Genesis 35:10-12 - "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel."

God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So he named him Israel. And God said to him, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you." (Genesis 35:10-12)

Why is Jacob being renamed a second time?

This is not the first time that Jacob was renamed to Israel according to the Book of Genesis:
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." (Genesis 32:28)
With this verse, we find that Jacob is being renamed to be Israel a second time. Whether we accept that the "man" was God Himself (as assumed by many) or God's messenger ("angel") as indicated by the text, it is clear that God is essentially naming Jacob to Israel for the second time.

Certainly, this is an especially important event - God renaming Jacob to be Israel. Why then would such an event be told differently within two different contexts and occasions?

The answer also relates to other events in Genesis that are duplicated or conflicting. Biblical scholars have been investigating this over the past century. There are several working hypotheses, but most concur that there were several different writers of the Book of Genesis - up to 19 different writers.

In this fashion, stories and events have overlapped or were otherwise conflicting. We've discussed a number of these in the Meaning of Genesis.

The underlying reality is that the early stories of the Bible were orally passed down from generation to generation among multiple lineages. Some of these lineages included the different genealogies of Jacob's sons - which have been called the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

There was a convergence between some of these lineages as the Northern Israelites were exiled out of the North by the Assyrians around the 6th Century CE. This produced a blending between Northern Israelites and Judeans.

This also apparently came after the Judeans were exiled from Judah by the Babylonians in the 6th Century CE. The exile lasted for between 50 and 60 years. Then once Cyrus the Great - the Persian king - conquered Babylon, the Judeans were allowed to return to their homelands.

It was prior, during and just after this exile that many of the scrolls that were combined into the Book of Genesis were written. Because they were recorded by different priests and scribes from multiple oral traditions, the combination of these texts gave way to some duplications and other inconsistencies.

Were Jacob's descendants given those lands?

"The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."
This verse states that God granted Jacob and his descendants "this land." What is "this land?" Is it the land surrounding Bethel? Is it the land that Jacob was standing on at the time - the land underneath the altar? Or is it all land throughout the world?

These questions might sound a bit trite, but they illustrate a text that does not define the land that God was theoretically giving to Jacob. This is an inconsistency because as we all know from land title law throughout the world, the passing of land titles typically requires clearly defined boundaries.

Land titles without clearly defined boundaries generally leads to conflicts, as neighboring landowners can squabble over differently perceived boundaries.

Indeed, the assumption that God would give Jacob and his descendants land without clear boundaries sets up the potential for future political conflicts with neighboring landowners, countries and other jurisdictions.

And that is precisely what has happened - as arguments regarding land rights have erupted within the Middle East.

So we must again question the recording, interpretation and even possibly the translation of these verses. There is a clear connection between these verses and the geopolitical conflicts that have arisen in modern times.

Inserting political objectives into scripture interpretation is not new. It has taken place at different times among various societies in human history. We have seen this on the ancient writings of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Hindus and other ancient civilizations that have incorporated their particular geopolitical power structure into their ancient writings. We often find in these the awarding of certain lands and treasures to a particular society or institution through diety. This occurrence within the Bible is not a novel instance.

Could the lands be inherited without requisite?

This doesn't mean no words were communicated by God here - to one of His beloved loving servants as indicated here.

We must consider this reasonably. According to the translation God is giving certain lands to Jacob - lands he previously gave to Abraham and Isaac.

We might ask: If God gave those lands to Abraham and Isaac already, why is He now giving these to Jacob? Such an act would mean that Jacob - who was Abraham and Isaac's descendant - would not automatically be given that land.

If it already belonged to Jacob, then God would have said something like, "You already own this land because you are a descendant of Abraham."

But God did not say this according to this text. God's statement - assuming we believe it is about land - in itself means that a descendant doesn't automatically receive the "God-given land" from his ancestors.

We also know this because throughout the early Bible, land ownership is not assumed in itself by the descendants of Jacob. There are some requisites. Here is another statement, given by Moses to his followers:
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 8:1)
If we assume this is about land, this is stating that the descendants of Jacob will have to follow the commandments spoken by Moses in order to receive and possess that land inheritance.

This means, if we assume this is about land, it is not actually assumed by ancestry alone.

Furthermore, we also know by this text that Abraham and Isaac no longer own that land. After they died, it was no longer theirs. Otherwise, why would God give it to Jacob? He would have to be taking it away from Abraham and Isaac in order to give it to Jacob.

This brings up the question of how Abraham and Isaac could even own the land after their physical bodies died and decomposed. How could they still own it?

This concept continues through the generations, as the assumption has been that Jacob's descendants continue to own those lands given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the Supreme Being.

Yet we find the opposite is true. Over the centuries we find the lands of Judea supposedly given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were in fact conquered by many armies, and even the city of Jerusalem - which was built well after in the Fourth century BC - has been overthrown at least 23 times over the centuries according to historians. It was also completely destroyed twice by invading armies, and today is under the control of the United Nations and divided into four quarters - the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Armenian quarter and the Jewish quarter. It is hardly "owned" by the descendants of any single family or race of people as promoted by some sectarian institutions.

