Last year at this time, I had a lot to say about Esau. Well, the Torah readings have come around again to the story of Jacob and Esau, and it seems God is not finished teaching me things. But isn’t that his way? Every time we pick up his word, we see more, we receive more, we learn more. Today, I want to look at Jacob’s name – the name he was given at birth.
First, we need to remember that there was a set of twins inside Rebekah that seemed to be struggling so badly that their mother felt she was going to die. I’ve never had twins, but I have had a fairly active baby inside me and about the worst thing I felt was him playing with my rib. It was uncomfortable, but a shift in my position ended this discomfort.
In all that I read about Rebekah, I don’t take her for a drama queen. So when she said she felt like she would die because of what was going on inside her, I believe her. I also see her going to God with the situation, not complaining to her husband or servants or friends. This also, in my book, lends credence that something truly unusual was happening within her.
God told Rebekah that there were two nations within her and that the older would serve the younger. Now Esau was born first, and Jacob came out holding his heel. As I’ve written before, it has been posited that Jacob was protecting his head against Esau’s assault.
I also found reference to Genesis 3:15 where God says the woman’s seed will bruise the serpents head, but he will bruise his heel. I thought about Esau’s character and how, by pushing against Jacob’s head with his heel, he was trying to prove that he was the promised seed. Now, I know a baby can’t think like that, but I find it important that God made it a point to talk about how the babies came out.
Because Jacob’s hand was on Esau’s heel, he was given the name יַעֲקֹ֑ב (Ya’akov). Now the root word, עָקֵב (akav), means ‘heel’. It also has several other meanings, one of which is ‘rear guard’. Many have said this means heel-grabber or deceiver. But when we break down the Hebrew we see the yod (Hebrew is read right to left) and the word for heel. The yod typically stand for Yah (God). So the addition of the yod to word ‘heel’ renders a better translation of ‘Jacob’ as ‘God is my heel’, or ‘God is my rear guard’.
Personally, I like ‘God is my heel’ especially when I think about Gen 3:15, and that Jacob was carrying in his loins the seed of Messiah, because God truly is our heel, the One who was bruised in order to crush the head of the serpent.
So many teachings have been given on Jacob, and how he was a deceiver until God got hold of him in the desert. But is that what God says about him?
Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents – Genesis 25:27 (NET)
So, God saw to it that he was named ‘God is my heel (or rear guard)’ and he was an even-tempered man. The Hebrew word is תָּ֔ם (tam) meaning ‘peaceful’. Very different picture than being a heal-grabber or deceiver.
So who started this vicious rumor about Jacob? Esau. When he came in to find out that the blessing had been bestowed on Jacob (Gen 27), he added to the root word of Jacob’s name and turned it into supplantor, or ‘he who trips up’. As I pointed out last year, Esau blamed Jacob for his own foolishness.
So I must ask, especially during these anti-Semitic times, where terrorists are attacking people in Europe and some leaders are finding a way to say it is Israel’s fault: who do I want to believe when it comes to knowing who Jacob is – God or Esau?
What about you? Who do you believe?