When we look at the names of Biblical characters in Hebrew we see the things that cannot be seen in translation. Take for example, the story of Jacob being transformed into Israel.
Jacob’s name in Hebrew (יַעֲקב YAKoV) was connected with the word for “heel” (עָקֵב AKeV) . You remember that when baby Esau first came out, the midwife could not believe her eyes: his sibling brother was holding Esau by his heel not willing to let him go! Seeing their child grasping his brother by the heel Rebecca and Isaac called him – Yakov (Jacob).
Jacob’s birth defined his life until another event of even greater significance – his personal encounter with a very special messenger. He is known in the Bible as the Angel of the LORD (Gen.32).
Just like at his birth, now too Jacob held on rather hard to someone! This time not to his older brother, but to the Angel of the LORD himself. Jacob demanded that he would finally be granted something that he was not given as a child – the mighty blessing he so greatly valued and passionately desired. Seeing Jacob’s persistence and utmost commitment, the Angel of the LORD granted Jacob his request by blessings him.
To show that there has been a real change in Jacob’s life. The Angel of the LORD gave Jacob a completely new name – יִשְׂרָאֵל Yisra’el (Israel). They key to understanding this is hidden in this names original Hebrew meaning. The Word יִשְׂרָאֵל yiSRaEL is related to the verb לִשְׂרות Lisrot which in Biblical Hebrew means to struggle, to strive, to exercise influence, in this context, with God Himself! (Gen.32:30) So important was this event in world history that the nation descending from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was named after this particular encounter. These decedents will be forever known as the People of Israel, the People that Struggle with God.
© Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. All rights reserved.
Join the conversation (31 comments)
If we look deeper into this wrestle of Yakov’s we might say “he was actually wrestling with himself…. He had much guilt laid upon him with many struggles to overcome. And with the meeting of his brother, who wanted to kill him at one time, weighed heavy on his heart. Now if we think about it ‘All humanity’ struggles from time to time and may I suggest that struggle could be with G-d also? We may see G-d in those struggles and when we do it can be a turning point in our life; change of attitude towards G-d, family and nieghbor; our decisions of career, and vocation; the religion we decide to follow; and a numorous of life decisions. We must look deep and wide to see G-d’s truths unvail before our eyes. Baruch atah, Adonai, shomeir amo Yisrael laad.
Linda, very insightful comment. Thank you for sharing it with us. Dr. Eli
Hello, Dr. Eli, I am a seminarian and I confess that I have found difficulty in matters of Hebrew, unfortunately this shameful period’m with notes and dont know what to do about the learning hebreo. Dr surely know any material that could assist me. no longer required.
Ola Dr Eli, sou seminarista e confesso que tenho encontrado muita dificuldade na materia de Hebraico,infelizmente este periodo estou com notas vergonhosas e nao sei o que fazer quanto ao aprender hebraico.o Dr certamente conhece algum material que poderia me auxiliar. sem mais obrigado.
One of the best ways I know to study Hebrew is to enroll into classes with EteacherBiblical/Hebrew University of Jerusalem (online). http://www.eteacherbiblical.com/Dr.eli3
Dr. Eli, muito interessante o assunto sobre a mudança de nome, registrado na torá, isso a gente vê que aconteceu com abrão com sara e outros e eu percebo que todas essas pessoas deus tem uma afinidade maior e escolhe sempre para desempenhar uma missão. ou para firmar um pacto.
Dear Dr. Eli,
Thank you for your insightful articles which you are posting here. I hope one day you would also be writing about the Well Episode of John. I just wonder how a woman of such stature could be given importance by the author or the Johannine community. Thank you again.
http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/2012/07/jesus-and-the-samaritan-woman-reading-it-differently/ 🙂 Enjoy! Dr. Eli
Dear Dr.: I have read carefully your comment on Yakov, which is totally in context with the transltions I have in my differets Bibles, including KJV, but I see you are some short in the quotation, because, beside the blessing granted by the Angel, He hurt Yakov in his right leg, reason why Jews does not eat that part of the sacrifice lamb. I hope be right. Best for you.
Yes, anyone reading Gen.32 can note this. I chose to concentrate one aspect of the story. The name change. But yet hurting Yakov in the process is also important. Let us keep on thinking together. Dr. Eli
Even if the Angel of HaShem gave Jacob a completely new name (Gen 32,28) he did NOT have the authority to rename Jacob, nor was this name-change to take effect immediately. The angel merely revealed to Jacob that HaShem would do later (cf Gen 35,10).
