How Jacob Became Israel? (hebrew Insight)

How Jacob became Israel?

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.

(To watch this video on YouTube click HERE)

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

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Join the conversation (47 comments)

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  1. David Fung

    Just like the Chinese language, Hebrew is a pictorial language. The same character can imply multiple meanings. The names Yakov and Israel described the two stages of Jacob’s life. The first stage was his struggle with his clan. Here, the one side of Jacob’s character, i.e. the deceiver, can be seen. The second stage was his transformation to being God’s ally. His struggle with God means an intimate relationship with God. Without struggling with God, Jacob would not be able to resolve the guilt that he usurped his brother’s birthright by cheating on his own father Isaac. Jacob needed God’s assurance that he was blessed by God Himself to be the rightful heir not only to Isaac but also Abraham. By being the rightful heir also signified that Jacob’s descendants will receive the blessings that God gave to his father and his grandfather.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, David. If it ever picks your interest read NOT IN GOD’S NAME. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks does incredible job at dealing with Jacob and Esau.

  2. jane z. mazzola

    I enjoy learning @ the Biblical names because of the multi layers of meaning. Your short clips of Jacob, the rainbow, & others have such delightful background music for further learning. I can “hear” & “see” it all again in my mind’s eye…2x blest. Thank you.
    Jane M

  3. elena

    I heard that Israel could be read as …zar EL which makes Yakov a Prince of Allmighty. How valid is this assumption?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      not really 🙂

  4. Sihle Makhanya

    You have a deeper meaning of the scripture which is a great thing. May God bless you in Jesus name.

  5. Sihle Makhanya

    I wish to be your learner in class. One day I will come to your home town,I am a South African.

  6. Emmalene Pearson

    Thank you so much for the biblical information I wrote it down in my notebook. It will be very good for bible study great provision.


    Thanks Doctor Eli! I call that; PURE or PLAIN TRUTH. Keep up good works. God bless you.

  8. solitaire

    I was viewing the video on the name of the almighty. It was mentioned that restrictions was placed on the proper pronunciation of the name.Who place this pronouncement?
    When in Exodus 20:2-3 says I am Yahweh your Elohim,who has brought you out of the land of Egypt,out of the house of bondage.You shall have no other Elohim before me.If i was to follow the commandment of man and use other names instead of Yahweh wouldn”t i be placing other Elohim before him?

    Isaiah 42:8 says “I am Yahweh,that is my name;and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to carved images.

    These are all actual quotes from the bible I use called the Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition. Yahweh is his name and he would not give his glory to another.He wants hie people to reverence him by calling upon his true name.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The problem is that Hebrew does not have vowels (originally). No one knows how to correctly pronounce it it. I don’t like it when people call me by my name but pronounce it incorrectly.

  9. Luis

    I would like to share the video in Spanish, you have in spanish?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      No this video is only in English for now :-(.

  10. Deloris Roane

    Very enligthen

  11. Viera

    Thank you for sending your teachings to my inbox, Dr. Eli. Thank you for teaching us and sharing with your gift from The Holy One.

  12. Daphne Brown

    Dear Dr. Eli

    I was just going through my Email before deleting some, and came across a YouTube titled “Tribe of Judah Teach”. I thoroughly enjoyed the video. Is there any way that I can get this teaching tool?

    Please inform me how.

    Thank you


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am not certain what you are referring to…

  13. Woka

    I so appreciate these insights-I can’t really express what they mean to me….maybe like hearing from home. I have had a love for our Heavenly Father since the age of two, so I’ve had a lot of years reading His Word again and again. However, in the last few years, I’ve begun to see the people in scripture as people….not just a part of the historical account. I’ve been struck by the inner motivation that brings them to life. Jacob’s story is a recent one for me. I have heard how unborn twin siblings have been watched interacting in the womb. It’s caused me to wonder if Jacob holding Esau’s heel was, “Don’t leave me!” and wrestling FOR God’s love was his motive. Thank you for teaching us.

  14. elena

    Eli, I still do not understand how it is that Israel struggles with God. To my understanding, it is the other nations who struggle with God: – Israel has been through the history, not always completely, though, but on the side of God, while the others tried to eliminate the nation that represented our Father, and with Israel – the very idea of our Creator.
    The other thing, about no peace in the land. Like you, I do not remember any verse in the Torah where God would pronounce verbatim “no peace” in the land. Rather, He stated this implicitly, when He promised shalom in the land if Israel obeys his commandment to destroys the pagan nations in Canaan.



    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks! Glad you it means so much to you. Pass it on, share with friends.

  16. Rado

    In my language the words “fighing with God” could be understood as :1.fighting against God
    2. figting with God, as with comrad, friend; as you not go for to fight withouth sword, Isroel not go to fight without God.
    How is it in Hebrew, that is the most important question.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Hebrew is a pictoral language, always open to interpretation. To me this is what makes it beautiful.

  17. carlos Cominetti

    Israel = struggling with G_d!! Doesn’t surprise me. When the promised land was finally shown to Moses, a everlasting promise was included in it: There will never be peace in it.” Or something similar” So this teaches us in the most wearily form that one of the greatest ambitions of mankind( peace and freedom) is to be achieved in the same, wearing dispense of good will and courage! May He who exists help us find the path to achieve it!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Carlos, thanks for your comment. I am not sure that you are right about the promise that there will not be peace there. Can you please supplies us with Biblical reference you have in mind? What I do know is that (according to the witness account) when Joseph Stalin gave his OK to cast 6 USSR controlled votes in the UN in 1947 to give Israel its independence that is EXACTLY what he said after inhaling spoke from his pipe (There will no longer be peace there)).

