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I am reading the book of Genesis, and I have noticed that God changes certain people's names, such as Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Why does he change their names? What does it symbolize?

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, "Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel." So God renamed him Israel. (Genesis 35:9-10, NLT )

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God changed Jacob's name to Israel, because Jacob struggled/wrestled with God, and the new name was granted to reflect the change. Abram was changed to Abraham. Note that names meant something significant. –  Double U Aug 22 '13 at 23:48

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Names were considered to be meaningful in some way. For example, the younger of Isaac's twin sons with Rebekah was named Jacob ("supplanter") because when he was born he was holding on to Esau's heel, as if attempting to overtake him. (Genesis 25: 24-26)

After Jacob's wrestle with the angel, when he demanded a blessing from the Lord, the angel pronounced a blessing upon him, and a new name to go with it: Isra-El, which can mean "He who prevails with God," or "May God prevail," depending on the context.

Likewise with Abram ("Exalted father"), when he was blessed by the Lord in Genesis 17, he was given the name Abraham ("Father of a multitude"), in keeping with the promise of the Lord:

5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

So we see that these different names are given to people as a blessing from the Lord, to signify that something about them, their nature or their life, has changed in some way.

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I agree with Mason, in the OT (Old Testament) names are given almost as an adjective about that person or the circumstances of their birth (Read Gen 30:1-24)

A change in name is a change in God's description of you. This usually means God changing your circumstance or some part of your life to fulfill His ultimate plan for you.

In the case of Israel; if you read the subsequent books of the bible you will discover Israel goes through many hardships and even persecution (just look at history in general) and yet through out all of these hardships; Israel seems to "prevail" by virtue of coming back to God or crying out to God (He who prevails with God).

So the name change from "the supplanter" to "May God Prevail" seems appropriate. But this is true for every name change given by God in scripture. More than just a trivial change in what they are called; It is a change in who they are or will become.

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We can see the change of name in the New Testament too: Jesus changed the names of his apostles. I think that the clue of to the meaning of the name change can be found in Eph. 4:24 "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." This means that Christians are called to become new men by God. The old man is dead and new man is born through baptism. And new man should have new name. And as Old Testament is called to be the shadow of the New Testament by Paul, the change of names of Jacob and Abraham is a sign for the times of New Testament. But more than that, it is a sign for the coming Heavenly Kingdom where every man should receive a new name for good (Rev. 2.17), because he will be changed radically and eternally.

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Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. As it stands, this is good information, but it doesn't actually answer this question at all. It says nothing about why Jacob struggled with God... –  Affable Geek Sep 19 '13 at 16:36
user5513 has not asked a question "why Jacob struggled with God... "? –  Sargis Sep 19 '13 at 16:47
Sorry, I was being oblique - Israel mean "Struggles with God" –  Affable Geek Sep 19 '13 at 16:48

It is also a prophecy of Israel (Jacob) and Israel the nation who (as a prince has power with God) will be reigning with God. Genesis 32:28 Zecheriah 12-14 etc...

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It is written that God’s Chosen People are the Israelites. To some Christians, they considered themselves as the new Children of Israel after most of the Jews rejected Jesus as God. But better still, this is contestable.

But with God’s divine plan, He has made it possible for everyone to be called Children of Israel without any doubt.

How? By bestowing His Very Own Divine Name to a very qualified man- a man who has defeated one of his angels. He has foreseen that man will time and time again struggle with him and thus embedded in their minds the meaning of His Name to be synonymous with struggling with God.

God is not a selfish God, he is just a very jealous God, hence, has installed ways to test men of their loyalty to Him. Jealous he is but he is also a very patient God. He can wait for days or thousand years in the eyes of men, to see how he has nurtured man by hiding his divine plans not only in the Holy Bible or the Torah but as well as the Quran.

The three holy books speak of only one chosen people, and that is the Children of Israel. They are all in agreement that the name Israel was bestowed to Jacob by an angel of God because he has defeated one of his angels.

