Over the past three thousand years, the name "Israel" has meant in common and religious usage both: 1) the Land of Israel, also called the Land of Canaan, constituting the Promised Land forming part of the Abrahamic, Jacob and Israel covenants, as well as referring to the modern state of Israel; and also 2) the entire Jewish nation, an ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites (Twelve Tribes) or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East.
Israel (probably meaning "God struggles", "God is strong") designates in the Old Testament either a people or its eponymous ancestor, identified with the patriarch Jacob. The story that explains the double name of the patriarch is based on the popular etymology for Israel: "he wrestled with God".
Israel - A Covenant People
Israel a Sacred Name
Israel is not only the name of a tribe like Edom, Aram, and Moab. It is a sacred name of the covenant people. The covenant people forms the "community of Israel", and under this title it hears the speeches recorded in Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel!..." as the prophetic promises.
Israel - A People of Twelve Tribes
For its fundamental national structure, Israel has the twelve tribes which bear the name of the twelve sons of Jacob right from the formation of the covenant. If the list of tribes has known minor variations, still their number is related to the cultic service of the twelve months of the year. This is the first historical form that the people of God took in this world.
Yahweh is the God of Israel and Israel is the People of Yahweh
Through the covenant, God is in some way joined to Israel. He is their God, their holy one, their strong one, their rock, their king, and their redeemer. The God of revelation thereby enters into the history of religions as the God proper to Israel. In return it is Israel alone that He chooses to make the trustee of His plan of salvation. Once again, the titles given to Israel are significant. Israel is the people of Yahweh, His Servant, His chosen one, His first-born Son, His holy one, His inheritance, His flock, His vineyard His domain, His spouse. Therefore Israel does not belong only to the political history of humanity. By divine choice it is at the very center of religious history.
Israel and Judah
Political Duality of Israel
The sacred league of the twelve tribes concealed a political duality which is clearly seen during the royal epoch. David became successively the king of Judah, in the South, and then of Israel in the North. When Solomon died, Israel broke off from the house of David with the cry: "To your tents, Israel!". In this way the people of God are broken up. The language of the prophets adapted itself to a condition that was contrary to the doctrine of the covenant, and which in the future distinguished Judah from Israel, which was frequently identified with Ephraim, the dominant northern tribe.
Israel and Judaism
After the fall of Samaria, Judah became the center of the regrouping of Israel. After the fall of Jerusalem, the ideal image of the national restoration is sought for in the the former league of the twelve tribes. The preponderant role of Judah in this restoration explains why the name of Jew is given from then on to the members of the dispersed people, and why the name of Judaism will be given to the institution which groups them together again. But the name of Israel recovers at the same time its sacred value.
The Promise of a New Israel
The eschatological oracles of the prophets have truly announced for the future of Israel a return to its original unity: a reunion of Israel and Judah, a reassembly of the dispersed Israelites who belong to the twelve tribes. This is a fundamental theme of Jewish hope. But the profit to be derived from these promises will be reserved for a remnant of Israel. Yahweh will make a New Israel of this remnant. He will deliver it and re-establish it in its country; He will make a new covenant with it and a new king. Then, Israel will become the center of the union of nations. These nations, seeing in Israel the presence of the true God will turn toward Him; their conversion will coincide with the salvation and glory of Israel.
The Gospel and Ancient Israel
The order of providence has willed that the outcome of salvation be realized in Israel, and that Israel, as the covenant people, receive the first announcement of it. That is already the purpose of John's baptism. During His lifetime, the Savior's mission, as well as that of His disciples, confined itself to Israel only. After His resurrection, the good news was first brought to Israel. Israel and the nations, which participated together in the drama of the passion, have both received the call to faith, on an equal footing but in a different order: first the Jews who are "Israelites" by birth, then the others. The salvation brought by the gospel fulfills the hope of those who are waiting for the consolation of Israel, the salvation of Israel, the restoration of the kingdom for Israel. Through Jesus, God has come to bring help to Israel, to show it mercy, to grant it a conversion and the remission of sins. Jesus is the glory of Israel, its king, its Savior. The new hope based on His resurrection is none other than the hope of Israel itself. In short, Israel continues the organic link which joins the realization of salvation to all human history.
The New Israel
In the meantime since the time of Jesus, the New Israel announced by the prophetic promise has appeared here below. To make it a positive institution, Jesus chose twelve Apostles, thereby modeling His Church after the Old Israel which was formed of twelve tribes. Further His Apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This Church is the eschatological Israel for which God reserved the new covenant. In it is accomplished the reassembling of the chosen ones in twelve tribes. It is a holy city which rests on the foundation of the twelve apostles, and it has the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on its gates.
