Jacob and Israel and the change of names

There are several instances of changes in name in the Bible of which the most significant is the name change of Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. In the case of Jacob, although in Genesis 32:29 it would appear that the change of the name of Jacob to Israel was absolute and final, and is reaffirmed by God in Genesis 35:10, we note throughout the Bible that there is variable and apparent random interchange of the usage of the names Jacob and Israel. Often the two names appear in the same sentence right up to Jacob’s (Israel’s) death. The question is why?

The use of the two names Jacob and Israel in the Book of Genesis are listed in the following list:


Genesis 32:28-29 First instance where Jacob’s name is changed to Israel

Genesis 32:30 Jacob asked the angel’s (man’s) name

Genesis 32:31 Jacob called the place Peniel

Genesis 32:33 The Children of Israel do not eat of the sinew because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh

Genesis 33:1-16 Jacob saw Esau coming; meeting with Esau

Genesis 33:17-19 Jacob bought a parcel of land

Genesis 33:20 ‘he’ erected a pillar called Elohe Israel

Genesis 34:1-30 Jacob described in ‘the Dinah Incident’

Genesis 35:1-7 God said to Jacob arise and go to Bethel to make an altar to God

Genesis 35:9-16 God appeared to Jacob and said be fruitful and multiply

Genesis 35:10 God re-affirms to Jacob that his name will be no longer Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name

Genesis 35:19-20 Rachel died and Jacob built a pillar on her grave

Genesis 35: 21 Israel journeyed and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar

Genesis 35: 22 When Israel went and dwelt in the land, Reuben lay with Bilhah his concubine and Israel heard about it. Now the son’s of Jacob were twelve.

Genesis 35: 27 Jacob came unto Isaac

Genesis 37:1 Jacob lived in the Land of Canaan

Genesis 37:2 These are the generations of Jacob

Genesis 37: 3-12 Israel loved Joseph; Josephs dream

Genesis 37: 13 Israel told Joseph to go to see his brothers where they were grazing their sheep and was in consequence sold into Egypt

Genesis 37: 34 Jacob heard that Joseph was dead and rent his clothes

Genesis 42: 1 Jacob heard there was corn in Egypt

Genesis 42: 5 The sons of Israel came to buy corn in Egypt

Genesis 42: 29 The sons came to Jacob to tell him what had befallen them in Egypt

Genesis 42: 36 Jacob said unto them; Me you have bereaved

Genesis 43: 6-10 Israel asks his sons why they had told the man of Egypt that they had a brother

Genesis 43:11-14 Israel commands his sons to take presents: myrrh, balm, honey, nuts and almonds for the ‘man’ in Egypt

Genesis 45: 21 The Children of Israel

Genesis 45: 25-27 And the sons told Jacob everything that happened

Genesis 45: 28 Israel decided to move to Egypt

Genesis 46: 1 Israel travelled to Egypt

Genesis 46: 2 God spoke to Israel calling Jacob, Jacob and instructed him to go down to Egypt

Genesis 46: 5 And Jacob rose up from Beersheva: And the Sons of Israel carried their father

Genesis 46: 8 And these are the names of the Children of Israel

Genesis 46: 19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife; Joseph and Benjamin

Genesis 46: 27 All the souls of the house of Jacob that went down to Egypt were 70

Genesis 46: 29-30 Joseph meets with Israel his father and arranges for him to meet with Pharoah

Genesis 47: 7-11 Joseph brought Jacob to met with Pharoah to arrange to live in the land of Goshen

Genesis 47: 27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen

Genesis 47:28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years, so the whole age of Jacob was 147 years

Genesis 47:29 Israel is dying and calls Joseph to tell him to bury him with his fathers (i.e Cave of Machpelah in Canaan)

Genesis 48:2-7 Jacob relates God’s promise to Joseph and accepts Joseph’s son’s as his: 2. And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, your son Joseph comes to you; and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed: 3. And Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me:

Genesis 48: 8-22 Israel blesses Joseph’s sons: right hand on Ephraim the younger

Genesis 48: 16 Israel mentions the angel who delivered him from evil (c.f. the wrestle with the man)

Genesis 49: 1-27 Jacob blesses the son’s of Jacob, including Joseph and refers to the God of Jacob: And Jacob called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days: 2. Gather yourselves together, and hear, you sons of Jacob; and listen to Israel your father:

Genesis 49: 28 And these are the twelve tribes of Israel

Genesis 49: 33 Jacob was gathered unto his people

Genesis 50:2 And the physicians embalmed Israel

If we analyse the various applications of the names Jacob and Israel in the sequences above, we see that the name Jacob is used on occasions which are mundane and relevant to day to day events, whereas the name Israel is used when actions that are taken determine the future of the Hebrew race, notably:


And God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob; And he said, Here am I: And he said, I am God, the God of your father; fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation: (Genesis 46:2-3).

The action of ‘going down to Egypt’ is mundane, and something the son’s of Jacob had done of several occasions and hence the name Jacob is used. But the long term implications of the entire clan of Israel, The Children of Israel, going down to Egypt, and which was for prolonged period of four hundred years, determined the immediate and long-term future of the Hebrew race, until today.

Similarly, when Israel blesses Joseph’s sons:

And Israel saw Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these: And Joseph said to his father, They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place; And he said, Bring them, I beg you, to me, and I will bless them: (Genesis 48:8-9)

He states: And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine: (Genesis 48:5)

Effectively Israel, through his blessing on the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manesseh, created the 13th tribe, whose significance we shall see in the analysis of why Reuben slept with Israel/Jacob’s concubine Bilhah (See hyperlink Reuben and the thirteenth tribe).

So in this brief analysis we see that the use of the name Israel in the Bible is when the topic is crucial in deciding the fate and the future of The Children of Israel in the long term. The name Jacob is used when the topic is of mundane, day-to-day nature.



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