Two little unborn members of the human race fought so fiercely in their mother, Rebekah, that they caused her unusually great discomforts. And the fierceness of that struggle came again to manifestation, and demonstrated itself with prophetic symbolism, when the day came for them to be born.
Esau is born first, but Jacob has hold of his heel in a gesture of his struggle to hold Esau back and be the first of the two brothers to be born. That is what that firm grip of his frail little fist on the heel of his brother means. It was not a symbol of affection for his brother. It was not an attempt to let his parents know that he was also there and ready to be born. This was not a time when medical science with x-rays and stethoscope could detect two heartbeats, or rather the beating of two hearts in Rebekah, and the bony structure of two infants in her womb. And because it is true that God had told her what no physician could in that day tell her (and He told her even that there were two sons, not a son and daughter, or two daughters) Jacob needed not to inform his parents that they must also receive him and welcome him into the family. There was no need since God had already informed them, and had even told them that the firstborn would be the stronger of the two sons. Although wholly unconscious of what he was doing, Jacob with his little hand took hold of the heel of Esau because the God, Who was entreated of Isaac, was pleased to speak through an action He caused the unborn son to perform. This we want to bear in mind. And we must therefore see this act of Jacob as an attempt to hold Esau back and to have the mastery over him. He is the weaker one and the younger one; but his prophetic struggle is to have the mastery of which God spoke to his parents before he was born.
This is even accentuated and explained in the name that Isaac and Rebekah gave him. They called him Jacob which means supplanter. This they did because God had called him that before he was born. Rebekah was told that the elder would serve the younger even though he would be the weaker of the two sons. And that means that he would supplant his stronger brother in due time. Esau will be born first, and Esau will be the stronger; but do not write Jacob off as Esau’s servant and inferior brother. He had hold on Esau’s heel, and he will in God’s time supplant him. He will overcome all that which seems to be against him, and in a sense is already against him. His hand on Esau’s heel says, “You must also reckon with me. When you rejoice that Esau is born, I am there too; and you cannot receive all of Esau without seeing me, for his heel and my hand are joined in a firm grip! He comes first, but I am not letting go. I have a promise from God, and I expect to get it!” This confirms in the eyes of Isaac and Rebekah that word of God that he will overcome. And so they without hesitation call him Jacob, Supplanter.
Esau receives his name because of his outward appearance. Jacob receives his name because of the Word of God. Esau receives his name because of what men can and do see. Jacob receives his name because of what God sees, and what the child of God sees by faith. Esau receives his name because of what his parents brought forth. Jacob is named because of what God brought forth. Esau receives his name because he will be mighty in the world and will appear to be such to men. Jacob receives his name because he is mighty in God’s eyes and will be glorified by Him before the eyes of the whole world in God’s time. Esau is named because of men’s judgment upon him. Jacob is named because of God’s judgment upon him. Esau is named because of what he will do. Jacob is named because of what God will do for him. And although Isaac and Rebekah cannot see all this, they were led by God to take hold of His Word that he will be served by his older brother, and that his weakness at the moment will not prevent him from overcoming.
Because Jacob is named with a view to what God will do, and not because of what he is as brought forth by Isaac and Rebekah, and because he has been named due to spiritual and not physical considerations, his name is going to be amplified later on in his life. He is still going to remain Jacob, the Supplanter. He is not going to lose that name. But he will be the supplanter because of the truth in his new name, Israel—Prince of God—which he will receive after he has gone through a trial, and after he has learned not to strive to overcome by his physical strength and ingenuity.
He remains Jacob; and after he received the name Israel at Penuel he is often still referred to by God Himself as Jacob, the Supplanter. Surely we are not to call him the Deceiver; We know his history; and deception was that to which he often resorted. But we err when we say that the name Jacob means Deceiver. In itself it means to follow, come after. And though it is true that a deceiver follows, lies in wait for and seizes from behind, the fact is that God had explained to Rebekah that he who followed would supplant, for the elder shall serve the younger. He comes after but will overcome and be elevated above his stronger brother. Besides, even though Jacob resorted to trickery and deceit quite frequently, and this was a besetting sin with him, he is a child of God with faith in God and must not be put in the class with the children of the devil, that deceiver who led mankind into his fallen state of depravity. Christ, do not forget, was in the loins of Jacob. Jacob is a covenant child; and we dare not speak of him, and call him a name that would place him lower than his reprobate brother to whom we do not ascribe deception but despising of the birthright. A deceiver is one whose whole life is characterized by deception. This is not so of Jacob. He is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as one of the giants of faith. Let us not call him by what we see of him but by what God says of him. He is the supplanter, the weaker, younger brother who will overcome and be raised by God’s grace far above his brother.