It should be noted that Moses was forewarned by God that he sent an angel ahead of him to guide the Israelites and warned him not to rebel against the angel for His Name is in him. It can be perceived therefore that the angel sent by God ahead of Moses was the angel who guided Jacob and his descendants. This is the only angel who came before the birth of Moses who ever mentioned a name. Even if Jacob insisted on knowing the angel’s name, the angel did not give any except the name Israel. Exodus 23:20-21,

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your ebellion, since my Name is in him.” (NIV)

Moreover, as practiced even by modern people, even by us in our times, fathers name their first born after him or a Junior. The Lord Almighty considers Israel his first born thus we can logically surmised that he named it after him.Exodus 4:22 exactly reveals this; “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son,”

This follows therefore that God’s real name is indeed “ISRAEL”. Circumstantial evidence and even biblical passages will reveal that indeed God’s name is “ISRAEL”.

For one, God also changed the name of Abram to Abraham and was made a father of all nations yet the so called Chosen People were not named Children of Abraham. Unlike Abram, it was God himself who changed his name, as for Jacob it was an angel whom God has told Moses not to rebel against for His Name is in him.

Most importantly, Deuteronomy 28:10 clearly states,

“Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you.” (NIV)

If the Children of Israel is called by the name of the Lord therefore the Lord’s name is Israel. Another biblical passage is Daniel 9:19:

“O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (NIV)

Some prophets know the name of God but they were not authorized to reveal it. But men as they are, they can’t help uttering things that will more or less demystify the secret that they hold such as this prayer of Daniel. Truly Daniel knows the name of God but he cannot utter it directly, hence, metaphorically stated what he knows deep inside his heart. With this we can truly surmise that God’s name is also Israel since the name of His City and His People is Israel.

Other prophets also received clues from God of what his real name is as clearly shown in Jeremiah 25:29, to wit; “See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.” (NIV)

Lastly, during olden times, the sons and daughters of any man is called the Children of the Man. Surnames were not in used then, children are known by the first names of their patriarch. Therefore, it is just right to say that God will call his children the Children of Israel.

Now, if we will believe that His Name is indeed ISRAEL, we can now truly claim that we are also his child hence without doubt become a CHILD OF ISRAEL.

Let God be forever glorified and be it known to everyone that because of His Name’s sake he has not destroyed the world as shown in 1Samuel 12:22,

“For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.” (NIV)

If we are going to call on his name, Lord God Israel, he will call us his people and we will belong to the third that will be refined like gold as prophesied under Zechariah 13:9, viz;

“This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (NIV)

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Hi, and welcome to Christianity SE! This is interesting - can you provide a reference to someone else who also believes God's name is Israel? And just in case you haven't seen it yet, check out some of what makes us different than other sites, and welcome again! –  Ryan Frame Jan 9 '14 at 14:32

Israel is is the surname of the children of God. A father always surnames his children by his own name. The people of Israel where often called the house of Israel. If the people were the house, who was in the house? Ephesians; 2:22 In whom you also are builded together for an habitaion of God throught the spirit. Abraham did not recieve the name Israel in order that he might be the Father of many nations. The name Abraham however was given to Abram, along with Gods rightousness in order that his offspring would be worthy to bear God's own name. Israel is our father's name and the name from our father. Yeshua also came from the father (the name placed on the begotten son), who's surname is also Israel. HOSEA 11:1 When Israel was a child then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt. Fullfilled in Matthew 2:15. The first name of (from) Yeshua is Peter. Upon this rock (the name from Him) I will build my church (family). All the nations of the world have access to the name of our Father, Israel through the name of (from) Yeshua in order to keep the promises to Abraham.

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Israel was Jacob's surname?? That is taking our present culture and putting it into the past which is very different. In any case you don't attempt to explain why God changed his name. –  curiousdannii May 20 '14 at 4:09
This is a bit incoherent... Or at least hard to follow. Can you back up what you're saying with references? As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites?, and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton May 20 '14 at 4:10

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