Meanings of ISRAEL -
“... Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
(Genesis 32:28, KJV;
see also Hebrew/English Genesis 32:28)
It was the LDS Bible Dictionary that years ago prevailed on me to accept the definitions “Israel.
One who prevails with God or Let God prevail.”
Where do these definitions come from?
Apparently these definitions were chosen (asserted
really) from a comment in STRONG’S Hebrew Dictionary.
See entry 8280 on the verb “saw-raw’; a prim.
root; to prevail:- have power (as a prince). ”
In other words, those contributing to the LDS Bible Dictionary, conceived a
couple of meanings for Israel from “sarah” (שרה),
as uniquely interpreted in STRONG’S Hebrew note 8280. This they felt
good about, and published,
even though STRONG’S Concordance actually defines the name Israel differently (3478).
When one searches all instances of the Hebrew verb “sarah”
one struggles to find even one instance in which the verb is translated “prevail”.
If “sarah” means “to prevail” where is it used as such in the Bible?
verb “sarah” (שרה) can mean persist, persevere, wrestle, contend,
strive, struggle, exert oneself, exercise power, … but none of these guarantee prevailing, or explicitly mean prevail (i.e. be able, overcome, be victorious). In fact, the expression translated “and have prevailed” in
Genesis 32:28, comes from an entirely different word,
same as in
Genesis 32:25, and
If “sarah” means “to prevail”, then we have a potential redundancy in the verse: “... for as a prince hast thou
power prevailed with God and with men,
and hast prevailed.” This verse, Genesis 32:28, you will recognize
from above, is the verse explaining Jacob's new name
Of course the potential redundancy does not prove that “sarah”
can’t mean “prevail”. Given the meanings of “sarah”
(שרה) and “yakhol”
(יכל), we may see in the
“... for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed
overpowered.” But as we look into the details of these two
Hebrew verbs, it comes as no surprise that prevail is absent in the
Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon definitions of
“El” in Yisra'El, is a reference to
mighty “God” (אל).
The Most High God is “El-Elyon”,
who, of course prevails, and will prevail; though human beings are free to choose whether or not they will obey his
The question therefore isn't whether God will prevail, but whether he will
prevail more with justice, or more in mercy. (Isaiah 42:13,
LDS Doctrine and Covenants 3:3-14)
The word “sar” (שר)
means “prince”. The verb “sarar” (שרר)
should be considered. Especially consider the verb “sur” (שור) as used in
and Hosea 12:4.
One who is to reign and become a prince of God is suggested in the name
verse 11 in Hebrew)
The Hebrew letter yod
at the beginning of the name, indicates third person, masculine, future
tense. So a direct interpretation of Yisra'El is:
He will strive (persist, contend, wrestle …) – El.
This is taken by some scholars to
mean God strives, persists, contends …
Other scholars like to make a command out of the name, and suggest the jussive
[Let] El persist,
persevere, contend, strive, wrestle, exert power, … But
there is really no explicit let in the name, and no
prevail appears in these scholarly interpretations, notwithstanding STRONG’S Hebrew
entry 8280 which asserts that “sarah” (שרה)
pronounced “saw-raw” means “to prevail”.
The meaning of Yisra'El
(ישראל) according to Ernest Klein.
A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English,
(KJV) corresponds to verse 29 in the Hebrew Bible.
What if Jacob had let the being he was wrestling prevail? Would Jacob have been blessed with the name
Israel? Scripture seems to indicate the answer is no!
24 Â And Jacob was left alone; and there
wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he (the man)
prevailed not against him
(Jacob), he touched the hollow of his (Jacob’s)
thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he
wrestled with him.
26 And he (the man) said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he
(Jacob) said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he (the man) said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he (the man) said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast
(Genesis 32:24-28, KJV)
One of the reasons Jacob was blessed with a new name was because he prevailed. In fact,
in Hebrew literally reads, “... va-tukhal”
(ותוכל) = “...
and thou hast prevailed”, meaning Jacob (Israel) had prevailed.
For Jacob to have been blessed with the name Israel, he had to prevail with that being that strove with him. How do we know this? The man
who blessed Jacob said so:
“Thy name shall be called … Israel: for … thou … hast prevailed.”
This does not mean that the verb prevail
is in the name Israel.