Furthermore, today many Palestinians argue they are in fact the descendants of Abraham just as many Jews argue they are. The reality is that over the past three to four thousand years the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are now spread all over the middle east - and the world. And none of them have inherited "the lands."

The bottom line is that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants were not given those lands. If they were given those lands by God, they would have been able to control those lands over the centuries. Since they have not been able to control those lands, they could not have owned them.

Ownership means control. A person must control something in order to own it.

We humans like to say we own things, but this is an illusion. Humans cannot control anything on this planet because our physical bodies are temporary and are under the control of the elements of nature. Any supposed ownership - should a person be given a title or something - is not true ownership because there is no control. That land could fall into a sinkhole or be ripped apart by an earthquake or smothered by fire or flood. A piece of land centuries ago may be at the bottom of an ocean today. Or if it is a physical object, that physical object can be lost, stolen or otherwise decomposed by the elements of nature.

Only God can own any land. Only God can own anything because only God can control His creation. God's creation is owned and controlled only by Him.

And God did not give away land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or their descendants.

What does this text mean then?

Let's break it down:

The key words that are mistranslated are "land" "gave" and "descendants."

"Land" is being translated from ארץ ('erets). This can mean a piece of ground but "land" is not its primary meaning. It primary meaning relates to either the "whole earth (as opposed to a part)" or "earth (as opposed to heaven)" according to Gesenius' Lexicon. It can also mean region or country, but again, these are not the word's primary meaning.

The concept of "earth (as opposed to heaven)" relates to the fact that those who reside here on earth are now separated from God - as opposed to heaven, where its inhabitants relate personally with God.

"Descendants" is being translated from the Hebrew זרע (zera`). זרע (zera`) means "a sowing," "seed" "sowing time" even "of moral quality" according to the lexicon. It can also mean "seed" or "semen."

"Descendants" is a poor translation of זרע (zera`) because of the context of the statement. Rather, זרע (zera`) refers to those within whom a sowing of knowledge has taken place.

The word "give" comes from נתן (nathan), which can mean "give" but also means to "ascribe, employ, devote, consecrate, dedicate" as well. The usage here relates to devotion in the context of God and His servants - not land titleship.

We must also consider the context of God's statement. Consider one of the verses directly following God's appearance to Jacob:
Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. (Genesis 35:14)
Consider the state of mind and heart of a person who erects a pillar - an altar - at the location where God appeared. And then makes an offering to God there and pours oil on the altar to honor God. What is this? It is devotion. Jacob is showing his devotion to the Supreme Being.

Why would he do this? Because he was stoked that he got some land from God?

Don't be ridiculous. Jacob was devoted to God. He was loving God. He had a devotional relationship with God, evidenced by the fact that God appeared to him and spoke to him.

So why would God appear to someone as devoted as Jacob? To give his ancestors some land? That is a ridiculous assumption.

The reality is, God is instructing Jacob to pass on the teachings of love for God to others. He is telling Jacob to pass on his devotion to God throughout the world.

The word זרע (zera`) was used metaphorically - meaning to sow or plant the teachings of love for God and devotion to God in others.

This concept of sowing the seeds of knowledge with others is a popular metaphorical concept and it originates with God's discussions with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why? Because they were each instructed by God to go out and teach to others - sow the seeds of knowledge and love for God in the hearts of others.

Which they did, evidenced by the growing faith in God among others in the region. Jesus understood this, as he used this metaphor in his parable of the farmer and the seeds.

In other words, זרע (zera`) has nothing to do with family descendants. It relates to those who are being taught to - those who follow in their footsteps. As a noun, it relates to those who become followers of those teachings.

And ארץ ('erets) - relating to "earth (as opposed to heaven)" - indicates that God was instructing Jacob to pass on those teachings of love for God throughout the earth.

In other words, he was instructing Jacob to become a missionary. A teacher. He was telling him to pass on the teaching of devotion throughout the world.

This is, in fact, the prime objective of the Old Testament. Before their corruption, the texts and teachings that comprise the Old Testament told of ancient teachers (often referred to as Prophets) - who loved God and taught love for God to others. This was their significance - it is not about a certain race of people given a bunch of land in the desert as many ecclesiastical institutions suggest.

Thus the Books of the Old Testament are not a chronology of a particular family. They tell of a history of Teachers who devoted their lives to the Supreme Being and passed on that devotion to others.

Did God rename Jacob as Israel?

The word "Israel" - taken from ישראל (Yisra'el) - means "God prevails!" The words relate to devotion.

And the word קרא (qara') means to glorify; and שם (shem) relates in this context to not just any name, but to "the Name (as designation of God)" - to glorify or memorialize this Name.

God was not re-naming Jacob at all: He was instructing him to glorify God in a certain way. In this case, to call out ישראל (Yisra'el) - or "God prevails!" This is a glorification of God. It is a chant - an ascription. It is not a name of a person.

Certainly a person who does glorify God could be called "a glorifier of God." And sometimes people in ancient times were named after their devotional slant. So Jacob could well be called the person who called upon (קרא (qara')) God's name (שם (shem) as "God prevails!" But this is not what God is saying in this text.

