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Why does Jacob get renamed to Israel on two separate occasions?

  1. The first time Jacob is renamed Israel is by the "angel/divine being" when they finish "fighting". This is in Genesis 32:25.

  2. The second time he is renamed Israel is in Genesis 35:9, and this time the text says that "God appeared to him."

The angel/divine being he fought with was surely sent by God, and thus acts by God's orders in renaming him Israel, no? Why is there a second mention of him being renamed in Genesis 35:9, and why is Genesis 35:9 so significant as to require him being renamed? Wrestling with divine beings isn't enough to be permanently renamed? Why is Genesis 35:9 significant enough to warrant Jacob being renamed Israel a second time?

  • It should be noted that ch. 32 contains the reason for what the name is, but 35 contains the promise and inheritance that comes with it. God had to repeat his covenant with Abraham too, are they competing accounts? Or simply Abraham needing to be reminded? – Joshua May 2 '15 at 16:23
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The renaming of Jacob in both Genesis 32 and 35 is a doublet; the editors of Genesis have preserved two versions of how Jacob received the name 'Israel'. It has long been recognized that Genesis was comprised of multiple sources, sometimes including alternate traditions of the same stories. This falls under the realm of the Documentary Hypothesis.

Michael D. Coogan writes:1

The Documentary Hypothesis explains only partially why some passages are similar. Another reason for repetition is that the compilers of the Bible wanted to preserve traditions that circulated, probably originally orally, in different groups.

Sometimes these alternate traditions are set next to each other (e.g. the two creation stories, one after the other, in Genesis 1–2). Other times these alternate traditions are edited together (Genesis 6–9 has two versions of the flood story weaved into each other).

Traditionally, at least four layers of material have been identified in Genesis: the Elohist source (where God is primarily identified as 'Elohim), the Yahwist source (where God is primarily identified as Yahweh), and the Deuteronomist and Priestly redactors.

Coogan (2006) summarizes the Priestly source as follows:2

For the most part, P (the Priestly source) in the rest of Genesis [i.e. chapters 12–50] functions primarily as a compiler and editor, with few independent narratives of its own.

One characteristic of the Priestly source in Genesis is to refer to God by the title 'El Shaddai ('God Almighty').3 We find this term used in Genesis 35.11.

The account of Jacob being renamed 'Israel' in Genesis 32.22–32 is attributed to the Elohist source, while the second account in Genesis 35.9–15 may be attributed to the Priestly source.4, 5


1 Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (2006), p. 73.

2 Ibid., p. 69.

3 R.W.L. Moberly, Genesis 12-50 (1992), p. 63.

4 Coogan (2006), p. 82.

5 Ed. Evans, Lohr, Petersen, The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation (2012), p. 104.

2

Background

Before Jacob was born, there were two people whose names were changed:

No longer shall your name be called (יִקָּרֵ֥א) Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:5) [ESV throughout]

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call (תִקְרָ֥א) her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:15-16)

In each case God "called" קָרָא [H7151-qara'] meaning "to call, call out, recite, read, cry out, proclaim" the new name. Also, each new name from God came with promises and described a future characteristic of the person:

Abraham: exceedingly fruitful; a father of many nations; kings shall come from him; establish an everlasting covenant; to be God to him and his offspring; to give all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession.

Sarah: be blessed; give a son; become nations; kings of all people shall come from her.

God changing a name is done by "calling" by a new name and to giving something new.

Jacob’s Name Change

The first occasion of Jacob's new name comes from a man:

Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called (יֵאָמֵ֥ר) Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)

The man tells Jacob he will no longer be "called" by this name. The word translated as "called" is אָמַר which means to say speak or utter [H559-'amar]. Thus the English “called” fails to show the man used s different word then God used in naming Abraham and Sarah. In addition, the new name does not come with a promise or some new aspect of character. Rather it reflects something which has already occurred: Jacob has striven with God and men and prevailed.

When God appears to Jacob He says (אָמַר) Jacob will be called (קָרָא) Israel:

And God said (וַיֹּֽאמֶר) to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called (יִקָּרֵא֩) Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called (וַיִּקְרָ֥א) his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 35:10-12)

The language and pattern of naming of Abraham and Sarah are followed. Therefore it is at this point in time Jacob is called Israel. In retrospect, the man "said" what God will do: God will "say" Jacob is "called" Israel.

The relevance of Genesis 35:9

Genesis 35:9 is God's instruction for Jacob to go to Bethel:

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (35:10)

God instructs Jacob to return to the place where God first appeared to him. This occurred when Jacob left Canaan to find a wife:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10-17)

After the dream Jacob made a vow:

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Genesis 28:18-22)

When Jacob returns to the place at which he made his vow, God gives him the name Israel. Also noteworthy is Jacob’s first encounter, which did not come with a name change, included a promise. In comparing this promise with the one at the time he is named Israel, it would appear the only thing added was “kings shall come from his (Israel’s) body.”

Conclusion

Jacob’s name was changed once by God. The man with whom Jacob wrestled was speaking prophetically (or preemptively) about what God was going to say once Jacob returned to Bethel.

  • How can you say that "the man" in Genesis 32 who wrestled with Jacob was speaking prophetically about what God was going to do later, as if it was not God? Verse 30 clearly has Jacob saying that he just saw God face to face, which is why Jacob calls the place Peniel ("face of God"). – user21562 Oct 10 '17 at 2:30
  • @Saunterman The event records what Jacob says: "I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved." Jacob believed he saw God face to face. The narration of the the text says Jacob wrestled with a man not with God. IOW it accurately records what Jacob believed and said but also accurately records what happened: Jacob wrestled with a man (not with God). – Revelation Lad Oct 10 '17 at 16:27
  • Wow, I can't believe how wrong you are. Your conclusion is the exact opposite of what the passage actually says. It's very difficult to dislocate a hip while wrestling, and impossible to do with one hand...much more so by just lightly touching it, which is the primary connotation of the word translated as "touch." Jacob correctly knew it was God who wrestled with him in the form of a man. God appeared as a man to Abraham in Gen 18 and as a man to Joshua in Josh 5, so your conclusion that "a man" disqualifies Jacob's scenario from actually being God is unsupportable. – user21562 Oct 10 '17 at 20:15
  • @Saunterman Read Exodus 33:20. If Jacob had seen the face of God he would have died. Also John 1:18, John 6:46 (Jesus speaking), 1 John 4:12, and 1 John 4:20 say the same thing. – Revelation Lad Oct 10 '17 at 20:22
  • Your Exodus 33:20 reference is invalid. God did not appear as a man to Moses. Your other references are also invalid because they are not referring to God's appearance to anyone as a man. Jacob saw God face to face while He was in a form of a man. – user21562 Oct 10 '17 at 21:34
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It was God telling you that his name is Israel.

Exodus 3:14-15 14: And God said unto Moses, I AM That I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. 15. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

I AM Israel that I AM Israel

  • The questioner wants to know what was significant enough in the narrative to warrant a change in Jacob's name. If you can offer some insight into this, I sure the OP would be appreciate it. – enegue Sep 18 '17 at 3:42
  • You should explain with references. I have no idea what you are intending to say and why you are saying it and where the information comes from to support your view Biblically. Lazy answers like this just cause confusion and we know who the author of confusion is ... I believe you can do a better job and if you don’t have the time than in my opinion it is better not to write an answer at all. – JLB Nov 4 '17 at 13:29

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