Suppose Israel can mean [Let] God prevail. Are we then to understand that Jacob was being reproved for prevailing when he was named
Israel? How else was Jacob to be blessed if not by prevailing?
Some blessings come by wrestling and prevailing with the Divine. Jewish faith understands this.
Consider Exodus 32:9-14,
1 Chronicles 5:2.
Note that God is not a mortal man that he should repent of doing wrong (as in sin, Numbers 23:19), but
the Eternal can change his mind, or be persuaded to change his mind
Why? Because God who is holy, is also a person or persons. To suggest that
there are no instances in which it may be appropriate to wrestle with God and prevail is contrary to scripture.
Genesis 32:28, LDS note
c actually admits that the verb in Israel means
Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Lexicon (1006/1197, pg. 975) definition of this verb agrees that it means
persevere, and no where states that it means prevail.
The verb “sarah”
(שרה) and the name “Yisra'El”
Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon.
So how did
STRONG’S Exhaustive Concordance Hebrew entry 8280 come up with the idea that the root “sarah” in “Yisra'El”
means “to prevail”?
Let’s compare the language of entry 8280,
which asserts that the verb means “... to
prevail -- have power (as a prince)”,
with the unique language of KJV Genesis 32:28 which states: “as a prince hast thou power ... and hast prevailed”
(different than other translations).
See the similarity? One strong possibility is that what you see here, is an attempt to
fit a meaning to the verb in the name Israel
based on the venerable English translation of
verse 28; instead of more carefully discerning, and
rightly dividing the ancient language.
Besides Joshua (James) Seixas,
the Prophet Joseph Smith had few mortal Hebrew “experts” to consult
with. The Prophet had a copy of Seixas’ Hebrew primer, Manual Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners. A Hebrew verb for “to be able,
prevail” is listed on
This verb is the same as that discussed in STRONG’S Hebrew 3201.
This verb is not in the name Israel. Of course there is more than one
Hebrew verb that can be interpreted to mean “prevail”. Even so, Israel
may come short of prevailing. Israel needs God’s help and blessing.
If the name Israel suggests the need for God to prevail in
hesed and in righteousness,
it may be precisely because the name Israel does not explicitly include the verb prevail.
So what is really a strong interpretation of the meaning of Yisra'El?
that if the Prophet Joseph Smith had openly, publically given us a definition of the meaning of
Israel it would have been a lot like the one found in STRONG’S Exhaustive Concordance
Hebrew entry 3478:
“…yis-raw-ale; … he will rule (as) God …”
This meaning of the name matches its use in the temple ordinances. With
Israel rules as
Elohim. (Exodus 22:28)
In fact, since “elohim” is masculine plural, and
parallels “anashim”, translated “men” in Genesis 32:28, the verse may be more properly translated:
“... Thy name shall be called no more Ya'aqov
(Jacob), but Yisra'El
(Israel): for as a prince
(שר as in שרית) hast thou
persevered (שרית) with gods and with men, and thou hast prevailed
Note that the name Ya'aqov (Jacob) sounds a little like the Hebrew word for prevail, “yakhol” (יכל).
(Jacob) called the name of the place Peni'El (Peniel): for I have seen gods face to face, and my life is preserved.”
(Genesis 32:30; compare with Genesis 32:1)
Can the name Ya'aqov be interpreted to mean “he (Yah) will
God with us (imanu El),
the House of ISRAEL (ישראל) becomes an eternal family (ישרון, spelled with a
(ו) or sign of the
the place of
1 Chronicles 22:10); unlike
“THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS”,
so named some years after
the 1830 restoration of the Church of Christ (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 20:1,
Though the LDS Church has divine authority, she is nevertheless as her
title indicates, a temporally limited part of a hybrid or compound
(2 Nephi 2:11,
Ephesians 4:11-13); the eternal part being the Church of Jesus Christ, or rather, the
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 115:3-4;
the Eternal called his
firstborn son out of Egypt
there were the sons of God(s), benei ha-Elohim
foreordained to rule as God in the covenant body of
the Eternal Messiah,
rule as God with God
(a meaning of
Israel), having power over the angels
1 Corinthians 6:3,
LDS Doctrine and Covenants 132:20), is to have prevailed.
See Revelation 3:21;
nikaˇ means prevail, overcome, conquer.
