On 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;
compare with Hebrew 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” can mean persist, persevere, wrestle, contend,
strive, struggle, exert oneself, exercise power
… but none of these guarantee prevailing, or explicitly mean prevail. 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 this apparent 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”.
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 on our behalf more with justice, or more in mercy.
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
Yisra'El. (Genesis 27:29)
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 8280 which asserts that “sarah” means “to prevail”.
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. The 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.
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 hast prevailed
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)
God with us (imanu El),
the House of ISRAEL becomes an eternal family; 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
church. The eternal part being the Church of Jesus Christ, or rather, the
ha-Mashiah, the Firstborn. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 115:3-4;
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):