Today’s Reading: Genesis 32-35
Since Genesis 12, we have been reading the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, the story we have been reading is also about (and perhaps more importantly about) the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The first time we fully see this is in Exodus 3:6 when Moses meets God at the burning bush and God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
But, have you ever wondered why it’s written that way? Why is Abram’s new name but Jacob’s old name used? Why isn’t it the God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob? Why isn’t it the God of Abram, Isaac, and Israel? Why isn’t it the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel? (It actually is just a handful of times in the Old Testament.) Of the three, why is Isaac the only one without a name change?
Well, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel are providing us a picture of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And, their names and their changes, or lack thereof, reveal something about their persons and their work.
The name Abram comes from two Hebrew words that mean “exalted father.” Think of the irony of the name Abram as he went 86 years without a child. Then, he has Ishmael. At last a son. But, not the son.
When did God change Abram’s name to Abraham? The change occurs when God is reiterating his original promise to Abram one year before he is going to have the son he’s been promised. The name change is linked to the coming of Isaac.
Genesis 17:4-5 says, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Abram was the exalted father, but Abraham was the exalted father of a multitude of nations.
The name Abram is made of two Hebrew words. The name Abraham has the idea of six Hebrew words that mean:
- multitude, crowd
- to make a noise, be tumultuous, turbulent; to roar, moan
- to be high above, exalted
- to love, to greet with love, to pity
While this may not be the actual meaning of Abraham, if I tried to put all that together I might say that Abraham is the exalted father of a multitude through a turbulent one from the womb that will greet with love. Again, I’m just trying to give a sense of what is happening here, not an actual definition of Abraham’s name.
So, Abram, the exalted father, becomes, Abraham, the exalted father of a multitude of nations, in connection with the coming of Isaac, who is a type of the Son, Jesus. Do you see what this is saying?
God at one point was the father of a single nation, Israel. He chose them, not because of anything they were, but because he loved them. God chose them to bring forth Jesus, his Son. And, when Jesus came, God was no longer the father of just one nation but the father of many nations, every nation in fact. Revelation 7:9-10 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
The revelation of Jesus, the birth of Isaac, changes our conception of who God is. He is no longer the father of a single nation. God is the father of all nations. And, the fact that Abram’s name was permanently changed to Abraham means that God is forever the father of all nations and no longer to be thought of as the father of a single nation any more. Jesus, the Son, is the key to that change.
Abram had a son Ishmael. Abraham had a son Isaac. Have you ever noticed that difference? I didn’t until I just typed it.
Ishmael is of the flesh. Isaac is of the spirit.
Ishmael is of the earth. Isaac is of heaven.
Ishmael is Adam. Isaac is Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49 says, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Isaac means laughter. Not, just laughter, but mockery. Jesus was, and still is, mocked. Who would believe that some guy that died on a cross, the worst, most despicable, most shameful death you could die, was the Son of God? This is why Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Isaac is a type of the Son, Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15) He is the man of heaven. He changed our perception of the Father, which is seen in the name change from Abram to Abraham. But, Jesus does not change. We always see him as the lamb slain before the foundation of the world, even on the throne in heaven. Hence, Isaac’s name never changes.
Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. They were twins, but Esau was born first, then Jacob. Genesis 25:22 says that the two struggled even in Rebekah’s womb. God told her in verse 23, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:25 says, “The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.” The Hebrew word for red is the root word for earth and the name Adam. To say his body was like a hairy cloak is to say he was covered in hair like a goat and that was his glory. Esau means hairy, rough. Edom, the nation that come from Esau, meas red. The point of Esau’s name is that he was of the earth, of the dust, natural – just like Ishmael, just like Adam. Esau came first just like it says in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49.
Genesis 25:26 says, “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.” Jacob means heel-catcher, supplanter. A supplanter is one that comes after and overtakes the first – just like the Lord told Rebekah in verse 23.
But, we don’t get the full picture of what this means until Jacob’s name is changed to Israel.
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man all night. Jacob says he won’t let the man go unless the man blesses him. So, the man asks him his name, and he says Jacob. In Genesis 32:28, the man says, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Israel means “he will rule as God.” So, Jacob, the supplanter, becomes Israel, the one who will rule as God.
While Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, he wasn’t called that right away. God and others continued to call him Jacob. Until…
Until Genesis 35. What happens in Genesis 35? Jacob is about to have his last son, Benjamin. Benjamin means the son of the right hand. This is a picture of Jesus. Right before Benjamin is born, God appears to Jacob again and says, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” (Genesis 35:10) It’s Jesus that is the key to the name change.
Jacob is called Israel several times in the remainder of the chapter. But, have you ever noticed that throughout the rest of the Bible Jacob is sometimes called Jacob and sometimes Israel? He may be the only one in the Bible whose name change wasn’t permanent. Why is that? Typically, when we see him called Jacob he is acting in the flesh, as one who is carnal, in that situation. And, when we see him called Israel he is acting in the spirit, as one who is spiritual, in that situation.
So, in a sense, Isaac did not have two sons but three – Esau, Jacob, and Israel.
Without directly saying it, Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This is Esau, the natural man. As one example, he couldn’t understand the spiritual aspect of the birthright. So, he sold it. Then, in 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul says, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Paul is saying that he couldn’t address the Corinthians as spiritual people, Israel. He had to address them as people of the flesh, carnal people, Jacob.
So, in Esau and Jacob/Israel, we have a picture of the natural, carnal, and spiritual man. It is through this that we get a picture of the Holy Spirit and see his work.
Remember, Jacob’s named changed to Israel when the Son of the Right Hand, Jesus, had come. But, he was only called Israel when he was walking in the Spirit. What an incredible picture of us. And, what a picture that it is of Jesus, the life-giving Spirit, who sends his Spirit, who brings the change from Jacob to Israel. One day all Israel, all those who believe and who walk in the Spirit, will be saved.
Now, we have an understanding of why it is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Our conception of God has forever changed, symbolized by the permanent change of name to Abraham. Isaac, is always the Son, the lamb crucified, Jesus. Therefore, there is no name change. God is, always is, the God of Jacob, the carnal person. They are simply infants in Christ. Eventually, Jacob becomes Israel. He becomes the mature man, the full stature and measure of Christ. Today, to say that God is only the God of Israel would be to exclude Jacob, the carnal man. Paul doesn’t exclude them in 1 Corinthians. The carnal man is still part of the church, Christ’s body. But, when Jesus comes again, we will all become like him. We will all be in his image. We will all be Israel. We will all rule as God.
Jesus is the key to understanding the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.