We may not stop there, however. Jacob represents the whole church of God from Adam till the last saint who is reborn before Christ returns. As we said a moment ago, God calls His people by that name of Jacob many times many years after He gave him in addition to the name Jacob the name Israel. And the Israelites themselves are in Malachi 3:6 called the sons of Jacob, not sons of Israel. In both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 the genealogies of Jesus are traced from Abraham through Jacob (not Israel) to Joseph, and from Joseph back through Jacob (not Israel) to Adam and God Himself. In Romans 9:13 it is said, Jacob (not Israel) “have I loved and Esau have I hated.” And in Hebrews 11:9 it is with Isaac and Jacob (not Israel) that Abraham is listed as dwelling in tents. That name is not taken away from him. In Christ, who was in his loins, he does supplant and overcome.
He is, however, Supplanter because he is Israel. And after this name his descendants are known. We have that oft-repeated statement in Scripture, “the children of Israel.” And that does not simply mean the fleshly descendants of Jacob. They, in the first instance, are the Israelites, the children of Israel. But they as the fleshly seed, they as the nation of Israel did not supplant Esau and his seed. Today they have not supplanted Esau’s seed. There were partial victories, and Jacob did receive both the birthright and the birthright blessing. But the whole incident of the struggle before birth and the firm grasp on Esau’s heel at birth speak of much more than Jacob’s personal victory, or of that of the nation of Israel.
This all has meaning for us in the new dispensation. It is rich in significance for the entire church of God, as we said, from Adam until the day of Christ. They are not all Israel that are of Israel; and there are those who are the true Israel who are not fleshly Israelites, even as Peter was taught by no one less than God Himself when He gave him that vision of the unclean animals let down by a sheet (Acts 10) and was told not to call unclean that which God has cleansed. And now, where are we going to put Cornelius? He was not a fleshly descendant of Jacob. But he surely was a member of the Church of Christ. And before we begin to divide all the believers, and all those to whom salvation is come (See Acts 11:18) into two groups, the Jews in the Kingdom of Heaven and the Gentiles in the Church, let it be noted that according to Acts 2:47 “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” He added, if you please, to the organization, the entity to which Peter, the Jew, belonged. For it is in connection with the work of Peter and the other apostles who were Jews, on the day of Pentecost that God, through Luke, speaks of men being added to the Church, added thus to that to which Peter and the apostles belonged. The apostles, who were Jews, belonged to the Church.
What is more, Stephen on the day of his stoning spoke to the angry Jews that took away his life about Moses “that was in the Church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.” I have heard men twist the truth here by translating the word church into congregation. They want not to hear the Word of God that very clearly declares “thechurch in the wilderness.” One feels and can sense that there is something wrong when one has to change a word in Scripture to maintain a position. The plain facts are that the word church in Acts 7:38 is the same word that the word of God uses in Ephesians 1:22. Or again in Galatians 1:13 Paul speaks of having persecuted the church (the same word) of God. And these were Jewsthat Paul persecuted. He speaks in I Thessalonians 1:1 of the church in Thessalonica. And that is the same word that Stephen uses in Acts 7:38. And in Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul speaks of the middle wall of partition having been broken down and Gentiles and Jews being fellowcitizens (so the Gentiles do belong to the kingdom) with the saints, and of the household (the Church) of faith. All are built upon the same foundation and Christ is the chief corner stone of a building, the church, for both Jews and Gentiles. The true Israelite today is the believer, whether he be Jew or Gentile. Listen once toGalatians 3:28, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
That means that the little hand of Jacob holding tightly on to Esau’s heel, and the name God gave him to explain that deed, signifies that we, believing Jews and Gentiles alike, shall overcome. We are weaker than the world. We are as nothing in the world. The world is first, and afterward and out of it God gathers His church. We are kicked around, tormented, persecuted, and ridiculed. The world holds the earth and its fulness in its hands and threatens to take it all away from us—which it will do in the days of the antichrist. But we shall overcome because “a Star shall arise in Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the borders of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” Numbers 24:17. In Christ, Who comes out of the loins of Jacob through the virgin Mary, the entire church from Adam onward overcomes all her enemies and inherits the new earth in which righteousness shall dwell.