The Ancient Israel and the New Israel
The Church, the New Israel, is therefore the fulfillment of the Old Israel. In the Old Israel, membership was by birth, and pagans were excluded from its citizenship. It is no more than the Israel of the flesh and what is important is to belong to the Israel of God. But "all the descendants of Israel are not Israel". Confronted with Jesus and the Gospel, a sorting takes place: the fall of those who look for the justice of the Law and who harden their hearts when they hear the announcement of justification by faith, and the rescue of those others , the "true Israelites", who constitute the remnant of Israel announced by the Scriptures and who are joined to the New Israel by the converted pagans. The Old Israel has not been definitively rejected, but at the time her incomprehension of the Gospel was manifested God wishes to awaken her jealousy. When the pagans are converted in their totality, the partial hardening of Israel's heart will cease, "and thus all Israel will be saved". It will belong once again to that spiritual Israel which has entered into the way of salvation.
- In modern Judaic usage, an Israelite is a Jew who is neither a Kohen (descendant of Aaron, the first high priest) nor a Levite (descendant of early religious functionaries). The distinction is significant, for if a Kohen is present for synagogue service, he must be called up first for the reading of the Law; he is then followed by a Levite. Normally, therefore, an Israelite is not called up until the third reading. ("Israelite." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009.)
- Genesis 35:10,20f; 43:8; 50:2, etc..
- Genesis 32:29; Hosea 12:4.
- Exodus 12:3,6.
- Deuteronomy 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; Psalms 50:7; 81:9.
- Isaiah 41:8; 43:1; 44:1; 48:1.
- Exodus 24:4.
- Genesis 49; Deuteronomy 33; Judges 5; Apocalypse 7:5.
- Isaiah 17:6; Jeremiah 7:3; Ezekiel 8:4.
- Isaiah 1:4; 44:14; Psalms 89:19.
- Isiaih 1:25.
- Isaiah 30:29.
- Isaiah 43;15.
- Isaiah 44:6.
- Isaiah 1:3; Amos 7:8; Jeremiah 12:14; Ezra 14:9; Psalms 50:7.
- Isaiah 44:21.
- Isaiah 45:4.
- Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1.
- Jeremiah 2:3.
- Isaiah 19:25.
- Psalms 95:7.
- Isaiah 5:7.
- Psalms 114:2.
- Hosea 2:4.
- 2 Samuel 2:4; 5:3.
- 1 Kings 12:19.
- 2 Kings 12:16; 2 Samuel 20:1.
- Amos 2:4; Hosea 4:15f; Isaiah 9:7ff.; Micah 1:5; Jeremiah 3:6ff..
- 2 Kings 23:19; 2 Chronicles 30:1ff..
- Genesis 1:13f..
- Nehemiah 9:1f; Ecclesiasticus 36:11; Matthew 2:20f.; Acts 13:17; John 3:10.
- Ezekiel 37:15.
- Jeremiah 3:18; 31:1; Ezra 36:24; 37:21; Isaiah 27:12.
- Ecclesiasticus 36:10.
- Isaiah 10:20; 46:3; Micah 2:12; Jeremiah 31:7.
- Jeremiah 30:10.
- Isaiah 19:24f.
- John 1:31.
- Matthew 10:6,23; 15:24.
- Acts 2:36; 4:10.
- Romans 9:4.
- Romans 1:16; 2:9f.; Acts 13:46.
- Luke 2:25.
- Luke 24:21.
- Acts 1:6.
- Luke 1:54.
- Luke 1:68.
- Acts 5:31.
- Luke 2:32.
- Matthew 27:42; John 1:50; 12:13.
- Acts 13:23f.
- Acts 28:20.
- Matthew 19:28.
- Hebrews 8:8ff.
- Apocalypse 7:4.
- Apocalypse 21:12; Ezekiel 40:30ff..
- Phillipians 3:5.
- Ephesians 2:12.
- Romans 9:6.
- Luke 2:34f..
- Romans 9:31; 11:7.
- John 1:48.
- Romans 9:27ff..
- Romans 10:19.
- Romans 11:26.
- Pierre Grelot. "Israel". Transl.: Joseph R. Sweeney. In: Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Ed.: Fr. Xavier Léon-Dufour (S.J.). 1st English Edition, translated from the 1962 French editon Vocabulaire de Théologie Biblique, under the direction of Fr. P. Joseph Cahill (S.J.). Palm Publishers: Montreal, 1967. pp. 228-230.
- "Israelite." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009.
- Israel at Wikipedia.
- Jew at Wikipedia.