Israel can be viewed as a masterful mosaic through a variety of lenses in the Biblical narrative. Historical, geographical, genealogical, covenantal, spiritual, geopolitical, peculiar, and prophetic to name a few. Israel is called the “son” of God [Exodus 4:21-23], and yet at the same time Israel is depicted as the beautiful bride who one day will be restored to her Beloved as a radiant and pure virgin prepared for the Bridegroom [Jeremiah 31 & Isaiah 62:1-5].
All of these analogies are essential to understanding the true identity of Israel, but before I dive into deeper waters, I would like to first take a look at Israel the patriarch — the man who was the first to be called by that name. I am speaking, of course, about Jacob. God sought out and initiated a relationship with Jacob — son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham — giving Jacob a new name and consequently a new identity, purpose, and destiny.
The God and Creator of the universe entered into space time and interrupted Jacob’s life in such a profound way that it will forever be tied to the spiritual roots and prophetic purposes of God’s holy people. So what happened when Jacob personally encountered God incarnate? He quickly realized that not only had God spared his life that day but also promised to bless and remain faithful to him and his descendants forever.
By grace Jacob was chosen of the Father to preserve a people for God’s own possession and subsequently become a blessing to rest of the world. By faith, Jacob was counted among the righteous, called a son of the Most High, and given a prophetic promise that he would prevail in the end.
Father Abraham and the Everlasting Covenant of Faith
And behold, the word of the LORD came to Abram: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.[Genesis 15:4-6]
Before we can look more closely at the patriarch Jacob, we need to back up two generations to his grandfather — Abraham. After the universal flood of Noah’s day and the supernatural rebellion at the Tower of Babel, the LORD God chose to reveal Himself personally to a Hebrew living in ancient Mesopotamia and establish an everlasting covenant with him. His name was Abram, later changed to Abraham — meaning the father of a great multitude [Genesis 17]. The covenant God initiated with Abraham would establish a new family of faith set apart for God’s redemptive purposes and glory.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,[Deuteronomy 32:8-9]
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
9But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Abraham is also called the father of faith, having believed God’s word and rested in God’s unfailing promise not only to give him a son — Isaac — but also to provide the Savior of the world through one of his descendants so that all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in Christ.
Beginning with Abraham, the LORD began to reveal Himself in faithfulness through a particular family, both spiritually and genealogically — ensuring that His covenant promises would be transferred and perpetuated throughout all generations. Next the LORD confirmed His covenant exclusively with Abraham’s son , Isaac [Genesis 17:15-21], and later with his grandson, Jacob [Genesis 28:10-17].
These are the patriarchs of Israel — the founding fathers of faith so to speak. From then on, the LORD God would identify Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, further distinguishing Himself as the Most High God and Creator of the Universe — supremely greater than all the other gods of the nations.
Consider the moment the LORD revealed Himself to Jacob and reaffirmed His covenant with him and his descendants forever.
And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”[Genesis 28:12-15]
Israel — God Prevails
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”[Genesis 32:24-28]
Although the LORD had blessed Jacob at Bethel through a night vision, Jacob’s life forever would be changed at Peniel. Here Jacob would wrestle with God incarnate and talk to Him face to face — otherwise known as a Christophany in Scripture. By demonstrating faith in the LORD, Jacob would receive a new name — Israel — which gives insight into his destiny.
Israel can literally mean “striving with God” or “God prevails.” Both are appropriate for the primary focus must always remain on God, who ultimately prevails and perseveres and remains steadfast and faithful to the end. Likewise, the message in the name “Israel” is that all who believe in the God of Israel will overcome in the end. Israel means to persevere with God and to overcome. Israel means to prevail with God, not independently of God nor arrogantly over God.
As we will see, understanding Israel’s origin and meaning play a significant part in discovering Israel’s identity and destiny. This promise of overcoming with God was not for Jacob alone but for every individual who puts his/her faith in the God of Israel and His Messiah — Jesus Christ.
When we read the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus gives unique promises to those who overcome, such as access to the tree of life and authority over the nations. Jesus is speaking of those who persevere with God and remain faithful to the end. In other words, Jesus is giving a promise to … Israel, as all who overcome in faith belong to Israel. It could not get any clearer according to the Apostle John.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?[1 John 5:4-5]
Chosen to Bless the World
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 13Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.[Genesis 35:9-13]
Like all acts of divine election, Jacob was chosen by God for a specific service and not at the exclusion of the rest of the world but rather for the benefit and blessing of the nations. Jacob was by no means without fault, having been a trickster and schemer from birth, yet by faith Jacob would enter into covenant relationship with the LORD and would become the father of 12 sons, who would become the 12 tribes of Israel.
As the father of this family of faith, Israel would bless his sons before he died [Genesis 49], and in his blessing would be God’s promise to bring the true Son of Israel through the tribe of Judah into the world to save mankind to the uttermost. Jacob also pronounced a profound blessing on Joseph’s two sons.
And Israel blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,[Genesis 48:15-16]
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
16the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.“
Like Jacob, all who believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, are justified by faith and incorporated into the family of Israel — the household of God. Jesus is the great Overcomer — having conquered sin on the cross and death through His resurrection. It is in Christ alone that we realize our destiny as Israel — prevailing with God.
Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”[Luke 20:35-38]