The prophet Hosea understood the
princely significance of the name
Hosea 12:3 and verse 4,
the prophet transitions from the verb “sarah” (שרה),
to the verb “sur” (שור)
in retelling the account of Jacob’s prevailing. The prophet cleverly,
though esoterically spells out the name Israel in verse 4. Consider the play on words
el-” = “יָּ֤שַׂר
אֶל־” = “he had
princely power (ישר from שור)
The end of verse 3 and the beginning of
may be directly translated:
“... he (Jacob) persevered
(שרה, had power)
gods: and he (Jacob) had
princely power (ישר from שור)
a messenger, and he
It may be argued that the verb rule, “sur” (שור),
which is related to persevere, “sarah” (שרה), implies prevail, “yakhol” (יכל).
Again consider Revelation 3:21,
which uses the Greek equivalent of
nikaˇ and ties the prospect of ruling to prevailing.
In volume 3 of the
Koehler, Baumgartner Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon (1996)
there are notes suggesting connections between “sarah” (שרה), and “sur” (שור), and the verb “sarar” (שרר)
which means bear rule:
A second meaning of the verb “sarah”
as a form of “sarar” (שרר): “to rule”,
the Koehler, Baumgartner Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon,
vol. 3, (453/463) pg. 1354.
See also the verb “sur”
related to “sarah” (שרה), “to struggle, strive”,
and to “sarar” (שרר), “to rule over”
noted on pg. 1313 (412/463).
The numbering of verses in the Hebrew
Bible do not always match the KJV:
Koehler, Baumgartner Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon,
vol. 3, (412/463) pg. 1313.
The verb “sarah” (שרה)
interpreted to mean rule, fits the meaning of
Yisra'El in the context revealed by Elohim in
wherein GOD announces that kings will come out of Jacob, Israel
will rule as El,
Shadai implicitly prevails.
Exodus 6:3, JST,
Like a cubic equation,
it may be acceptable for the name Yisra'El
(ישראל) to have more than one solution or interpretation:
Above, are notes on meanings of Yisra'El
(ישראל) from the
Koehler, Baumgartner ... Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
(1994-2000); supporting the interpretations: a) he fights (wrestles) God,
b) God fights, and c) he will rule (as/with) God.
Notes on the root of the word translated “wrestled” in
Genesis 32:24 -25
Koehler, Baumgartner Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon,
vol. 1, (111/463) pg. 9.
The verb “avaq”, translated “wrestle” (אָבַק), is related to the noun “avaq” meaning “dust”
Evidently Jacob’s wrestle with the messenger was a literal dustup.
So its hard to give credence to the unscriptural image of a “man” with wings wrestling Jacob,
in as much as both
Jacob and the messenger went to the ground symbolically and literally - to the dust.
Curiously, the verb “avaq” may have a second meaning
entwined, as noted in the Lexicon above. The verb may also mean be intertwined, embrace.
The verb may either be related to, or a play on words with “havaq” (חָבַק).
9-10, 10 in Hebrew)
Ancient Egyptian rites, and the Masonic five points of fellowship come
to mind. One may also perceive wordplay between “havaq” (חָבַק) and
There also seems to be a literary twist between Ya'aqov (Jacob,
he will supplant) and ye'aveq (he
will wrestle) in Genesis 32:24. Jacob’s wrestle with the man representing El
is real, as real as the injury Jacob receives. The text even conveys the
an intertwining embrace and rolling in the dust by the fact that it can be
challenging for the reader to tell who “he”, “him” and “his”
are - the wrestlers are so shrouded and intertwined.
Inspired by the Genesis 35:10-11
account of Jacob being named Israel, not just by a god (one of the elohim, as in Genesis 32:28), but by El
Most High, we might also
come to see in the new name Israel, he will rule (as) God, the message, “El (אל) rules!”
we then be excused in contriving a jussive
version: [Let] God rule (persist, prevail)? This should seem
imperfect to us, and beg the question: in what way can we let God rule (persist, prevail)? For
rule (persist, prevail) he will! The answer must be: we can
choose to let
God rule in our hearts, and in so doing, we may begin to rule as he.
Thus through “sarah” (שרה) meaning rule,
is able to make stronger an otherwise
weak interpretation of Israel.
If you wish to read about the ancient meanings of each of the characters
spelling out the name Israel, click on the following letters
(read right to left):