Some people have names that just fit. Andrew Parr became a professional golfer. Many Portland residents schedule their dental visits with Dr. Toothaker. The plumbing outfit of Plummer & Leek in Norfolk, England, probably maintains a constant flow of business. And Sally Ride took her apt moniker all the way into space!
In the Bible, people and places were given names that had great significance, and Israel had two of them. Hosea made subtle references to both those names in today’s passage. He cited both instances when the father of the nation was given a name to suit his actions. The first took place at birth. As Jacob’s brother Esau was born, the younger twin reached from the womb to grab Esau’s heel (Gen. 25:26). The name “Jacob” literally means “he grabs the heel” and is a Hebrew expression for deception. It was a sign of what would become an extended struggle with Esau and a metaphor for his propensity for trickery.
The second naming episode in Jacob’s life took place after his wrestling match with the angel of God (Gen. 32:28). Then he received the name Israel, meaning “he struggles with God.” Verse 3 essentially reads, “In the womb, Jacob; as a man, Israel.” Both names suited him and applied equally well to the nation of his descendants who constantly deceived themselves and never stopped contending with God. Hosea alluded to these names to draw attention to Israel’s nature as a nation. Then he contrasted them with the almighty name of God.
What a contrast! Hosea stated God’s name as if he were issuing a call to worship. Indeed, he was exhorting Israel to completely change the way they worshiped by returning to exclusive allegiance to God and adjusting their lives in a manner befitting the holy name of their God. They were to correct the key difference between them and their namesake. When Jacob contended with the Lord through the night and earned the name Israel, his commitment to God became stronger. The nation desperately needed to wrestle with who God really is, relent in humility, and return to a commitment to God alone.