Jacob’s Name

So I came across this on my theWord program on my laptop, concerning Isaiah 44:1-5. The author, who is only mentioned as J. Stalker, raises an important question. And gives quite an interesting answer…

Have you never wondered why the people of God should be called by the name of the third of the ancient patriarchs in preference to the first two? We often, indeed, find them called the seed of Abraham, and we should easily understand what was meant if we read of the children of Isaac: but, as far as I remember, they are nowhere called simply Abraham or Isaac, whereas it is perfectly common to hear them called Jacob or Israel, the name of the third patriarch being directly transferred to his descendants. Not only so: this usage has passed over into the New Testament, and we still sometimes call the whole body of living Christians the Israel of God. This is a somewhat surprising circumstance; for of the three patriarchs the third is certainly not the favourite. Why, then, is it that the name of the third patriarch is attached to God’s people, as if he were more directly their progenitor than the other two? Is it because they are liker him than they are to Abraham or Isaac? Is the average Christian an imperfect, stumbling mortal, a compound of obvious vices and struggling virtues, as Jacob was? It would be harsh to say so. But we may come nearer the mark if we put this suggestion in a different form.

Jacob was the progressive character among the patriarchs. His beginnings were ignoble, and the vices of his nature long clave to him; yet by degrees he surmounted them: he lived down the evil which was in him; and his end was that of one who, after many defeats, had at last obtained the victory. Abraham is a much grander figure than Jacob, but he has far less history. He may almost be said to be perfect from the first. If in him there was a slow development from small beginnings, we have no record of it. Isaac, again, was, as far as the records inform us, a back-going rather than a progressive character. The opening scenes of his history are beautiful and noble; but his character lacked back-bone, and we see him sinking into physical grossness and moral flaccidity. Jacob’s life, on the contrary, in spite of great defects to begin with and many faults by the way, was a developing and ascending one. This is shown by the names he bore: he was first Jacob and then Israel. And it may be to recommend such a life of progress that his names are given to God’s people.

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