And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men…
Before this time, he had been Jacob, the worker with wiles, who supplanted his brother, and met his foes with duplicity and astuteness like their own. He had been mainly of the earth, earthy. But that solemn hour had led him into the presence chamber, the old craft had been mortally wounded, he had seen some glimpse of God as his friend, whose presence was not "awful," as he had thought it long ago, nor enigmatical and threatening, as he had at first deemed it that night, but the fountain of blessing, and the one thing needful. A man who has once learned that lesson, though imperfectly, has passed into a purer region, and left behind him his old crookednesses. He has learned to pray, not as before, prayers for mere deliverance from Esau and the like, but his whole being has gone out in yearning for the continual nearness of his mysterious antagonist — friend. So, though still the old nature remains, its power is broken, and he is a new creature. Therefore he needs a new name, and gets it from Him who can name men, because He sees the heart's depths, and because He has the right over them. To impose a name is the sign of authority, possession, insight into character. The change of name indicates a new epoch in a life, or a transformation of the inner man. The meaning of "Israel" is "He (who) strives with God"; and the reason for its being conferred is more accurately given by the Revised version, which translates, "For thou hast striven with God and with men," than in the Authorized rendering. His victory with God involved the certainty of his power with men. All his life he had been trying to get the advantage of them, and to conquer them, not by spear and sword, but by his brains. But now the true way to true sway among men is opened to him. All men are the servants of the servant and the friend of God. He who has the ear of the emperor is master of many men. Jacob is not always called Israel in his subsequent history. His new name was a name of character and of spiritual standing, and that might fluctuate, and the old self resume its power; so he is still called by the former appellation, just as, at certain points in his life, the apostle forfeits the right to be "Peter," and has to hear from Christ's lips the old name, the use of which is more poignant than many reproachful words — "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you." But in the last death-bed scene, when the patriarch lifted himself in his bed, and with prophetic dignity pronounced his parting benediction on Joseph's sons, the new name re-appears with solemn pathos. That name was transmitted to his descendants, and has passed over to the company of believing men, who have been overcome by God, and have prevailed with God. It is a charter and a promise. It is a stringent reminder of duty and a lofty ideal. A true Christian is an "Israel." His office is to wrestle with God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.