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What is the meaning of 'Israel' in the Bible?

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It is usually mistranslated as "He strives (or Will strive) with God." However, the name Elohim is generic and often refers to lesser authorities such as judges (Exodus ch.21) or angels (Job 38:7); and that is the case here too (Genesis 32:29), as stated explicitly (Hosea 12:5). The actual translation is "He will strive (struggle) with the mighty," which includes angels, powerful nations, etc.

God sent a mysterious messenger to wrestle with Jacob one night (Genesis 32:25). Tradition states that it was an angel in human form; the guardian angel of Esau (Rashi commentary, quoting the Midrash). The angel's task was to attempt to spiritually blind Jacob (K'li Yakar commentary, ibid), but Jacob prevailed (Genesis 32:26-29), and because of that, he was renamed Israel. At first the angel conferred the new name (Genesis 32:29), and later, God also did (Genesis 35:9-12).
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The suffix 'el' (God) indicates this is a theophoric name, of a type fairly common in the northern kingdom and occasionally also in the southern kingdom. The precise original meaning of the name Yisra'el is unclear:

  • "He has wrestled (striven) with God" is of course based on the famous episode in which Jacob wrestled with (a) God.

Other possible translations are:
  • "Ruler (or prince) over God", or alternatively
  • "God prevails"
    - both possible references to to wrestling episode. The outcome of the wrestle could be understood as victory for either party.

  • "Champion or prince [sar] of God" which is a possible references to the same episode, but could imply praise.
  • "God rules" [the converse of "Ruler or prince over God"]
  • "God will rule" or "God who will rule". This has possible polytheistic overtones.
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Another answer from our community:

Israel - which we get from the Greek, is originally in the Hebrew, "Yisrael".
Yisrael means, quite literally, "He has striven with God," or "He has been saved by God," based on which translation of "sra" was meant to be used.
"Yi", in the Hebrew, is the masculine form "he". "Sra", in the Hebrew, comes from the Semitic root "Sry", which means "to strive or to save." The word "El," in the Hebrew, is a form of the word for God.When you see 'el' in any Hebrew name, it is a form of the word for God. See other names such as Ishmael (God has heard), Michael (Who is like God), and Daniel (My judge is God).
To better understand which meaning of Sra we are to use, we need to understand the origin of the name Israel. The origins came from Genesis chapter 32 where Jacob struggles with a man all night long until he is blessed. The man asks Jacob's name, then tells him that his name is no longer Jacob, but Israel, because he has striven with God and with man. (Genesis 32:28)
Therefore, we can definitively say that the word 'Israel', based on the Bible, means "He has striven with God."Jacob (now Israel) became the father of the nation of Israel through his twelve sons - which is why you may hear the phrase, "Children of Israel" referring to the nation itself.
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