It is possible to see it this way (Gen.35), but I think you are not correct by saying that the Messenger of the Lord did not have authority to do. I encourage you to research better all instances of the “Angel” of the Lord in Tanach. I think you will find that THIS particular Messenger (angel and messenger are the same words in Hebrew) has far more authority that all others do. For example he has authority to speak in FIRST PERSON about God and forgive sins. This is very big, if you think about it. So, changing the name of Jacob to Israel is as we say is not out of character. Dr. Eli
Dear Dr. Eli
I just found this opinion concerning THIS particular messenger: “It was NOT, as Mizrachi points out, the angel who was now renaming Jacob; nor was this name-change to be effective immediately, for the angel did not say “no longer shall your name be called Jacob. The angel was revealing to Jacob what G’d Himself would do later. Jacob would later be regarded as Israel – which would be interpreted as tacit acknowledgment of his superiority and his legittmate right to his father’s blessing (from: Bereshis – A new translation with Commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources, transl. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz/Rabbi Nosson Scherman, p 1441. And Rashi continues: It shall no longer be said that the blessings came to you through trickery (עָקְבָה) and deceit, but with nobility and openness, and ultimately, the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal Himself to you in Beth-el and change your name, and there He will bless you, and I will be there.“
É um absurdo vocês ficarem com essas lorotas !
Peniel define bem QUEM É O “ANJO-de-ELOHIM” : É JEOVAH-ELOHIM !
Ouve ó Israel !!!!
JEOVAH-ELOHIM è o SEU ELOHIM !!!
É CRISTO !
The Agel of HaShem or The Angel of GOD isn´t HIMSELF ?
There is ONLY ONE THAT CAN !
– Change death in living forever, rising his sons or transforming those that stay alive,
at THAT MOMENT
– Change names forever
– Santify earth ( appearing to Moses and Yoshua )
THE CHRIST ! there widh Adam, and here widh us: JESUS
Time is comming !
Paulo, thanks for your comment. I don’t think that Angel of the Lord is best translation. Messenger of the LORD is better I think. As I already mentioned in Hebrew it is one and the same word. 🙂
LORD JESUS my GOD ,
It is a little dificult to explain in english, but if do YOU go with me FATHER …
Was him only a simple “messenger” Jacob could not “adore” HIM .
There is only one MESSENGER or ANGEL or MESSIAH that can sanctify HIS CREATION !
The messenger to Moses, that said to his “substitute” that will BE THE SAME with him !
And stoped the Jordan River !!! AleluYH !!! He lives !
The messenger to Abraham !
Keep in touch … WITH THE MESSENGER, THE CHRIST HE IS THE TRUE GOD !
Paulo, please, read more carefully what I write 🙂 I do not think that this MESSENGER is simple messenger. (John 1:1)
A great post Dr. Eli. And kudos to the cartoonist !
Thank you, Dr. Kroger! Blessings, Eli
Congratulations about explanations on meanings of names.
Hi Dr. Eli:
I believe that the scripture states about Jacob and his new name Israel:
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Jesus died between two thieves, Jacob who would be born again and become Israel, and Esau who sold his birthrite for an occasion to the flesh, for bread, and pottage of lentiles..
Love in Christ,
The KJV translation in this case is interesting and it is possible to translate it this way, though I think other translations are closer to the Hebrew by saying that “for you struggled with”.
Very iluminating comment. Specially the depiction of “struggle” deriving from the name itself given by the Angel of the Lord to Jacob.
Yesterday’s Gospel reading recalled when Jesus spoke of the disparaged judge who didn’t fear God nor people but was obligued to make justice to the widow who “struggled” on a daily basis with him asking his favorable judgement against her adversary. The judge, in the end, conveyed to the widow for fear that she may attack her based on her condition of having no other recourse.
As you see, the strugle is indeed part of dealing with the judge and with God as Jesus himself says in this parabole. However Jesus clarifies that God, who is Merciful and Good beyond comprehension will attend the one who claims always without need to strugle because mainly now we have the direct intercesor who is Jesus Himself.
And all of this started with a new name for a people who dare to struggle with God.
Ramon, welcome back! Good to have you contributing again! Eli
Dear Doc. Eli
Jacob saw the face of God that must have been a most powerful/fearsome time. Yet he was so determined, that he found courage and wrestled with him, and like the woman and the judge his persistence paid off.
Jacob although he was 2nd born…. was first born to God, born in the spirit, and Esau although he was 1st born…was born in the flesh.
Jacob/Israel ..good seed of spirit and Esau bad seed of flesh. This is my understanding…
blessings to all
Though all of this of courses needs to be nuanced a bit, but generally I think that is true. Blessings, Dr. Eli