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The Meaning of the Name Israel, Yis•ra•el

The important names in the Bible are not random. As the story concerning each character unfolds, we learn how closely connected the Hebrew name is to the narrative. All other languages fall short in demonstrating how:

  1. The biblical name foreshadows the future of each personality,
  2. The Hebrew name both mirrors and substantiates the truthfulness of biblical events and prophecies.

Although reading the Bible in English is also perceived by Believers as reading truth, the immediate sense of substantiation, as reflected in the mere Hebrew name, is missing from the non-Hebrew reading experience. This is just one reason why it is so important for every Bible follower to obtain some knowledge of Hebrew. Certainly, it will help you understand Israel better.

The most prevalent name in the Bible is Israel. It appears more than 2,500 times in the Old Testament and about 80 times in the New Testament. Israel is also a perfect example of the Name-Fate connection we see frequently in biblical names.

The name Israel was first introduced in the Bible in Genesis 32:28: ‘And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince you have power with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ In fact, the translation: ‘you have power’ is somewhat weak. The Hebrew word that is used in this verse is ‘sa• ri• ta’

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It is a past tense verb that comes from the root word ‘Sar.’ Sar is ‘a prince’ or ‘leader,’ but as a verb, such as in this verse, it relates to the main characteristic associated with leadership: fighting. In the verse above, ‘sa• ri• ta’ relates to the biblical verb that means ‘to fight’ or even better, ‘to wrestle.’ In a way, taking the action of a prince, leader, or hero...giving a fight! Say ‘Israel’ out loud, and you won’t miss the sound connection between the two words: ‘Israel’ and ‘wrestle.’ Can you hear the similarity between these two otherwise unrelated words? Now you know the origin of the word ‘wrestle’ and you also know the full meaning of the name Israel: ‘wrestled with God.’

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