God could care less what people are named. God doesn't go around naming people. God is calling upon Jacob to glorify God's Holy Names. Why?

Because this is how a person rekindles their relationship with God. Through glorifying His Holy Names. Just consider some of the other verses that confirm this:
At that time men [of the earth] began to call on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:26)

From there he [Abraham] went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

...and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 13:4)

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the Name of the LORD, the Eternal God. (Genesis 21:33)

Isaac built an altar there and called on the Name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:25)

“You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His Name.” (Exodus 20:7)

“You shall not misuse the Name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His Name.” (Deuteronomy 5:11)

“...he may minister in the Name of the LORD his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 18:7)

“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of Him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)

“The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the Name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault.” (Deuteronomy 21:5)

“Then all the peoples on earth will see that You are called by the Name of the LORD, and they will revere You.” (Deuteronomy 28:10)

“I will proclaim the Name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!” (Deuteronomy 32:3)

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the Name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45)

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the Name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:42)

He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the Name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. (2 Samuel 6:2)

After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the Name of the LORD Almighty. (2 Samuel 6:18)

The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the LORD. (1 Kings 3:2)

“You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the LORD his God until the LORD put his enemies under His feet.” (1 Kings 5:3)

“I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David, when He said, ‘Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for My Name.’” (1 Kings 5:5)

“My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.” (1 Kings 8:17)

“The LORD has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the LORD promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.” (1 Kings 8:20)

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the Name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. (1 Kings 10:1)

Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the Name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire – He is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” (1 Kings 18:24)

With the stones he built an altar in the Name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. (1 Kings 18:32)

The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the Name of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22:16)

He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the Name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. (2 Kings 2:24)

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the Name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:11)

“Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” (Jeremiah 20:13)

After David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the Name of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 16:2)

So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the Name of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 21:19)

David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God.” (1 Chronicles 22:7)

“Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.” (1 Chronicles 22:19)

Solomon gave orders to build a temple for the Name of the LORD and a royal palace for himself. (2 Chronicles 2:1)

“Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to Him for burning fragrant incense before Him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on Sabbaths and New Moons and at the appointed feasts of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.” (2 Chronicles 2:4)

“My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:7)

“The LORD has kept the promise he made. I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the LORD promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:10)

The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the Name of the LORD?” (2 Chronicles 18:15)

The other events of Manasseh’s reign, including his prayer to his God and the words the seers spoke to him in the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel. (2 Chronicles 33:18)

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the Name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

“I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the Name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17)

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

“The nations will revere the Name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere Your glory.” (Psalm 102:15)

“So the Name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem.” (Psalm 102:21)

“Praise the LORD. Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the Name of the LORD.” (Psalm 113:1)

“Let the Name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 113:2)

“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the Name of the LORD is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)

“Then I called on the Name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!” (Psalm 116:4)

“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the LORD.” (Psalm 116:13)

“I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the Name of the LORD.” (Psalm 116:17)

“That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the Name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.” (Psalm 122:4)

“Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8)

“May those who pass by not say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you; we bless you in the Name of the LORD.”“ (Psalm 129:8)

“Praise the LORD. Praise the Name of the LORD; praise Him, you servants of the LORD” (Psalm 135:1)

“Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created.” (Psalm 148:5)

“Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for His Name alone is exalted; His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” (Psalm 148:13)

“The Name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

“At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers – the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 18:7)

“Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; exalt the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea.” (Isaiah 24:15)

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God.” (Isaiah 50:10)

“And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve Him, to love the Name of the LORD, and to worship Him...” (Isaiah 56:6)

“From the west, men will revere the Name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere His glory.” (Isaiah 59:19)

“At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the Name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:17)

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the Name of the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 26:16)

Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the Name of the LORD (Jeremiah 26:20)

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the Name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:26)

“And everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32)

“...we will walk in the Name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the Name of the LORD his God.” (Micah 5:4)

“Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the Name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3:9)

“But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the Name of the LORD.” (Zephaniah 3:12)

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9)

“‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39)

“Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9)

“‘Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:35)

“Blessed is the king who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)

“Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (John 12:13)

“And everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the Name of the Lord. (Acts 9:28)

“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who confesses the Name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”” (2 Timothy 2:19)

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the Name of the Lord.” (James 5:10)

“Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)


We can see from these verses how critically important the glorification of God and His Holy Names - glorifying God - is to ones spiritual life. Glorifying God reconnects us to the Supreme Being. It cleanses our heart and it re-kindles our innate love of the Supreme Being. This is why God is instructing Jacob not only to glorify God, but to pass this process of devotional glorification of God on to others.

And we too can take this instruction, and glorify God in order to reconnect with Him and renew our innate loving relationship with Him.

With these points in mind we must offer a more appropriate translation of what was really spoken by the Supreme Being to Jacob:

"Your name is Jacob but you will call out and glorify "Israel" - "God prevails!" For I am God Almighty; and you will pass on the teachings of devotion to others. Many followers and teachers will come from your teachings, and kings will be among your followers. The instructions I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and your devotion will be passed on throughout the earth after you." (Genesis 35:10-12)