Jacob was ambitious. His name means “heel-catcher,” which is a metaphor for a supplanter, a person who takes a position or a set of privileges belonging to someone else. His (older) twin brother Esau, whose heel Jacob was holding as they were born, constantly felt that Jacob was claiming rights and blessings belonging to him. “Is not he rightly named Jacob?” he asked, “for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36).
Later, Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, turned against him as he acquired more and more of Laban’s possessions through a series of deals. When Jacob and his family fled (Genesis 31:17-21), Laban pursued him, thinking Jacob had taken some of his possessions. But they eventually parted on good terms. (See Genesis 31:22-55.)
At about that same time, Jacob also deepened his relationship with God. Anxious about his upcoming reunion with Esau, he spent some time alone and wrestled all night with a man. In the morning, God praised his perseverance and changed his name to Israel. (See Genesis 32:24-28.)
This name has two roots: sarah (שָׂרָה), which means “to persevere” or “to prevail,” and el (אֵל), which means God. The name has been interpreted to mean “he who prevails with God.” But it could also mean “God prevails,” or even “let God prevail.” (See Bible Dictionary: “Israel.”)
President Russell M. Nelson favors that last interpretation:
Jacob wrestled with a serious challenge. His agency was tested. Through this wrestle, Jacob proved what was most important to him. He demonstrated that he was willing to let God prevail in his life. In response, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “let God prevail.”“Let God Prevail,” General Conference, October 2020
Both Captain Moroni and Mormon took inspiration from Jacob’s prophecy that a remnant of his seed would stay strong while others fell away. Since Lehi was a descendant of Jacob, Moroni saw his people as part of the fulfillment of that prophecy. The Savior also referenced this prophecy when He visited the American continent. (See Alma 46:24-26, 3 Nephi 10:17, 3 Nephi 20:22.)
Here are a few blog posts about Jacob:
- We should pour out our hearts to God holding nothing back, just as Jacob poured oil on the altar he built at Beth-el. (See Genesis 28:18.): Poured Out.
- The people described in the Book of Mormon were descendants of Jacob: What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Jacob (Israel)?
- The Title of Liberty was inspired by a prophecy of Jacob: What Was the Title of Liberty?