol.
Regardless, I was struck when reviewing Gen. 45 recently, where we find Jacob’s sons returning to him with news that Joseph is still alive and quite well, residing as governor over all the land of Egypt. Verses 25-26 state, “So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.”
What I felt God highlighting to me in this case was that Jacob, the old man version of this new creation, had a hard time receiving the message of hope. “Jacob” was the man still with a wounded heart—vexed by the lie that Joseph had fallen prey to wild animals. The testimony of Joseph carried by his brothers initially didn’t find good soil to plant itself in. But with persistence and proof of life, Jacob’s sons were able to break through into his inner man and release the Israel within.
“When they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. Then Israel said, ‘It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.’”
Israel was there all along. He just had to be awoken from his slumber. And that often takes an outside ray of hope—that foretaste of something’s existence—that glimpse beyond the valley of the shadow of death and into green pasture He’s leading us towards. And that is something God can provide—whether through words of truth (the son’s persistence with the story) or signs from heaven (the carts sent by Joseph).
There are times in our lives when we put up defense mechanisms and retreat into old ways of living—especially when our hearts are on the line. For Jacob to believe again Joseph was alive, only to discover he wasn’t, would have been more devastating than he could bear. So he resumed his position as Jacob, the wounded and numb-hearted father. That was safe for him.
But God wouldn’t let Jacob stay there. He wanted the revived man Israel to lead his people out of the famine and into a place of provision, protection and prosperity. And so He had Jacob’s sons continue on with the good report and present proof of life to Jacob until there was breakthrough and a determined Israel emerged.
And so I just encourage you, in any situation you’re facing where you feel like your heart might be numb… where you feel trapped in your old identity… where you find it easier to doubt than believe… where you feel like the truth of God isn’t setting you free… Cry out to God and ask Him to help your unbelief! (Mark 9:24).
Sometimes life circumstances create wounded spirits within us that are prone to suppressing the new creation. But we can’t let circumstances or the devil’s influence keep us engaged in an old way of living.
There’s a deposit of the Holy Spirit within you—living water that was meant to spring up and gush forth. And that inner man is just one sentence, one vision away from being revived and ready to purse destiny with full assurance of faith. We must come to a knowledge of the truth of who we really are and what God has really said and allow that truth to set us free.
One reply on “Jacob or Israel”
Fascinating word. It is interesting to think about all of the little types and shadows in the first testament. I definitely think you are on to something about him operating out of the old identity and not remembering and acting out of faith in how God defined him. I think of all of the past failures and disappointments in my life and realize that fear of the same disappointment keeps me from hoping and having faith. This was a great blog to stumble across, it helped me gain some perspective. Thanks for casting your bread on the water!