We continue our discussion on the nation of Israel and end time prophecy.
From ‘End Time Discussions’:
Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot. –Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
Have you ever heard of a wrestling match between a human being and an angel? As far as we know, it happened only once in history. The details of this ancient story will soon take on explosive significance in our study of Israel and Bible prophecy.
Abraham lived about 4,000 years ago. He had a son named Isaac who had a son named Jacob. It was Jacob who wrestled with the angel, and as a result, the angel changed Jacob’s name to ‘Israel’. In order to understand this strange encounter and its deep meaning for us today, we must study some history about Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob as recorded in Genesis 27.
“When Isaac was old and his eyes were so dim that he could not see,” he decided to bless Esau, his firstborn son, before he died (Genesis 27:1-4). But first he sent Esau out to the field to hunt for his favorite meal. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had other plans. Realizing the importance of her husband’s blessing upon the firstborn, she coveted that blessing for her younger son, Jacob, who was more spiritual than Esau. While Esau was out hunting in the field, Rebekah quickly prepared a meal and convinced Jacob to take the food to Isaac while pretending to be Esau (see Genesis 27:5-17).
When Jacob brought the dish to his father, he lied, saying, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me” (verse 19). When Isaac inquired how he had killed an animal so quickly, Jacob lied again, saying, “Because the Lord your God brought it to me” (verse 20). Suspiciously, Isaac asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob lied a third time, saying, “I am” (verse 24). Isaac finally believed Jacob’s deception and gave him the blessing (see verses 25-29).
Soon afterward Esau returned from the hunt and Isaac realized he’d been tricked. “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing” (verse 35), the father said to his older son. Then “Esau hated Jacob” and said in his heart, “I will kill my brother Jacob” (verse 41). Rebekah discovered Esau’s plot and send Jacob away to her relatives in a far country, where he remained for 20 years (see Genesis 27:43; 31:41). Jacob never saw his mother’s face again.
Twenty years later Jacob headed home. Surrounded by a large caravan of family and servants, he sent messengers ahead of the group to tell Esau he was coming. But the men returned with the news that Esau and 400 soldiers were on their way to meet him. Fear gripped Jacob’s heart. He felt a deep sense of guilt over his past sin of deception and was terrified for the safety of his family. So Jacob “arose that night” and “was left alone” to plead with God for forgiveness and deliverance (Genesis 32:22,24)
Then “a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day” (verse 24). This Man was really “the Angel” (Hosea 12:4). Unaware of this, and assuming this must be his still angry brother Esau, Jacob struggled all night for his life. At the crack of dawn, this powerful Stranger revealed Himself, not as a foe, but as a heavenly Friend. He touched Jacob’s hip, “and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him” (verse 25).
Jacob suddenly realized this powerful Being was now his only hope. Broken and helpless, he clung to the Messenger, saying, “I will not let You go unless you bless me!”
The Angel then asked, “What is your name?”
“And he said, ‘Jacob’.”
“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (verses 26-28, emphasis added).
This is the first time the word “Israel” is used in the Bible, and the context reveals its deep spiritual significance. In the beginning, “Israel” was a special name given only to one man, to Jacob, by the Angel of God. In the Bible, people’s names mean more than they do today. Back then, names were often descriptions of people’s characters.
Jacob literally meant, “deceiver”, or “crook”. When Esau discovered Jacob’s sin of deception, he said to Isaac, “Is he not rightly named Jacob?” (Genesis 27:36). Thus the name, “Jacob,” was a description of his character and of his sin. When the Angel said, “What is your name?”, he knew the answer, but he wanted Jacob to say his own name, which represented a humble confession and turning away from his sin. Jacob passed the test, repented, and placed his entire dependence upon God’s love and mercy.
The response, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,” revealed that God had given him a new character. According to the margin of the New King James Bible, the word “Israel” literally means, “Prince with God”. Thus the name “Israel” itself was a spiritual name, symbolizing Jacob’s spiritual victory over his past sin of deception. In other words, the man “Jacob” was now a spiritual “Israel”. As we shall see, this truth about a spiritual Israel will take on explosive significance in our study of Israel and Bible prophecy.
Israel had 12 sons “who came to Egypt” (Exodus 1:1-5). One son, named Joseph, had dreams (see Genesis 37). Remember this, for we will come back to it. The children of Israel multiplied in Egypt and were forced into slavery until the time of Moses. Then God told Moses, “Say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn….Let my son go”’” (Exodus 4:22-23). Here’s an important development in biblical thought. The name “Israel” is now being expanded. It no longer refers only to Jacob, but also to his descendants. The nation is now “Israel”. Thus, “Israel” first applied to a victorious man, then a people. It was God’s desire that this new nation of Israel should also be victorious, as was Jacob, through faith in Him. God called this new nation “My son, My firstborn”. Remember this also. It will become important shortly.
The next paragraph below contains little phrases about Israel which may seem dry at first, but amazing things can happen when you water a dry seed. Those little phrases will soon sprout into trees of towering significance when we turn to the New Testament. Take special note of them.
Israel was “a vine” God brought “out of Egypt” (Psalm 80:8). God said, “But thou, Israel, art My servant…the seed of Abraham” (Isaiah 41:8). God also spoke of “Israel My elect” (Isaiah 45:4). Again, God said through Isaiah, “Behold! My servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth” (Isaiah 42:1-3). All of these words originally applied to the physical nation of Israel. Don’t forget this.
In about 800 B.C., the Lord said through the prophet Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hosea 11:1). Yet by this time, Israel had failed to live up to the meaning of her own name. She had not lived victoriously, as a “Prince with God.” The Lord sadly declared, “They sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images” (Hosea 11:2). Yet God had a special plan. That small, solitary sentence, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son,” is actually like a tiny bomb that will soon explode with tremendous importance as we turn to the New Testament.