  18. Michael Toliver

    Thank you Dr. Eli, I did know some of what you were saying but not the part were the children of Israel are called “the People that Struggle with God.” They seemed to do this all through the Old Testament and God would not let them enter the promise land until that generation died in the wilderness. I sure enjoy your insight the scriptures, God bless!

  19. edson jordao

    Desculpe eu preenchi a subscricao pensando que era o lugar da opiniao. SOBRE O Anjo e Jaco quando o Anjo toca a COXA de Jaco ele tira os seus pecados com as servas. Israel fica santificado

  20. Jeanne

    Thank you for sending your teachings to my inbox. I hope to learn more with each video you send. Shalom.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      It’s a pleasure. Shalom!

  21. Mirella

    This is my motivation to learn more of this unique language also to interpret it, knowing about the land, the people and the truth, its brings me closer to the truth of YHWH, Thank you Eli….Mirella

  22. Kat

    I am confused whether gentiles belong to the Spiritual Israel or if in belonging to the Kingdom of God we become one of many nations joining the Kingdom. It doesn’t make sense to me that Paul would tell gentiles to practice something different then what he practiced. I have learned to see myself as becoming a part of Spiritual Israel, but am I reading something into the word Israel that doesn’t belong 🙂

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Kat, there is absolutely nothing wrong with some people being Israel (sons of Jacob) relating to God in one “prescribed” way and others being the children of Abraham, children of promise (extended family) relating to God through a different set of expectations. I am really not in a position to get into very practical matters of identity and theology here on the blog. If this topic interests you deeply I recommend signing up for Jewish Background of the New Testament Course and then for the New course that will deal with these matters coming out later in Spring. Sorry, blog is not the best format for complicated discussion like that.

      1. Kat

        I am open to the suggestion of taking a course. Please email me info on any non-credit classes. I am a servant of Christ, but will not be entering into formal/traditional ministry.

          1. Kat

            Thank you. I have been looking at time slots and I will have a great one available in the not to distant future. I have made this a goal. I so appreciate the time and effort you put into your work. All I know is I read Exodus 19:8 as a little girl and felt welcomed by a people I have grown to love and understand. I want to give back to them.

  23. José Hélder Saraiva Bacurau

    Shalom Dr Elí !
    Acredito que o encontro do Anjo do SENHOR com o patriarca Jacó, foi necessário pois Jacó conseguiu a benção de seu pai Isaque, passando-se por Esaú, na verdade ele conseguiu uma benção de forma errada; Isaque lhe preguntou quem é você? e Jacó respondeu eu sou Esaú teu filho. Não foi sem motivo que antes de abençoar Jacó o Anjo fez a mesma pergunta que Isaque havia feito anos atrás.
    Ao responder Jacó, ele estava confessando seu pecado,só então ele recebe a benção e se torna Israel,
    D-US lutou com Jacó para que ele confessa-se seu pecado(OSEIAS 12.2-5),não se consegue a benção do SENHOR por meios humanos,mas através da confissão ,ao tocar-lhe o SENHOR ,o fez depende .

  24. Edward Siders

    Bro. Eli now i am stuck . In 35:11 says he the angel or the man was the creator himself . Can you explain this to me ? reff. 32:29 —– 32:24——–35:15 ——- I understand the the spirit of GOD can and does speak to us if we listen but were did he get his body from ? sincere

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Edward, you may find these lecture series helpful (first in the list):

      1. Edward Siders

        Thanks brother WOW what a good tip . IT opened up half of the Bible for me . Thanks again

  25. Edward Siders

    If a angel is a spirit and has no body . i mean flesh , bone ,0r blood how could Jacob wrestle with him . sounds like there could be another interpetation .

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Edward, thank you for your comment. In the Bible, spirits are able to materialize, so I do not see a problem with this.

      1. eduardosiders

        A spirit cant be seen or even touched . IF you see something in the form of a man . IT is a man . and you can see him even touch him. Same way with a dog or anything else. NOW it is true that a spirit has a spiritual body. on the outher side of your mirror is the best way to see a body . even if you reach out to touch him you cant touch him . IN your mirror is a reflection of you your body. even the scriptures tell us this . and your reflection is what your spirit looks like .same as our fleshly body looks like . one is flesh , the outher is spirit . AND because HE our GOD and SALVOUR lives in us we are the same likeness or same emage . ONE body with the same spirit which gives us life. looks like you , and this my body his body kooks like me . and we both are in the emage of GOD because we are GOD

  26. Noel Deane

    When Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord (Jesus) from the picture shown it would be more difficult for Jacob to wrestle than to wrestle with a man.

  27. Enid van Duren

    Oh I am impress by your clear explanation. Thank you so much. for me it is very very touching and inspirational. Shalom

  28. Ken

    Thanks for bring out the nuances of Hebrew language and culture that the Biblical translators did not put in the ‘English’ versions. I am wondering if you could demonstrate/explain how the ‘related’ are in fact related.


  29. Hannington

    The video was very touching and inspirational from Jacob to Yisrael. Toda Roba. The vision orad of Lisrot- Strugal and Influence

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you my friend.