When I was a kid I used to play little league baseball. I started in the “C” league while in elementary school and played in the “A” league in high school. Whenever I hit the ball or I was running to steal a base, I could hear my Mom shouting encouragement to me from the crowd. “Run Rabbit! Run!”, she’d shout. Now, my name isn’t obviously Rabbit. It’s Jason. My Mom knows this since she and my father gave me that name when I was born. Rabbits, if you didn’t know, are fast runners. My Mom called me Rabbit because I was a fast runner. My Mom called me Rabbit because I had earned the name. Regardless of your name, you know when you hear it, and when someone special calls you by name, you feel special. 

After Jesus had been crucified and had risen from the dead, Mary was looking for Him because His tomb was empty. She was crying because she thought someone had taken His body. 

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

John 20:11-16 (NIV)

We could surmise that Mary was so distraught she didn’t recognize Jesus. However, Mary had spent enough time with Jesus to know what He looked like. If she had recognized Jesus when He first spoke, then I’d say she had been too distraught to recognize Him visually. However, she still didn’t recognize Jesus until He called her by name. 

When I was a kid my Mom would call out my name when I was down the road playing. It was probably about a good half-mile or so away. No matter what I was doing, as long as I was outside, I recognized my Mom calling my name. 

Our names are important to us, and when someone who loves us calls us by name, there’s something to it that’s different from anyone else. Usually, before someone is born a name is selected for them, and it’s important. There’s some significance in the name to those who are doing the naming. In the Bible, we often see people named for some sort of specific reason. Sometimes people have their names changed to signify something of importance. This is something we see in the naming of Jacob.

After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

Genesis 25:26 (NIV)

There’s a footnote that tells us Jacob means, “he grasps the heel or he deceives.” Esau also comments on Jacob’s name later on after Jacob stole Esau’s blessing.

Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

Genesis 27:36 (NIV)

After wrestling with God, He changes Jacob’s name to Israel. 

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

We can see that Jacob had the name he was born with and later on earned the name Israel. As I was reading through Genesis today, I noticed something about the use of Jacob’s name. Sometimes, Jacob is referred to as Jacob and other times Israel. Most notably this is seen here:

When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

Genesis 48:2 (NIV)

I could imagine all sorts of reasons why Moses sometimes refers to Jacob as Jacob and other times Israel. I read some commentaries on the verse to see what I could find out. For the most part, the change from Jacob to Israel isn’t commented upon. However, the Pulpit Commentary does mention something about another similar instance that gave me some thought.

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Genesis 45:25-28 (NIV)

Verse 27 tells us that Jacob’s spirit revived upon hearing the news that Joseph was alive. In the following verse, he’s referred to as Israel. When I thought about the difference in how Jacob was used in one place and another, I thought there could have been some sort of relationship between the personal and the corporate use of Jacob’s name (Israel). As I researched the issue further, I noted that some people thought Jacob was used when dealing with fleshly matters and Israel with spiritual matters. However, as I continued to study the issue and search the text for support, I wasn’t convinced that there was a general reason why Jacob was used in some places and Israel in others.

After having said all of that, I do see a possible connection in the use of Jacob associated with the flesh and Israel as corporate matters of the Spirit in some verses. For example, the verse that caught first caught my attention is one such verse (Genesis 48:2). Jacob laid down on the bed in the weakness of his tired and old body, and the spirit-filled Israel sat up at the approach of Joseph. However, I still see this more as a nuance of the writer than a rule of thumb for why this happens throughout the text. Even the subsequent verses don’t continue to hold up to this sort of interpretation.

You can read the complete text of Genesis 48:2-10 here.

Genesis 48:3 starts off, “Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty.” Jacob then tells Joseph of his encounter with God at Luz and of God’s promise to him. We see Jacob referred to as Israel when the focus changes to Joseph’s sons (v8). We could call verse 3 another switch back to the flesh with a change to the spirit in verses 8-9. However, verse 10 loses the spiritual overtone when it tells us Israel’s eyes were failing.

Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

Genesis 48:10 (NIV)

If we were to consider this alternation between Jacob and Israel to illustrate to us the flesh man versus the spirit man then it should be consistent in other parts of the Bible. This is where Psalms 53 and 78 come in.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Psalm 53:6 (NIV)

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children.

Psalm 78:5 (NIV)

In these two Psalms, Jacob and Israel are used interchangeably with no discernible difference in meaning.

The use of Jacob and Israel reminds of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this letter, Paul writes about the Apostle Peter and calls him Peter in one place and in another place, Cephas. 

8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

Galatians 2:8-9 (NIV)

In verse 8 Paul refers to Peter as Peter, and in verse 9, Cephas. I don’t see any special meaning between Paul’s use of Peter in one place and Cephas in another.

My conclusion, after all of my research, is that there might be some over spiritualization going on regarding the use of Jacob versus Israel outside the text. I had no idea when I noticed the different name usage that I would go down this rabbit hole when I asked, “Why?” However, I enjoyed the journey down the hole, and I’m thankful. 

I know God wants us to read and study His word. However, when we study it, we need to be careful to not try and add things where there might not be anything more than the interpretation the text gives. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.