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January 16, 2022 | Doug Sauder
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“When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.”—Genesis 25:24-26 (NASB)
It’s fun to look up what a name means. When our son was born, my husband and I settled on Brian, not knowing it means high or noble. Now that he is an adult, we see that he was aptly named. What’s ironic is his last name also means high. Unwittingly, we had high aspirations for him!
I’m sure Isaac and Rebekah had high aspirations for their twin boys, too. However, they named them based on their appearance and behavior at birth. According to Professor David Freedman of the Department of History at the University of California, San Diego, “Names were more than just labels to the ancient Hebrews and Babylonians. Nothing existed until it had a name. Its name expressed its character.”
Esau, born red and hairy, continued to be hairy into his adult life. We know this because Jacob disguised himself with goat hair to fool his father Isaac into giving Jacob Esau’s blessing. When Isaac touched Jacob, he thought he was touching Esau (Genesis 27:5-29). Given this, Jacob truly lived up to his name, which means heel catcher or deceiver.
How strange that Jacob was grabbing hold of his brother’s heel. Typically, twins are not delivered one right after the other nor are they born grabbing at one another. On average, twins are born 10 to 30 minutes apart. But Jacob was hot on the heels of Esau. The struggle that began in Rebekah’s womb, the one that caused her to question the Lord, “Why am I this way?” continued into delivery as Jacob and Esau jostled for position.
Was it a cognitive effort? Only God knows. But some inner motivation caused Jacob to want to hold his brother back—to the extreme that as an adult he cleverly obtained his brother’s birthright and later his blessing. Growing up, had Rebekah shared with him what God had foreshadowed about her older son serving the younger (Genesis 25:23)? Scripture does not say. But we know she favored Jacob (Genesis 25:28), and she was the force behind him obtaining the blessing Isaac intended to give to Esau.
Jacob’s life from conception to adulthood was one of struggling and overcoming, first with his brother and then with God. His name was later changed to Israel by God Himself. As God prophesied, a nation was born from Jacob. And Israel is a nation whose name expresses its character to struggle and overcome and receive the blessings of God.
DIG: What do Jacob and Esau’s names mean?
DISCOVER: Study these men in Scripture to see how their names fit their personalities.
DO: Do some research today! Find out what your name means. Is your character defined by your name or (more importantly) is your name defined by your character?
Lisa Supp lives in Utah and has served within the CCFL Web and Prayer Ministry since 2011. She also volunteers as an editor on the CCFL Prayer Wall and is a writer on the Communications Team. Retired from teaching, Lisa and her husband Ron volunteer at their local Calvary Chapel and share a passion for Scripture, apologetics, and education.