1. Jacob’s another name
One night, God told Jacob in a dream to leave the house of Laban, his mother’s brother, and return to his homeland. So Jacob took all of his family and animals and left for his hometown. On his way back home, when he arrived at the ford of Jabbok, he sent his family and all his possessions to a safe place across the brook. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me. Then the man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome (Ge 32:24-28). Thereafter, Jacob was also called Israel.
※ The name “Israel” means “one who has struggled with God and overcome.”
2. Jacob’s offspring
Jacob’s offspring were referred to as “the descendants of Israel” or “Israel.”
“But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal. Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” Ex 11:7
So, the word “Israel” refers to both Jacob and his offspring.
3. The name of the nation
After King Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms: the southern kingdom called Judah and the northern kingdom called Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah, consisting of two tribes—Judah and Benjamin, was ruled by Rehoboam the son of Solomon, and the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of ten tribes, was ruled by Jeroboam. From that time on, the two kingdoms came to be called the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” (Jer 11:10).
In A.D. 70, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army. 1,900 years later, Jacob’s descendants regained their nation and they named their country “Israel.”
4. The spiritual Israel
In Old Testament times, the Israelites were the children of promise to inherit the land which God would give them.
The physical Israel is a shadow of the spiritual Israel in New Testament times. The spiritual Israelites refer to God’s chosen people who will inherit the kingdom of heaven through the new covenant.
So in the New Testament, the word “Israel” is also used to mean the “spiritual Israel.”
“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God” Gal 6:16
“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” Gal 3:29
“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel’ ” Mt 2:6
The eternal kingdom of heaven will be inherited only by the spiritual Israelites, not the physical Israelites.