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Meaning and etymology of the name Israel

Israel Israel

Israel is the name given to Jacob after his fight with the Angel of God (Genesis 32:28).

The meaning of the name Israel is not clear, although Israel is most likely a compilation of the verb sara (sara) and the noun el (El), the common abbreviation of Elohim.

The meaning of the verb sara (sara) is uncertain and explained in many ways, chiefly because it is limited to contexts which discuss the struggle of Jacob with the Angel of the Lord, insinuating that where our language uses the common verb 'struggle,' the Hebrew uses a word that is specifically reserved for a certain action: the action of struggling with God.

BDB Theological Dictionary reports for sara (sara) the Arabic cognate of persist, persevere, and relates it to the word sora (sora), rows, which only Isaiah uses, in 28:25. More interesting even is the word misra (misra), a unique word that probably means rule or dominion, and which Isaiah uses in the highly Messianic passage of 8:6, "...and the government is on His shoulder." Nobody knows what the root of this word is but linguists have arrived at the conclusion that it must be identical to sara, the word that gave rise to the name Israel.

It gets even better when we look at the verb sarar (sarar), meaning to rule, reign, act as prince. Derivative sar (sar) means prince, and sara (sarah) means princess and is (near) equal to the both the name of Jacob's grandmother Sarah and the root-word of Israel.

We can not say with certainty what the name Israel is supposed to mean, although it seems to reflect a certain inability of the Almighty God, namely the not being able to defeat a man like Jacob. We can be sure that God doesn't lack the physical strength to eradicate any human being, so we must conclude that the destruction of Jacob would go against the very nature of God. Perhaps the name Israel denotes God's continuous effort to keep Jacob going, even though Jacob continues to fight God.

The name Israel means God Strives (NOBS Study Bible Name List), or El Persisteth, Persevereth (BDB Theological Dictionary). BDB offers an alternative meaning of Let El Persist.

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, uppity as ever, renders He Will Be A Prince With God.

Also see Israel's nicknames: Jeshurun and Zion.



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